MSU Federal Credit Union was founded in 1937 to help members achieve financial success and stability following the Great Depression. It has remained dedicated to that same mission for more than 82 years. Its mission statement is simple: providing superior service while assisting members and employees to achieve financial security, their goals and ultimately, their dreams.
Benjamin Maxim is the Assistant Vice President of Digital Strategy and Innovation for the Credit Union. Maxim is well aware of the importance of leading in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s vital that you’re a strong communicator and offer transparent messaging,” he says. “Given the situation, people are concerned and uncertain, and they need someone to speak to them with confidence, understand their fears, and try to alleviate their worries. During times like these, it’s also important to continue to invest in technological advancements as these allow the organisation to continue to move forward.”
The pandemic has resulted in many industries accelerating their digital transformation journeys and adopting new processes in order to avoid disruption as much as possible. However, financial institutions like MSUFCU were already ahead of the curve. “Digital has always been a focus and a priority of ours,” affirms Maxim. “We’ve built robust IT and UX teams in house to allow for greater control, which has enabled us to be extremely responsive to our members’ needs. Having the in-house teams allows us to be nimble, agile and ready to respond to the latest trends and technologies. Additionally, we have established several strategic partnerships with vendors, allowing us to capitalise on their strengths to enhance our own.”
In the last two years, MSUFCU has launched its Member2Member℠ (M2M℠) transfer solution, in addition to modernising its existing membership and loan application process by leveraging the ecommerce experience of bundling products and services together into one streamlined application. “Within our membership base, you can now send money through any email address or phone number with M2M℠ which has meant a decrease in the volume of calls to our call center and chats to our eServices team,” he says. “This has improved efficiency across the organisation.”
In October 2019, MSUFCU introduced its first member-facing Chabot to extend its service hours. “We have an international membership living and working in various time zones and it’s important to us that we are accessible to all of them as well as our members in the U.S.,” explains Maxim. “This solution enabled us to provide a better experience for our members – when they need us. We continue to expand our Chatbot’s capabilities, and through this, our live chat employees and others can focus on more complex and meaningful transactions. In addition, our eServices team has grown exponentially, from just three employees when I started 13 years ago, to more than 75 employees today as our members’ behavior has changed over the years becoming more comfortable interacting through live chat and other digital touch points.
“Whenever we release an innovation, we do so in gradual stages. First, we release it to a subset of employees and members to gather feedback along the way before going through the process of introducing it to all employees, and eventually to the full membership. Receiving feedback early in the cycle is key as it ensures we are able to address any issues successfully.”
With a plethora of new innovations on the horizon at MSUFCU, the organisation’s digital drive shows no visible signs of slowing. “We’re currently investigating solutions with fintechs and in-house innovation teams that will help us increase member engagement with our digital platforms, reduce fraud and create efficiencies through automation using technologies like RPA,” says Maxim. “We understand the importance of improving our processes and the way we work; it’s not just a case of bringing in another person; there are ways we can leverage technology to be both more efficient and more effective. We are also modernising our employee idea submission process to encourage collaboration and engagement from all our employees as they are the ones interacting with our members regularly, so they have a better understanding of member wants and needs.”
Maxim acknowledges the challenge of a culture shift and is aware that some employees might be reluctant to change. “Our goal is to retain the employees we have and to make sure they are in the jobs that align with our business needs, while also providing the training and support they need to be successful in those roles. However, if they are unwilling to grow as individuals and learn new skills, then it will be more difficult to retain them long-term,” he explains.
Maxim understands the importance of establishing key, strategic business relationships and believes his organisation is “only as good as its partners.” MSUFCU has formed long-term and mutually sustainable partnerships with Jack Henry, their core banking provider, and Visa over the past few years, and Maxim credits them with helping the organisation realise many of its ambitions. “We’ve spent several years solidifying our partnership with Jack Henry’s leadership team and developing a relationship with them. We’re at a point now where we’re co-creating solutions in many cases. We also provide feedback by beta testing solutions they’re working on. We meet with them regularly, and they provide solutions that truly work for us. This relationship is important to us because if our core banking system isn’t strong, then we can’t be as successful an organisation as we’d like to be and our members need us to be,” explains Maxim. “Our relationship with our card provider, Visa, is similar. We’ve worked with them on a number of technological initiatives. We were one of their first clients to go live with their Card On/Off solution, which enables people to lock their credit card if they lose or misplace it. We’re also working with them on travel-related APIs and to reduce fraud when travelling overseas. In addition, we worked with Visa to develop our Visa Signature cash back credit card. Visa has been a great partner and has enabled us to add many products and services benefitting our membership.”
With the future in mind, Maxim has an idea of the effect digital will continue to have in the industry in the upcoming years. “I believe there will be varying levels of comfort with people using digital products,” he says. “People will still want to interact with us in person so it’s about how we use digital to augment the experience they have with us. We strive to provide a personalised solution because everyone’s situation is unique to them. As we innovate in the digital financial space, we are focused on personalisation, encouraging financial wellness, and providing superior digital service to our members. There are many services, such as Netflix or Amazon, that leverage their user’s data to tailor an experience that is unique to them, providing a personalised list of options or recommendations and the more the user is willing to share the more individual the experience becomes. We want to follow the same process for financial services. The influence of data is huge and its influence will only continue to grow.”