Here’s an easy question: When you communicate remotely with your friends and family and have the option of methods, which do you usually pick – an email, a phone call, a Video call, or a Text?
Most of us under the age of fifty will say Text. Texting, obviously, is this generation’s go-to communication medium. Our smartphone-happy society pays more attention to Texts than any other form of electronic communication.
Now, think about how useful Texting could be (if it isn’t already) in responding to some of those mundane tasks in your financial life. Take debt collection, for example. If you work in collections and are looking for payment on an outstanding bill, do you think that person’s going to pick up the phone when you call? I wouldn’t bet on it. But if you Text them, it’s likely the response rate will be much higher.
Our comfort level
In our day-to-day lives, most of us are becoming accustomed to getting Texts from various service providers in our lives, including our financial institutions. If we bank with a Chase, Wells Fargo or a U.S. Bank, for example, the likelihood is even higher. But wouldn’t it be nice to have that same, personalized and comfortable Texting or Video level of interaction – if you don’t have it already – with your community bank or credit union?
It started that way. Then 2020 happened. Suddenly, as we all remember, the pandemic forced credit unions and community banks to shut down their branches. Stuck at home, we found ourselves living in a world of Zoom calls and using digital technology more than ever. Financial institutions, for their part, were at least glad they had already initiated some of the latest technologies such as remote deposit capture (RDC), allowing members and customers to cash checks from their smartphone.
CFIs make their move
Queue the progressive community banks and credit unions (CFIs). Many of them at this point became early adopters, transitioning even further from the traditional branch-teller-in-person model of interacting with their customers and members to digital conversations platforms. For credit unions with foresight, Covid-19 was a golden opportunity to work their magic of connecting with customers like never before. After all, as any good credit union knows, how do you gain loyalty with your members during uncertain times? Through one, one-on-one conversation after another.
This leads thoughtful Community Financial Institutions to the next question: Can those one-on-one conversations now happen through the digital world – through people’s cell phones? And when we do interact with our financial institution, do we prefer Text, Secure Chat, Video, Voice, or co-browsing?
We’re all multilingual
The answer is all of the above. People send Texts, place phone calls and do video chats at different times, depending on the sense of urgency. For example, let’s say you’re trying to take out a large loan. When you need a lot of money, most people prefer the human touch. So in that scenario, a video call might be preferred.
Now let’s say you’re trying to do a wire transfer. You pick up the phone and dial, right? Because a money transfer is always urgent. Or what about in that example we shared earlier with the debt collector? For things like collections, or maybe checking the status of your loan, Texting can be very effective. As we can see, it makes sense that the same person may use many different mediums of communication for tasks based on the sense of urgency.
Many people thought Covid-19 killed the community bank branch. But in fact, the death of branches was greatly exaggerated. What happened? Well, people quickly realized that credit union and community bank branches tend to serve as a lamppost of sorts in the community. If you have a branch in town, it turns out, people know you’re there. Sure, the frequency of people coming into branches has gone down. But having that physical pulse, that “I’m still here in your community,” is very critical, and comforting to members of communities and credit unions.
Now, here’s what’s happening: As credit unions formerly tied to a tight geographic area, like Spokane Teachers Credit Union (STCU), start getting into new markets, they open new branches. Then the decision to make is: Should we resource and staff the branch to the hilt during a time when we’re experiencing a major labor shortage in the U.S.? No way. That would not make economic sense.
Video enters the picture
Instead, community banks and credit unions who are wise, like STCU, do this: They still open the new branch, but instead of staffing it with a loan officer, they create an empty video room in the building. Now, when a member walks into the branch – maybe looking for a HELOC or a certain type of loan – they don’t have to worry if the specialist isn’t there.
The teller simply walks the member over to the video room and starts up a video conversation with a loan officer who is part of the bank’s centralized lending team. That loan offer could be located at another branch, or the corporate headquarters, or working from home. It doesn’t matter.
Video, then, is now rapidly allowing community banks and credit unions to have a nimbler and more structured branch infrastructure.
The more things change …
So is everything turning digital? No, not quite. It’s not a digital-only world we’re living in, after all. It’s a physical world and a digital world co-existing and coming together. How do we make that happen? By giving the members a delightful experience. Remote video is one important way.
While we watch video play a bigger role in 2023 and beyond in giving community bank customers and credit unions members more access to services in remote locations, it appears the times are changing. But for community financial institutions, two things will never change:
- The importance of providing the best products and best rates for members and customers
- The importance of providing them excellent customer service
The only thing that changes is how we deliver that service. That’s an area in which credit unions and Community Financial Institutions excel – working in the community, knowing their consumers. In this digital world, as smart financial institutions adopt more of this technology, their reach is going to be tremendous. And the goodness of community banks and credit unions – providing the best products and the best service – will only help fuel more growth in this industry we love. This industry in which we empower individuals and families to achieve their financial goals.