MBA students at Pepperdine University had long been offered courses working with local banks, but a case study program launched in the first quarter of 2010 introduced the school to the credit union industry.
The idea for the case study originated with an intern who found Xceed Financial Credit Union through an MBA program offered by the Filene Research Institute. Neha Marfatia, who graduated from Pepperdine University in 2008, used her contacts with the school to create a program that would afford the credit union direct contact with the Gen Y market.
Acting as liaison between the university and the credit union, Marfatia corresponded with Doreen Shanahan, program director at Pepperdine, to set up a case study program that would allow students to engage in actual business situations.
"They basically broke up into several different teams, and we kind of assigned them different employer groups," said Kathryn Davis, Xceed senior vice president, who worked with Marfatia. "During the course of the project they did research and then came back and gave us some really fantastic recommendations.
It was like a real-life business scenario; you kind of work on stuff and things happen, and then you have to redirect to kind of get back to the goal. So I think they really liked that, because you would not get that practical application just in a straight classroom setting."
According to Davis, students focused on online usage and strategic methods to revamp the credit union's website, xfcu.org, in addition to interacting with its select employee groups. "They had some ideas on how to get members that were already in the select employer group involved, so it was a really powerful opportunity to interact with them," she said.
In gathering research material, the MBA hopefuls used Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networking sites to contact SEGs and circulate performance surveys. Some students also visited businesses for interviews with company executives or socialized with workers in lobbies.
Throughout the project, Xceed executives met with the Pepperdine students to offer guidance and advice when needed. Marfatia also acted as a daily correspondent for the student groups, answering questions and helping navigate roadblocks in their research.
"In some cases folks were a little bit off, and we could help redirect or in some cases say, 'You're spot on. Keep going with that. I'm interested with what you're going to discover,'" said Davis. "Also, given their focus on select employer groups, we did hook them up with our business development officers, and they got an opportunity to ask them some questions, understand their role, and how the process worked. So I think they definitely got in touch with a lot of folks here at the credit union and understand how the credit union runs."
Marfatia believes that the program was successful and said that Xceed will continue to work with the University in the future.
At the beginning of the program just one of the 30 students could provide the definition of a credit union, but students' final presentations presented practical and innovative ideas for marketing to SEGs and expressed greater understanding of the credit union industry.
Six student teams presented the results of the quarter's research to Xceed executives before taking questions and receiving constructive feedback.
"It was interesting at the end of this entire case study, they were all really jazzed about credit unions and what it is we offer to members, and so that was kind of fun to hear," said Davis, who described the program as mutually beneficial. Marfatia added, "Our goal was to increase membership and get a better degree of penetration among our corporate clients, and so we wanted to understand what the demographics are of our existing clients and come up with some new strategies that we could reach out to them better."
According to Davis, the pilot program produced some useful ideas that are currently being implemented at Xceed. Quick and easy social networking suggestions are first on the agenda to target Gen Y and will be carried out by the end of the summer.
The unique experience offered by the case study has also prompted the university to invite Xceed back in the fall semester for a product and service level addition to the curriculum. "After the fall semester," Davis said, "we have talked about what will kind of follow up on that for the spring semester, so I think it's going to be a nice partnership with the university; they've been very nice to work with."
Initially assuming the role as an intern, Marfatia's performance handling the case study project earned her a full-time position as a product analyst at the credit union. "Initially, it was kind of a learning experience, and by week two I kind of figured out I wanted to stay here," she said.
Davis added, "And we didn't want to let her go."