What’s In A Name: UX Research And Design

A special team at BECU delves into digital to tackle user experience at the big cooperative.

 
 

BECU ($22.2B, Tukwila, WA) has focused on enhancing its overall member experience for many years. Two years ago, the big Evergreen State cooperative created a special team to tackle the digital user experience (UX). 

The cooperative officially centralized its digital UX team in 2018. Today, the team comprises a mix of tenured and new staff with an innate curiosity about human behavior and the expertise to translate research into action. 

Although the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the team’s process to help it focus on newly emerged member needs, its overall goal remains the same: to improve each member interaction by focusing on consistency, accessibility, and usability. The team’s evangelism for UX design principles across the cooperative encompasses everything from partnering with the marketing team to ensure messaging resonates with members to fast-tracking a member relief loan usability study. 

Here, Liz Holland, the credit union’s senior manager of UX research and design, talks about the team’s purpose and structure as well as how the team has accelerated processes to address critical member needs during the current environment..

When and why did BECU form its digital user experience team? 

Liz Holland: I joined BECU in 2018 after spending 14 years with HSBC Bank. The UX research and design team was officially formed that summer. Prior to that, there was a single digital UX manager at the credit union and a team elsewhere that worked across the organization on any opportunity that touched the member. 

The credit union needed a specialized digital UX group with expertise and knowledge that could focus exclusively on the cooperative’s digital capabilities. To centralize the team, we brought over two of the senior UX designers from the other team and hired a few more people. 

 What challenges and opportunities does the team address? 

LH: It often seems to make more sense to buy digital solutions versus build them internally, but this approach — although it allows an organization to quickly acquire new technical capabilities — inevitably leads to an inconsistent digital experience for the members. Additionally, some capabilities from an outside vendor might not speak directly to what members want.  

Our team conducts research and design exercises on an ongoing basis to address challenges and uncover opportunities. For example, we make sure marketing pages speak to members’ needs and that new features are usable. We also focus on accessibility, as outside technology capabilities are not always inclusive. Accessibility is a huge challenge our team is addressing. 

How does the team integrate with the rest of the credit union? 

LH: Structurally, we sit within the digital and product group, but we touch almost all areas of the organization. We’ve worked on projects for staff-facing enterprise capabilities and conducted ethnographic studies within account servicing. We work closely with the folks in fraud and consistently monitor the voice of the member via what’s coming in through our social channels and ongoing user studies. Our team has multiple studies running simultaneously for any number of projects.

How is the team set up? What is the reporting structure?  

LH: I’m senior manager and there are six team members who report to me. Our UX research manager has been with BECU for more than 18 years. She’s one of the staff members we pulled from another team. She started as a branch manager and worked her way up, so she is in tune with the pulse of the organization and understands who to talk to, which is helpful in managing our research program. 

Next, we have two UX generalists who do both research and design. We also have one additional, specialized UX researcher and two senior UI designers. 

I report up through the SVP of digital, who reports to the EVP of digital and product. We’re pretty well connected to the executive level, just a few steps removed versus what you might find at a big bank. 

What makes the team members a great fit?  

LH: To be good at this job, you need to be curious about people and wonder why and how they do things. Everyone on my team has that innate curiosity. 

One of our UX generalists is wrapping up a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. He’s interested in understanding how the research out of academia translates to designers on the ground. That really excited me about him — he provides the capability to translate findings into something actionable. 

Our other UX generalist previously worked for Motorola on conversational experience. He has a wide depth of knowledge in that area, which a lot of organizations are focused on. We’re looking to expand our conversational experience with live chat, messenger, and bots. 

Our UX researcher came from the nonprofit sector and is interested in the overall mission and goal of the organization. And, our two designers are just rock stars. One used to be a developer and pivoted into design and the other has an art director background and ensures our designs are consistent and aligned. Although our IT side develops the code, four of us have developer backgrounds, so we’re able to have in-depth conversations because we understand how it all works. 

What is the daily routine of a team member? 

LH: Everybody has completely different days. My UX generalist is currently working on a project for our financial health team. For him, a typical day is running through design iterations, running usability studies, or pulling together findings and reports. 

We do a lot of peer mentoring on our team because we all have such different backgrounds. There is a lot of cross-learning, and I try to push the team to peer review. The UX generalist does a lot of that because he has experience from working toward his PhD.

What are the team’s main areas of responsibility? 

LH: Anything that touches digital, but today that has so much crossover. For example, if we’re researching a particular project and we have a finding that impacts a branch, we’ll continue to explore that and likely consult with another team to implement those findings. But, our main focus is anything that touches digital. 

How do you and the team stay current with topics that fall under your roles?  

LH: I’m a big advocate of continued learning. Not in this current environment, but typically we attend offsite workshops or see speakers like Jared Spool as a team. I’m also a big Nielsen Norman Group fan. A few members of the team are getting their certification through NN/g. Typically, I advocate for the entire team to find at least one conference a year they think they can learn from and have them bring those learnings back and share them with the whole group.   

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, is there anything the team is doing differently? 

LH: Yes. Over the past month or so we have drastically accelerated our processes. As part of the COVID-19 response, our team designed a usability study for member assistance loans and had it out in less than a week. We’ve also accelerated research studies to make sure the marketing pages are speaking to member needs, and we’re running general pulse studies on our overall field of membership to understand what’s impacting them and how they are thinking about digital banking overall. 

Recently, we were on a call with the product owner for mobile and were discussing the stimulus checks and how it would be great if we had a demo video for mobile check deposit. That wouldn’t normally be on our radar, but our team volunteered to help because we had the capabilities and equipment to do so. We got it done quickly to meet a timely member need.

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