Credit Union Modernization: Combining Technology and People


In service industries, a provider keeps tabs on their existing and target clients. Why? To maintain a line of sight into their client’s evolving needs and to serve them accordingly. Credit unions are service providers with a rich history of targeting growth to meet the evolving needs of their members.

In this article, we will explore how to successfully integrate technology into a credit union, optimizing for the member journey.

The member journey

Admittedly, I know very little about hockey. However, I have learned one key principle about the sport: the best hockey players skate to where the puck is going, not where it is. You may know as little as I do about hockey, but in the world of finance—where I do have some experience—the “puck” is heading swiftly to digital banking (and beyond). It’s our job to help clients strategically adopt practices that will help them metaphorically skate to the puck.

How do we do that?

First, let’s consider the expectations of members. The pandemic accelerated a shift towards digital-first experiences. Shopping, services, and even medical appointments were all conducted online. It goes without saying, but now members expect “banking” to be both digital and easy. What was once a functional necessity due to pandemic constraints is now an expectation for convenience and accessibility. As a result, the savviest credit unions will implement technology that will confirm their members’ unwavering expectations that “banking” is easy and secure.

Implementing technology seamlessly

External integration

An initial, but critical step in implementing technology is to focus on the member journey. It is never too early to help your members understand how and why your institution puts members first. Why? Because members have countless options with whom they can conduct business. Your deliberate focus on their experience will build confidence in your virtual platform from the get-go.

Next, obtain clarity on your needs and expectations as it relates to technology. Be certain to write down your needs list to avoid the traps of ever-moving goalposts or shiny distractions. When integrating your credit union with technology, it may be tempting to change your objective or become enchanted by bells and whistles on a platform that are nice, but unnecessary.

Again, align your needs list with your members. What do they want from your digital platform? How will they use it? What will make their experience especially seamless? And how will you ensure that your online presence is congruent with the brand your members have come to expect each time they walk into a brick-and-mortar branch?

While your investigative work into member needs may feel overwhelming, especially if you don’t speak technology, know you’re not alone! If you’ve taken time to write down your needs the work of fitting technology will be far simpler. Remember, you don’t have to use industry terms or jargon. Simply identify—using terms that you and your team agree upon—what problems you need to solve.

Next, identify possible solutions for your problems to be solved. When you do this, even in the simplest of terms, technology vendors can determine whether they have an adequate solution for you. Savvy vendors won’t spend your time or theirs to demo their platform unless there is proper alignment between your needs and their tech solution. Likewise, tech vendors employ salespeople who serve as “translators” between you and their platforms. Laying out a detailed needs list will help a vendor provide you with a subject matter expert while also offering upfront expectations about your goals and purchasing decisions.

Internal integration

Credit unions are known for being collaborative by nature. Some may argue that one of the major advantages that credit unions have over banks or other financial institutions is that they learn from and accept feedback from one another. The shared focus on improving member experience implies cooperative work from the outset. Likewise, credit union leaders can—and should—reach out to their peers for advice on navigating financial modernization. Leaders can seek counsel on vendors, best practices for onboarding technology, or common member needs.

When it relates to technology integration, employee buy-in is also critical. It is likely that credit union employees are members too—their feedback matters. An employee-focused plan can help ensure seamless change management and quell concerns about how or why the technology will be employed. For instance, will new technology replace any human capital? Will it require a steep learning curve? When creating the plan, acknowledge your employees’ potential hesitations about adopting technology and determine steps to openly address hesitations, if any.

Regardless of concerns that may arise, it’s critical for you to help your employees know this: technology will only enhance your customer service and free your employees up to focus on building relationships with the members. Stay clear on this vision and help your employees to champion this goal. Technology should allow your personnel to be more human in their interactions, not less.

As you build an employee-led plan, it may be important to spend ample time on training and communication. A potential benchmark for buy-in is when your employees feel confident sharing the technology being adopted. Remember, if your employees do not buy into the technology solution, neither will your members. A lack of staff buy-in will be apparent in how they talk about the solution the technology provides and/or the demos they’ll provide your members. Mitigate this risk by equipping your employees with good training and communication from the outset.

Maintaining the human touch

Humans can’t survive on technology alone. Humans need humans. If you’ve ever gotten lost on a call with an automated phone attendant, chatted with a bot, or had a very lopsided conversation with Siri or Alexa, you know how what I mean. Perhaps you’ve even experienced a spike in your blood pressure when you’ve had a poor technology experience—being misheard, misled, or misdirected.

Whether online, over a call, or face-to-face, interactions with members remain vital. Again, while technology can enhance member relationships, nothing can replace the value of human connection, the show of empathy, reason, or genuine compassion.

So how can we use technology to allow us the best of being human? One example is credit unions that leverage technology, such as AI or machine learning, to create personalized onboarding sequences for account opening, loan applications, and transaction processing. These sequences are tailored to meet the member’s specific needs and enhance the overall relationship. Furthermore, these self-service options free up staff to focus on personalized service when needed.

What this means for smaller credit unions

While larger credit unions, and even larger banks, may have more resources to modernize operations, smaller credit unions shouldn’t feel as though they can’t level up.

Each day, we are all customers of something, somewhere. Many may agree, it is challenging to feel like you’re more than just a number when working with huge companies. But smaller organizations have a competitive advantage when it comes to treating customers like humans with specific needs and challenges. Hiring the right technology should create a multiplier effect for existing staff, allowing them to be more efficient when working with customers who need and want a human touch.

Technology can also enable smaller credit unions to reach more community members and grow beyond their immediate network or field of membership, leading to increased member growth, loan growth, and deposit growth.

Where to start

Take comfort in starting somewhere. If the prospect of technology integration is daunting, simply identify your needs and solicit employee suggestions for ideal ways to begin.

Combining the right balance of technology and human interaction can help credit unions provide the best member journey possible. By streamlining processes, providing self-service options, and freeing up staff to focus on personalized service, credit unions can collaborate, enhance the member experience, and drive growth. Credit union leaders are modernizing their technology. What’s your next step?


  • Bryan Doxford

    Bryan Doxford has over 20 years of financial industry and leadership experience and today serves as the Chief Strategy Officer of AVANA Companies, a comprehensive lending and asset management platform. After starting his professional career with a small credit union, he moved into commercial lending with Zions Bank then quickly rose to an executive vice president position at Pursuit. From there he became the CEO of Prudent Lenders. Throughout his career, he has specialized in loan origination, impact finance, FinTech, and process improvement.

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