The November/December Credit Union Tracker, Discover how credit unions can leverage their personalization and customer service expertise to serve small businesses

Credit unions (CUs) are known for a personal service level that treats members as individuals, giving them an edge in attracting small business banking members. However, to ensure their place as the first choice for those businesses, CUs need a new take on personalized service that integrates the best features of digital banking.

Online and mobile banking have become a staple of business and financial services, according to Jeff Hibbard, senior vice president of digital experience and business transformation for Truliant Federal Credit Union (TFCU). Just like private consumers, businesses look for convenience, simplicity and round-the-clock access to banking services. That 24/7 access can mean a lot more to businesses than consumers, however, and even small businesses may need to complete transactions outside of regular banking hours that significantly impact their bottom lines. Still, digital is no replacement for in-person services.

“Most of our business relationships in the organization today start in the physical world, and we find that the face-to-face component is going to be a really important part of this process going forward for that small business segment,” Hibbard told PYMNTS in a recent interview.

Digitizing the Personal, Personalizing the Digital

Small businesses have day-to-day banking deposit needs and deal with complex demands that come from high transaction volumes, Hibbard said. For example, small businesses typically deal with a lot of cash and checks, they need the ability to make night deposits at convenient physical locations, and they may also have more complex lending needs. The best results for those small businesses come at the intersection of digital and physical services.

“Our strategy is [that] we don’t intend to move away from the human or face-to-face model,” Hibbard said. “It’s really, ‘How do we augment and supplement that [personal interaction] with more digital capability to give that business member, going forward, the convenience and access to information they need around the clock?’”

Since 2014, TFCU has opened 14 new physical branches and expanded its digital offerings. Hibbard said those branches represent both expansion into new markets and the addition of physical locations in existing markets. While many businesses prefer digital self-service, others find convenience in having a physical branch nearby.

TFCU also uses technology to improve the personalization of services, such as by taking users’ geographic locations and transaction information into account to present specific services or special offers to them when they log in. TFCU is also exploring the collection of contextual data, such as data used by online retailers to track users’ recent online shopping.

“So if they were at an online auto-buying site, for example, we know that when they come to the website, we can present them with relevant content and experiences that are meaningful to what they’re actually looking for,” Hibbard said.

Digital as a Growing Service Option

Digital self-service opportunities affect more than just convenience. Hibbard said a single deployment could drive a positive user experience for repetitive banking needs such as check deposits, reducing costs through scale.

He estimated that 40% of TFCU’s check deposit volume is now done through mobile deposit. TFCU members can also make loan payments and conduct other transactions online, and as the credit union adds capabilities, Hibbard said further growth in digital self-service use is expected.

“Over the last three years, we’ve seen a 59% increase in digital self-service transactions, and that’s head and shoulders above the growth of the credit union overall,” Hibbard said. “Some of that is new capability we’re bringing to the market; some of it is just adoption.

“More people are going all-in on digital. [The pandemic] helped to accelerate that process. We’re riding the wave along with a lot of other financial institutions, but there’s a lot of engagement out there in the demand for that kind of new capability.”

Keeping Members on Board

Ensuring that members look to their credit unions before shopping around for financial products starts with having straightforward, simple and meaningful products and services relevant to their needs, Hibbard said. Both in-person and digital service touchpoints provide opportunities for discovering what members do and do not like — as well as what they are looking for that may not be found at their CUs.

“We basically set up listening posts to make sure that we understand, across the organization, in the context of both sales and service, ‘How are we doing? What are members saying about the experiences they’re having?’” Hibbard said.

That information, arriving through both digital and traditional channels, also needs to be understood. TFCU has a cross-functional group of executives who examine the feedback they are receiving every month to determine areas for improvement and discover what members’ priorities are.

Credit unions have an advantage over other financial institutions (FIs) when understanding not just existing but potential members, Hibbard said. CUs are, by definition, closer to the communities in which they do business and therefore have the opportunity to understand the pressures and concerns impacting small businesses and consumers locally in a way that other FIs will not.

By communicating that closer relationship and desire to help their members through all points of contact, credit unions can supply small businesses with a service they cannot find elsewhere.