REV: Serving communities better by going digital

REV: Serving communities better by going digital

REV Federal Credit Union CTO Zac Streelman discusses how digitalisation is helping the organisation better serve its members and wider communities

“I wanted to be a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) the moment I graduated from college”, says REV Federal Credit Union CTO Zac Streelman. 

Intending to become a CTO by 40, Streelman is happy to have achieved that aim, even if he did “miss it by a couple of years” when he took the post at REV at age 42. 

With his dream job in the bag, Streelman’s focus is “very much looking forward to the future of REV”.

“My role is to champion continuous investment in resources to keep us relevant,” adds Streelman. “There are about 5,000 credit unions in the US and lots more around the world. We don't just want to be a credit union on the corner. We want to be a key part of this community and promote financial stewardship and wellness here.”

Streelman is integral to REV’s aims of achieving relevancy, leveraging emerging technologies (fintechs) to keep REV at the forefront of innovation. “It's about looking at consumer habits and what is trending,” says Streelman. 

“If the market is trending towards a digital experience, then we should be able to provide one. 

“I can say for certain that the next generation is not looking at us because of our branch network. They're looking at us because of our digital offerings and they want something that stands out. So it’s my job to make sure we do that.”

Fueled by the belief that ‘what you do matters, but how you do it matters more’, Streelman looks for integrity, passion, ambition, and humility as the four key essentials in his team.

Determined to see REV expand its reach to better serve its communities, how did Streelman follow his post-college dream to land the post of CTO at REV Federal Credit Union?

The making of Streelman the CTO

If one thing’s for certain, his path to REV and the finance industry was anything but orthodox. Although he knew he wanted to be a CTO, Streelman wasn’t sure what career path would take him there. 

It is no wonder then that Streelman had “12 different roles in nine different industries” throughout his career. These included positions in the insurance, software, and manufacturing industries. Streelman was even a computer science teacher at a Hollywood-based prep school.

And, despite the fact he was laid off three times during the dot com crash of the early 2000s, Streelman feels he has been “really fortunate to have gotten a wide range of exposures to different environments, industries, and technologies”. 

Streelman adds: “I have always been a technologist. I got my first computer for Christmas in 1990, and by January I had it taken apart and put back together again, which gave me a passion for tinkering and building PCs. Here I am 20+ years later.”

While the credit union space wasn’t an industry Streelman particularly envisaged he would enter upon graduating college, he has now found that “credit unions align with my personal value system and it allows me to take care of my family. It's a very stable environment.”

Streelman: The CTO with a unique perspective

Experience across multiple industries has perhaps enabled Streelman to enter the credit union space with a broader perspective than most.

As REV’s CTO puts it: “When you understand the perspective outside the four walls of your own organisation, it gives you just a different lens that you view the world through.”

It is this unique lens with which Streelman hopes to take REV forward. 

“Traditionally, credit unions have been slow to adopt new technologies or have been behind the curve in some ways,” Streelman notes. “But I've come from SaaS companies where I got to understand how the cloud works and how virtualisation works.

“I understand how those technologies can be leveraged to drive significant innovation and adoption within the credit union space.

“If you look at where we are today, with the AI boom and burgeoning fintech ecosystems, those areas play well in a credit union environment. That’s what we’re starting to take note of and act upon now.”

REV: From military beginnings to technologically ambitious

As noted by Streelman, REV is on course to expand its technological reach, as one of South Carolina’s leading credit unions. 

But, if you had asked the founders of REV if this would be where the credit union is today, they would scarcely believe it.

Founded in the city of Charleston in 1955, REV was conceived as a credit union for the Charleston Air Force base to serve the financial needs of US armed servicemen. 

“The credit union has now expanded its field of membership and made it easier for anybody to join,” says Streelman. “There are no requirements to join REV now, you can join from pretty much anywhere. We’ve also expanded into North Carolina too, and have 15 branches.

“Today, we have a different mindset of what growth means. We want to invest in technology, we want to drive innovation in the industry. I’m now leading the REV tech roadmap, the dedicated digital transformation journey we’re on.

“As part of the roadmap, there are four areas we want to be accomplished in. We want to have a great brand because, without a brand, we don't have anything. We want excellent member experience, we want a tremendous employee experience, and we need to be financially strong.”

REV: Living up to member expectations

Leveraging a roadmap to greater digitalisation, as well as boosting efficiency, is REV’s way of meeting the member expectations of today. 

“It’s important to understand that being digital first doesn’t mean being digital only,” notes Streelman. “We need to marry technology with our efforts on the member service front.

“I don’t think the brick-and-mortar, in-person services we offer are replaceable. There's a tremendous amount of value that happens when you are sitting across a desk from someone, and I believe that in-person member service and digital services need to coexist.

“Beyond that, we’re not competing with other banks and credit unions. If you really think about it, we're competing with Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Uber. The consumer expectation is ‘I can go on my phone and I can order my food and someone's going to bring it to my house right now’. 

“We need to understand that because if we're behind that eight ball, we'll never get ahead of it. We have to be forward-thinking, and we have to be more proactive in the way that we serve our members with a digital mindset, otherwise, we're just not going to be relevant to anybody.”

REV: Leveraging tech the right way

Striking the right balance between in-person member experiences and digital innovation is of utmost importance for REV. For Streelman, the right technology must be used for the right use case. 

“Especially with AI, there are many areas where you can innovate, but there are certain things you would never want AI to do. You wouldn’t want AI to help you choose a house or give you financial advice – it’s important to protect the elements of member-business relationships where there is an emotional connection involved.

“Community connection is what credit unions are all about, it’s the one major difference between us and banks – the concept of being a member as opposed to a member. Being a member means you belong to something, and belongingness is what creates a strong community.”

Streelman is committed to these values, as he hopes to leverage technology to nurture relational member experiences rather than transactional ones. 

He adds: “Having those branches – even if people would prefer to use a digital option – is vital. It’s a sense of knowing that, as a member, you can pick up the phone any time and talk to a real live human being, or go into a branch and talk face-to-face.”

REV: Boosting community connection with financial literacy

Building community connections is at the heart of everything REV does, it is even accredited for its work by being a registered community development financial institution (CDFI). 

“We are dedicated to serving the unbanked and underbanked. We try to fulfil this mission by completing a lot of philanthropy work in our communities. We have an annual REV day, which saw over 1,200 volunteer hours in just a single 24 hours. 

“It’s about relationships, not just branding. We’re not just out there trying to get noticed. We're out there because we truly believe that a stronger REV makes a stronger community, and a stronger community will benefit REV.”

For Streelman, the key to building a stronger community – and a stronger REV – is building financial literacy skills in the areas the credit union serves. 

“One of the things we do at REV that I love is run branches inside high schools – branches that are student-led and student-employed. Students get to be REV employees, and they also have the chance to learn a lot about financial literacy while getting paid for doing it.”

A niche, possibly unheard-of innovation, REV’s work in local schools is helping the next generation learn how not only finance works, but also how the institutions upholding it operate.

Promoting financial literacy, much like REV’s philanthropic efforts, is no mere PR stunt. The credit union recently hosted the former Chair of the NCUA board of directors, Rodney Hood, who called financial illiteracy ‘the civil rights issue of our time.’

This is something Streelman agrees with wholeheartedly, because “as representatives of a credit union, REV bears the responsibility to provide the tools and education necessary for financial literacy”. 

“But we also can't just say that,” adds Streelman, “we have to be active champions of it. That's what being in the community means.

“Being in the community doesn't mean you have a building on the corner. Being in the community means you're actively going out and helping people.”

REV: Leveraging tech to reach the underserved

How, then, can technology be leveraged to better enforce the connection between credit unions and the wider community? 

For Streelman, it’s about meeting members’ expectations, expectations driven by the experiences consumers have in other digital engagements.

“If a member can go on Amazon and order something in 30 seconds for the next day, then they better be able to expect the same speed at their bank too.

“At REV, we’re in the middle of a digital banking conversion, as we move onto a new platform provided by our digital partner Alkami. The platform will allow us to present tools to our members, through its open SDK and API environment. 

“We now employ a development team, a crew of software engineers that will be able to write code on that open API. We've incorporated things in there like savings goals. 

“So if a member is saving for a new car, they can allocate the money and it will tell you how you're tracking toward your goal in real-time, offering you alerts to help you achieve your goal.”

It’s an accumulation of what Streelman calls “small things”, like a robust alert system, that builds a broader digital member service offering to not only enhance the member experience but also educate members on the financial options available to them.

He adds: “So much of the financial landscape right now is shrouded in dismay. People are despairing about their finances, but it doesn't have to be that way. If we can be a shining light in our community to try to change that narrative, then I'm all for it.”

REV: A digital service built on partnerships

Alkami is not the only partner helping deliver small changes for a big effect at REV Federal Credit Union. The fintech Glia is enabling REV “to do things it could never do before”, according to Streelman. 

“With Glia, we can chat with our members, send texts and engage with them in a new way. It is another pretty small thing if you think about it. 

“But from our members' perspective, that's a huge win because now they have another avenue to talk to a person. It’s another avenue for them to know that they matter. Members want to know that their voice is heard.

“These little things, small transformational moments; they're not massive shifts in strategy or direction, but at the end of a thousand small shifts we find ourselves facing a whole new direction. 

“Our fintech partnerships allow us to face this new direction, and it’s important to nurture these partnerships because consumer expectations are always evolving, and we need to evolve alongside them.”

REV: A digital future

REV, then, as part of an ecosystem of partners is looking to the future. “We live life looking through the windshield, not the rearview mirror,” notes Streelman. 

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s really important to have a rearview mirror because you have to know what's behind you, you have to know where you came from. 

“But if you tried to drive your car that way, it'd be a disaster – the windshield's way bigger and clearer for a reason! So let's go forward.”

Forward is the direction REV is headed. “The next months will see us start to streamline our existing processes, particularly around automation,” Streelman says.

“There's a tool that we're looking at right now called OpenBots, which is an AI, ChatGPT-driven solution for analysis and process automation.

“I expect these types of solutions to come to the fore even more in the coming years, and we’ll be there to make the best use of them. 

“But, of course, the future isn’t just about AI, it's also about looking strategically at what our data accuracy levels are, improving our trending and predictive analytics, and growing our development capabilities.

“That’s the future of REV, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing it come to fruition.”

REV Federal Credit Union transaction card
REV Federal Credit Union transaction card
Team at REV Federal Credit Union
Team at REV Federal Credit Union
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