"THINK DIFFERENT" ...THE FIRST STEP IN AMERICA FIRST CREDIT UNION'S TRANSFORMATION
We’re no strangers to the big changes happening in the financial environment – because they’re really the same changes that are happening in our own lives. Our employees are on their smartphones, on social media, conducting more of their lives online than ever before. We know that we have to evolve with the times and take the right steps into this digital era we’re all living in today.
But as one of the country’s biggest credit unions, we’re walking a fine line of serving – in my estimation – five wildly different demographics of members, from kids opening their first savings account (the Alpha Generation), to Millennials, Gen X, Baby Boomers and the Mature Generation. Our youngest member is 17 days old, and our oldest is 107 years old! Not everyone on that spectrum is ready for online services, or contactless payments, or some of the other fintech concepts that are emerging as big trends in our industry.
We needed a place where we could test and learn, a real working environment, with actual products that could not only show off new technology, but reinforce the relationship between our staff and our members. We knew that if we could introduce technology in the right way, at the right time, even some of our most stalwart, branch-only members would see the benefit of incorporating new channels into their banking activities.
Credit unions are traditionally the place where members matter, where consumers’ voices can be heard … but how often does the reality fall short of the potential? It’s very easy for us to think we know what our members want. We had to turn that on its head, and give them the space to actually tell us what they want, what they like, what they don’t like. Sometimes they may not even know what that is until they have the chance to come in and try out a new feature, a new technology, a new way of doing something.
Our Branch Systems Development Manager had visited a bank in Ireland, Learn About Banking (LAB), and he came back really inspired by the idea of getting feedback from members before implementing new technology across a big group of branches or ATMs. In parallel, a few of our employees had been involved with TAG, Diebold Nixdorf’s customer advisory group. During annual meetings and conversations with other TAG members, they were encouraged to start down the path of deploying new technology, learning from other peers in the industry and exploring best practices in a “working laboratory” of some kind.
There were two ideas that really informed our approach as we started to make our Innovation Center a reality:
With the support of our board and our executive team, creating this space was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for those of us tapped to work on the project. We were fortunate to have the autonomy to go “knock on doors” throughout our organization, to get buy-in, gather resources and form a team. We were given pretty free rein, and the security of knowing that priorities weren’t going to suddenly shift – but then we had to convince others in the company to work with us! We went from the exciting phase to the “uh-oh” moment – can we really pull this off? Can we convince everyone to really “think differently” about what constitutes a branch, what it means to bank, the ways we interact with our members, etc.? It was exhilarating, but daunting as well.
Scouting the perfect location for our Innovation Center was one of the keys to our success. We found a space near the Apple Store in the biggest mall in Utah, and waited until we could secure that storefront. We thought long and hard about the location, because we wanted it to be visible in the community, be accessible to the widest range of people, and capture the foot traffic needed to make it viable. We identified the City Creek Complex as having the highest traffic of any destination space in the state of Utah. It’s a destination mall, and an attraction for people in Las Vegas, Idaho and throughout Utah – that’s our membership. It was the location that made the most sense.
Once we had the location secured, the one mandate from our executives was that members had to be able to do all their normal banking in this space. But we rethought every single transaction, and placed competitive products side by side, so our members could try out different approaches. (More about that in part two of this blog series!)
We opened the America First Credit Union Innovation Center in the summer of 2016, and it’s been amazing to see and hear feedback about this space. It’s lived up to the goals we set when we embarked on this path two years ago: it’s driving us to think about the branch, and banking in general, in entirely new ways. It’s enabled us to explore innovation in pockets, rather than rolling mass changes out to every branch. We’ve realized that we can’t solve every problem at once, so we’re focused on individual challenges, and we use the Center as a place to adapt and refine solutions based on member feedback. It’s helping us strategically deploy solutions in ways that make sense. Which means that at the end of the day, we’re better positioned to give our members what they really want – and that feels really, really good.
Chad Lynch, ATM Services Manager, America First Credit Union
Chad has been with America First Credit Union for 34 years, starting in 1982 as a student trainee teller. Since then, he’s worked in branch operations, back office operations, computer operations, and in 1998 was given the management responsibilities of a new ATM Services department, where he currently resides. In the past 18 years he has overseen dramatic ATM transformation, from IBM firmware-based ATMs, to OS2/TCS-based ATMs, to Windows/TCS/TCS+. Chad joined TAG, Diebold’s user group, in 1995, and found it to be a resource for innovation and best practices. He joined the TAG board that year and eventually held every position, from regional director to secretary treasurer, president, past president and director at large. He currently holds the record for number of years involved in TAG, at 22 and growing.