Today’s consumers have embraced technology like never before to connect with each other and the organizations with which they do business.
Using iPads and smart phones, they are hooking up with digital services and communities that are available anywhere, any time, and have a deep understanding of their unique needs.
At the same time, many smaller financial institutions have become increasingly disconnected from the way people live today because they continue to operate on outdated technology that hasn’t kept pace with what consumers need. This jeopardizes a traditional strength – their close relationships with and knowledge of the people they serve.
Social networks like Facebook, shopping sites like Amazon and payment services like PayPal have fundamentally changed how people communicate, share ideas, learn about new products and make purchases. Technology has become ubiquitous and businesses are profiting from the vast trove of data generated by consumers’ online activities and transactions.
In contrast to this real-time, algorithmically driven and efficient world of digitally connected consumers, many credit unions are stuck in a time warp. They are trying to compete in a highly personalized, knowledge-rich world with decades-old systems designed for managing basic transactions rather than knowing people.
This gap between what consumers need and what credit unions are delivering has raised fundamental questions about credit unions’ basic business model, forcing many to reconsider who they are and why they exist.
To re-establish their relevance in people’s lives, credit unions must find new ways to connect with and understand today’s consumer. While there is no silver bullet, I believe leaders of these institutions should first focus on upgrading their technology infrastructure.
Banking today is built around individuals and relationships, not transactions. Institutions can no longer meet the needs of the 21st century with flat-file, transaction-based systems that are out of date and designed for a completely different business model.
Newer relational database systems with data models focused on the person are far better suited to capturing and making profitable use of the varied types of information that are needed today.Systems built on open architectures offer enhanced flexibility to connect with the pervasive digital technologies and services that people are using, as compared to older proprietary architectures.
And systems that support user-created enhancements (such as apps) promote faster innovation to keep pace with the ever-evolving needs of consumers and the financial institutions alike.
Today’s technology gives users on a common platform the ability to work together to extend their core capabilities by providing powerful development tools, hooks to essential core services and data, and the network infrastructure to facilitate the sharing of solutions.
This form of collaboration offers a powerful new way to address emerging needs quickly and at lower cost than traditional development models, giving smaller institutions the power to compete as one and win against the largest institutions in the world.
Collaboration has long been the bedrock of credit unions, which have used collaborative technology and shared services to reduce costs and improve efficiencies. But the greatest opportunities for collaboration take full advantage of communities – leveraging peers, user groups, members and others for insights, ideas and best practices; operating more efficiently; and building increased loyalty.
Communications technology and social media have made it easy for people to form ad hoc communities and we have only begun to scratch the surface of how these technologies can be deployed for advantage.
These are fast-changing and pivotal times for credit unions. Our close relationships with businesses and consumers are being challenged by more “connected” and technologically savvy competitors, and it’s time to look beyond doing business as usual.
The good news is we have it within our power to meet the challenges ahead. Newer technologies and innovative forms of collaboration offer opportunities to re-connect with the digitally connected way people live today and recapture our role at the center of peoples’ financial lives.
Credit unions have provided crucial support for their local economies, promoting the growth of small businesses and jobs that are the foundation of the American Dream. By adapting now, we can preserve that role for generations to come.