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Top 6 Takeaways from the 2020 Symitar® Educational Conference (SEC) & TechConnect

Top takeaways from the first ever virtual SEC.

It’s been said that the real troubles in life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind – the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday. The kind like COVID-19, which blindsided not just China … not just the United States … but the entire world, spreading to at least 177 countries. Seemingly overnight, we witnessed the pandemic reorient society – the economy, healthcare, even our lifestyles. Our idea of “normal” has all but been thrown out the window and the word “pivot” has become a chronic meme.

But pivot is exactly what we’ve all had to do, including – and especially – the credit union industry.

At the 2020 Symitar® Educational Conference (SEC) & TechConnect, more than 2,800 credit union leaders and representatives came together in a new, virtual format (another pivot) to explore the current climate, discuss challenges and opportunities, and look forward to the future. Below, you’ll find the top six key takeaways from the conference – ranging from improving the member experience to choosing a commercial growth strategy and everything in between.

SEC Takeaway #1 | Improving the Member Experience

I, myself, had to pivot alongside this year’s SEC. I was supposed to lead a session called Understanding Generations, in which I explore the differences between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers. I still got to deliver the presentation, but it was in a pre-recorded Microsoft® PowerPoint format for the on-demand library. On one hand, it was a relief to forgo the pressure and anxiety that comes with public speaking. On the other hand, I found it difficult to generate the same level of excitement when recording as I had when I presented on this topic in front of a group of 60 people last year. Still, I was happy to hear the on-demand version came with some really good feedback – and if you want to check out the article series that sparked the session, you can read Marketing Your Credit Union: Understanding Generations. Spoiler: when it comes to improving the member experience, take the time to listen to and understand the circumstances of your members instead of trying to be everything to everyone all the time.

Another key aspect of improving the member experience is the concept of putting the personal in digital. After all, that’s what lies at the heart of Modern MembershipSM. As discussed in spotlight session The Professor, the Strategist & the Man Bun: A Conversation About the Future Moderated by “Uncle” Sam Maule, there has been considerable acceleration lately of credit unions getting into the digital space in order to better serve their members. Pre-pandemic priorities and focus areas largely included improving digital delivery and digitizing branches. But COVID-19 has started the bigger conversation when it comes to digital – how to interact with members, how to build relationships, and how to maintain those relationships. That’s why you’ll see traditional call centers evolving into true contact centers – with credit unions upskilling their agents and empowering them with the tools they need to improve the service they deliver.

SEC Takeaway #2 | Maximizing Deposits

As we see the world move toward invisible payments and watch fintechs like Varo and disruptors like Apple enter the traditional banking space, making sure your credit union is top-of-app and top-of-wallet will go a long way toward increasing your payments revenue and maximizing deposits. How can you do that? In the session, The Digital Battle That Your Credit Union Must Win, we learned one top strategy tactic is taking a platform approach to payments. Think: implementing a payments hub, delivering an open API, and considering payments-as-a-service (PaaS). With a platform approach, your credit union will be positioned to compete with big banks and fintechs. In fact, platform-based financial institutions can achieve twice the operating profits, higher market values, and steady growth than non-platform-based firms.

SEC Takeaway #3 | Increasing Your Credit Union’s Efficiency

 When it comes to increasing efficiency, automation is key – but it’s important to balance automation with the personal touch that comes from a maintaining human element. There was a lot of buzz around the session, jhaCall Center™: The Future of the Call Center, which addressed the importance of member touchpoints during the pandemic.

Whether it’s due to a job loss, health concerns, or a fear of economic uncertainty, your members could be struggling; and now more than ever, they need to feel understood and protected by their credit union. That’s why you’ll see that the pandemic has led to a reevaluation of the way jhaCall Center agents handle increasing volume. One approach includes using innovative tech to gamify the agent experience to the end result of effective communication within the teams and exceptional interactions with members.

SEC Takeaway #4 | Using Data Intelligently

In the Main Stage session, Know Thy Member: Using Data for Empathic Banking, we learned that through innovative tech, process automation, and decisions provided by the human element, you can create a personalized, individualized member experience. For example, you can tie a member’s social media activity to his or her Episys® account (if they opt-in, of course) and then connect to Microsoft Azure Analytics to detect the sentiment and evaluate the content of the posts. Using these values, you can determine whether your member spoke positively or negatively about your credit union and use an automated process to trigger a feedback service event. Once the feedback is received, the owners of your member engagement process can review the social media post and decide if they want to send the member a follow-up email.

SEC Takeaway #5 | Addressing Regulatory & Security Concerns

The session, CECL Impact: Auditor Focus Versus Regulator Focus, outlined best practices for preparing to adopt the new standard. When a credit union goes live with CECL, it’s best to be prepared for both audit and regulatory review, recognizing that these are two different audiences. The primary interest of audit is in controls and the secondary interest is in the process for estimation. They want to answer the question: “has sufficient evidence been obtained to create the estimate?” Because you can change your audit firm but can’t easily change your regulator, start the dialogue with your audit firm as early as possible. For regulatory review, you need to consider the entire balance sheet risk picture when deciding on an appropriate allowance for loan loss level.

SEC Takeaway #6 | Choosing a Commercial Growth Strategy

When it comes to choosing a commercial growth strategy, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. In the session, Is a Commercial Growth Strategy Right for You? CEO of Michigan State University Federal Credit Union April Clobes offered lessons learned and advice:

  • Evaluate your portfolio regularly and identify the challenges of your commercial accounts.
    • Do you need to downgrade the risk rating for the portfolio for each loan?
    • Who’s on a management watch?
    • Who needs to be reserved at a higher level?
  • Have your policies evaluated every year.
    • As your program grows and matures, make sure those policies grow and mature with your level of knowledge and your team’s knowledge.
  • Consider an annual audit for your member business loan portfolio.
    • Review items like documentation and risk rating.

Even though the SEC had to pivot this year, we still saw this amazing community of credit unions come together for four days of connecting, learning, and having fun. Personally, I can’t wait to see what next year holds!

Save the date for SEC 2021!

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