What Does ‘Digital-First’ Mean For Clearview FCU?

The Pennsylvania credit union is expanding its technology offerings to create internal efficiencies and improve convenience, but it’s still not cutting the branch.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Clearview FCU is on a mission to improve its digital strategy to make banking more convenient for members and more efficient for employees.
  • Since 2019, the credit union has focused on digital channels, internal processes, and technological education for front-line staffers.

Clearview Federal Credit Union ($1.6B, Moon Township, PA) is no stranger to digital banking. For years it has offered digital channels and tracked how members engage with them.

In 2019, however, the credit union doubled down with a digital-first approach to operations. The billion-dollar cooperative knew technology — whether online, via mobile, in the branch, or more — was the best way to compete in a crowded market.

Today, Clearview actively communicates with employees about the credit union’s digital-first stance and even has embedded in branches technology champions to educate front-line staff about offerings and stress their member experience benefits.

In this Q&A, Bill Snider, vice president of digital strategy and marketing, and Janet Preteroti, vice president of member experience, discuss Clearview’s move to a digital-first mindset, changes it has made, branch champions, and more.

Why did Clearview FCU move to a digital-first approach?

Bill Snider: We needed to change our philosophy to compete as a financial institution.

From the member perspective, could they do business with us any way they wanted? If they wanted to bank on the phone, tablet, or laptop, were we giving them that? If they wanted to come in, did our technology provide the best possible experience? We wanted all the options with the understanding we’d expand them overtime.

Bill Snider, VP of Digital Strategy & Marketing, Clearview FCU

Internally, we had to be more efficient and wanted our employees to question processes. How can I make this more efficient? How can I make this less physical?

Every company is a technology company, and we realized that’s how we had to think, too. We had to give our employees and members access to the right tools and give our members the ability to bank with us any way they want.

Janet Preteroti: The first time we said, “digital first,” people assumed we meant doing away with in-person branch transactions and walking away from our branches. We spent time talking about what digital-first meant to Clearview, and it did not mean we were doing away with our branches.

What was the digital state of the credit union two years ago?

BS: We were evolving and decided to put our foot on the accelerator. We were on the right track, but we needed a faster pace.

“We were evolving and decided to put our foot on the accelerator. We were on the right track, but we needed a faster pace.”

Bill Snider, VP of Digital Strategy & Marketing, Clearview FCU

We began to add features and functions to our online banking platform and mobile app. Internally, we began to look more holistically at projects and how they could make the whole organization more efficient rather than just one or two groups.

Did you have a roadmap for what you wanted Clearview FCU to look like? Did you set a timeframe for reaching it?

BS: We have an organization roadmap and roadmaps for each department. This allows the executive team, and all the teams that report to us, to understand what our plans and goals are. Those roadmaps allow us to see the big picture but also make changes when necessary.

For example, when the pandemic started, we needed appointment scheduling because we weren’t allowing members into the branch unless they had an appointment. In concert with that, we needed video banking. The roadmap enabled us to slot those projects in, move others back, and implement the ability for members to schedule appointments without calling a branch and press a button on our website or mobile app to connect face-to-face with someone at Clearview.

The pandemic created urgency around what projects to deploy. Beyond that, how do you identify which projects to tackle?

BS: We have an IT steering committee that meets with the executive team on a regular basis to talk about projects. As I mentioned, we try to consider projects holistically, so if there’s a project that benefits at least three departments, it will probably receive a higher priority.

Like every other organization, we’re trying to do more with the same number of people and dollars, and we have to keep tweaking the process. These projects don’t just start and finish, they continue to evolve as our internal and external needs change.

What projects have you rolled out in the past two years?

BS: The big one is leveraging electronic documents throughout the organization. We ask departments that use more paper to consider how to automate or digitize their processes. Or HR department made electronic all the new hire onboarding files that used to be printed.

We implemented a new CRM system that will help us interact with our employees and members. It’s a living system, so we can add new features and functions.

And, we’re always adding new features to our online banking and mobile app. Video banking was a big deal for us. It’s something we think will make us different in our market, something potential members will consider when looking for a financial institution. Long term, it will help us reach more members without adding the branches we otherwise would have.

CU QUICK FACTS

Clearview FCU
Data as of 06.30.21

HQ: Moon Township, PA
ASSETS: $1.6B
MEMBERS: 109,664
BRANCHES: 17
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 13.6%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 5.2%
ROA: 0.73%

JP: We’re opening a microbranch later this year. It’s a small footprint with three employees at the location and video to support additional banking activity. We’re building an enclosed, soundproof booth in that branch that members can use to video chat with experts outside the specialty of our branch staff.

That’s changing how we look at branch footprints as well how we consider video. If we can connect with a member in real-time, maybe we can identify them more clearly and easily and jump over those hurdles we’d face in identification for online applications or even wire transactions.

You called Clearview a technology company. With your offerings, who do you see yourself competing against?

BS: We compete against other banks. We’re in the Pittsburgh area. PNC is the big player that we benchmark ourselves against. The Bank of Americas, regional banks, and slew of online and fintech organizations, even if they are more niche players, don’t necessarily have all the solutions but we’re absolutely competing against them on the solutions they do have.

As an industry, we tend not to consider companies like Amazon, but because of Amazon, consumers want everything at the touch of a button. So that’s what we need to do. Whether its depositing a check or sending money to a friend, it needs to be easy and quick. During the pandemic, people have become even more accustomed to using their phones and computers to order food or shop. When they turn their attention our way, we need to offer that same simplicity.

How did your staff react to this digital-first approach? What educational efforts did you make?

BS: When you hear “digital-first,” it definitely makes some employees a little nervous. We continue to express to our teams that this approach does not eliminate anything, it just modifies how we work. Our goal is to make it easier for a member to do business with us and make work more convenient and efficient for our staff. We keep reiterating that message and trying to connect the dots for our teams.

We also make sure everyone in the organization has the freedom to ask questions. Negative feelings can start if they don’t understand, if they’re concerned, and they don’t express that to a manger but do talk about it to their coworkers.

JP: We’re starting to see more people come to us with solutions for problems. It’s great to see that level of engagement, and we hope it spreads.

Clearview embedded digital champions in branches. How many are there? What is their purpose?

JP: We have 16 champions for our 17 branches — one branch is in a retirement village, so we don’t have one there. We selected these employees because they have leadership potential and were willing to take on new responsibilities. From a functional standpoint, they’re more comfortable with technology, social media, and all those things.

We put champions in the branches when we introduced in-branch iPads several years ago, but their purpose has evolved since then. This spring, we surveyed our branch employees to gauge their comfort with technology and Clearview’s digital products and their personal use and interactivity with certain social media channels. From that, we grouped employees into three buckets: advanced users, those who are comfortable but not overly excited, and those who need help. The champions are all in that advanced group and spend time working with those next two tiers.

Do they have responsibilities outside of their duties as a champion?

JP: They’re fully functional universal employees. Some are more advanced and have lending capabilities, others do not. They’re part of the branch team and moonlight as our digital champions, although they do take some of the training responsibility off the manager.

Do those champions operate as a team?

JP: We bring the champions together once a month for a meeting to talk about issues and ideas and just connect and think about ways to follow Clearview’s technology roadmap. The champions try to align their training to what’s coming next in the development cycle. Someone will show the champions what’s coming, train them, and get their support and enthusiasm for what’s new. The champions then take that to the branch for the remaining staff.

It's been great for the champions to connect with like-minded people who they might not have otherwise had the opportunity to connect with.

What comes next on the digital roadmap?

BS: We’re making sure we have the same functionality on our desktop and mobile banking applications. It might not be glamorous, but it’s what we have to do to make sure those channels are in sync. In addition, we’re making our alerts more timely — especially in the cases of low balances or getting close to certain thresholds — so members know that information as soon as possible.

One thing we want to do is add AI through chatbots. How far can we extend that self-serve model without having to call or use video banking? Where can that automation take us?

What best practices from your journey can you share?

BS: Before going to the organization and saying you’re going to be a digital-first credit union, management and above needs a unified definition. Everyone needs to be on the same page so the answers to questions are uniform. We started with digital-first and then came the definition. We might have caused unneeded heartburn. We always had the answer; they should have just come together.

Then, I’d say roadmaps help. Something that shows where you’re headed and where you want to be.

JP: For me, it’s having the champion — that person who is not corporate but who is excited for each and every thing we do and shares that passion and understanding with others.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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