As the novel coronavirus continues to drive unprecedented business disruptions, many are questioning how the future of the financial services industry will look. For years, credit unions across the country have been building technology to handle remote work. However, the industry has not historically seen rapid technological adoption by financial professionals at credit unions, or by credit union members. Now, in the face of unpredictable business circumstances, these technologies are seeing increased demand and usage.
At the core, these tools provide two significant benefits: connectivity and optionality. The ways in which credit unions and financial professionals communicate with and serve their members have evolved significantly over the past ten years, and the demands from members are becoming more transparent. Through expanded connectivity and optionality, financial professionals can offer members choices in how, when, and where they communicate with them.
There’s no doubt the current work from home environment and socially distancing has changed how financial professionals connect with members. With limited ability to meet in-person, these professionals have placed an increased emphasis on using all available technology tools, which has paved the way for maintaining connectivity and building relationships with their clients.
Before the pandemic, CUSO Financial Services (CFS) unveiled new tools like business texting to financial professionals to increase their engagement and expand touchpoints with clients. Texting is often a more convenient and efficient communication option than traditional modes of communication, including email. Text messages offer a much quicker way to connect and have an average response time of about three minutes, based on our firm’s data. Additionally, texting helps avoid email inbox clutter. Texts allow for more frequent and timely messaging by financial professionals, which keeps credit union members engaged and up-to-date on information that may impact their accounts — ultimately strengthening the relationship with their financial professional.
The shift to more convenient and advanced communication methods is not unique to our industry. We’re seeing a massive shift in technology usage by clients across all facets of their lives, undoubtedly driven by the pandemic. Members are using technology like Zoom to connect with their friends and family, which makes them more comfortable when using similar tools to communicate with their financial professional. In fact, since the beginning of the pandemic, Zoom’s average daily calls have risen from 10 million to 200 million. There has also been an increase in people utilizing technology to minimize everyday tasks, such as grocery shopping. Research shows that before the pandemic, fewer than 40% of Americans did their grocery shopping online, but that number jumped to 78.7% as a result of COVID-19.
Electronic signatures and mobile deposits for investment services have also seen tremendous surges in usage during the pandemic. While eSignature may have been foreign to some members even a year ago, adoption since COVID-19 mirrors a massive transformation in consumer preferences that will undoubtedly last well beyond the present situation. Because the option of visiting a credit union branch is currently limited, members have widely adopted mobile deposits. The convenience of innovations that enable clients to be more efficient will ensure the popularity of these tools well into the future.
In addition to continuing to increase connectivity with members, credit unions should also prioritize optionality. In this ever-changing financial landscape, what makes sense for some members may not work for others. It’s the responsibility of credit unions to provide an array of financial options to their members and ensure they have access to them.
Thirty years ago, people were reluctant to take cash out of an ATM. Now, using an ATM is not only commonplace but has also evolved to include more advanced technological options like Information Technology Managed Services (ITMs) and online/mobile banking options. While many younger members have been accessing these tools for years, with many branches closed or offering limited access currently, the reliance on mobile and online banking options now spans the generations.
At CFS, we’ve seen a broad range of clients take advantage of the optionality we offered long before COVID-19. However, since the beginning of the pandemic, the usage of Clear 1, our client portal that is fully integrated with credit unions’ home banking systems, has increased significantly. This increase demonstrates the newfound need that members of all demographics have for additional options and are rapidly adopting technologies developed for them.
Financial professionals now have centralized platforms that enable them to conduct diverse tasks and manage an extensive range of client accounts. It’s essential for credit unions and financial professionals to showcase the breadth of services they can provide to their members. There will always be clients who like the status quo, and there will also be those who embrace new products and tools. It is critical to be there for every credit union member—meeting them where they are and showing them where they can go. Providing clients with optionality and everything they need to handle their finances in a way that makes them most comfortable is the overriding priority for credit unions.
Where do we go from here?
This pandemic has unquestionably been an event that will have a lasting impact on the credit union industry. Credit unions need to expand both connectivity and optionality by continuing to develop innovative tools that change as their members’ preferences and needs evolve. Credit unions must continue to integrate ground-breaking technologies into their investment programs to foster better client interactions. By arming financial professionals with these tools, they will be able to strengthen relationships with members and become a true trusted financial partner – enabling success long after the pandemic ends.
About the Author
Valorie Seyfert has more than 30 years of experience in the securities industry and is a member of the California Bar Association. She is the President, CEO and Co-Founder of CUSO Financial Services, LP and Sorrento Pacific Financial, LLC. (subsidiaries of Atria Wealth Solutions) which are full-service broker dealers serving financial institutions and their clients. Previously, Valorie worked as an attorney specializing in securities regulations, contracts and corporate law. She was the winner of the 2008 EY Entrepreneur of the Year award in Business Services for San Diego County and is a frequent speaker and a recognized expert on the structure and strategy of successful investment services programs in financial institutions.