Building a Digital Success Foundation | Credit Union Times

Annie Snead, Community Advocacy Partner for Ent CU, accepts the credit union’s award for Innovation in ­Technology – Organization at CU Times’ 2022 LUMINARIES Awards Gala in November in Washington, D.C.

Cumbersome, inconsistent and time-consuming – these are a few words that could have been used to describe the mobile feature rollout process at the $9.5 billion Ent Credit Union prior to its launch of a digital transformation initiative that led to the credit union’s win in the Innovation in Technology – Organization category of CU Times’ 2022 LUMINARIES awards program. Following the reveal of the first-ever LUMINARIES winners at a November 2022 event in Washington, D.C., CU Times talked with several of the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Ent’s digital leaders to learn what led to its award-winning digital transformation efforts, how they’re going now and what’s in store for 2023.

Curt ­Marjaniemi

According to Vice President of Business Services Curt ­Marjaniemi, about a decade ago, it wasn’t ­uncommon for Ent’s digital team to approach the lending department with the desire to create an online loan application and receive a response like, “Really? You think so?” “It was about us convincing them as we were pushing our roadmap forward,” Marjaniemi said. He and SVP of Electronic Banking Tanan Miles also recalled that once staff realized the value of the mobile banking app, multiple business units from across the credit union began approaching the digital team with a “list of stuff” they wanted added to Ent’s app. Without a clear structure in place for the process of rolling out new mobile features, it took a long time for initiatives to get moving, the order in which projects were tackled was not strategic and the needs of various departments conflicted with one another, making it difficult for the credit union to develop shared visions and priorities when it came to digital innovation. And, from the member’s perspective, the digital experience was “functional, but dated.” It was time to make some changes – not just to the front end of the mobile app, but to the department-level processes occurring behind the scenes.

Tanan Miles

One of the early steps in Ent’s digital transformation involved hiring a consulting firm, the Chicago-based West Monroe Partners, to evaluate the credit union’s pain points and recommend next steps. “We knew this wasn’t solely a technological problem,” Marjaniemi explained. “That was a component of it, but then there was, how do we organize our teams and get the right staff in place? So West Monroe came in and did a big analysis of that, did a lot of interviews with our members and clients, and came up with, aside from the technological stuff, what teams, roles and responsibilities we needed to have in place to really do a digital transformation.”

Direct member feedback also impacted decisions related to Ent’s digital transformation. About 1,500 members who participate in the credit union’s member ambassador program were recruited to provide their opinions on what they’d like to get out of their digital banking experience and finances. One of the key takeaways from the member ambassador feedback was that safety and security ranked very high on their digital banking priority list, according to Ent.

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Taking member feedback and West Monroe’s analysis into consideration, Ent made a decision to convert its core banking system from Fiserv’s Architect to a platform offered by the Netherlands-based company Backbase; the credit union is currently in the process of making the conversion.

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One difference between Ent’s current core banking system and its incoming system is that its current system is monolithic, meaning that the entire system must be re-released with every small individual change that is made, while its new system is built on a microservices architecture, meaning that making a small individual change only requires re-releasing the component of the software in which the change was made. “The benefit of that is when you’re introducing small changes, you can localize where the changes occur and just regression test those small components, and in the end that improves our agility, where instead of [deploying] these big software releases, we’re able to make a bunch of smaller, more tactical changes,” Marjaniemi noted.

Ent was also attracted to Backbase because it offers a platform that the vendor builds and maintains itself, freeing up resources for the credit union. “Over the years, we’ve had to turn [our current system] more and more into a custom system, and we were laden with the maintenance of keeping the system upgraded, as opposed to [working with] a vendor that’s constantly innovating and upgrading the platform,” Miles said.

With the goal of structuring staff in a way that would support a successful digital transformation, Ent also made a number of personnel changes. It hired new digital product managers; split user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) out into their own discipline, creating a UI/UX team of a vice president and five to six designers; and shifted project management staff who had gained a deep understanding of Ent’s digital products onto a digital support team (Ent employs a support team of about 20 who are dedicated to digital banking, in addition to its primary contact center team).

Brian Skiba

In total, Ent made approximately 20 new hires for roles focused on digital transformation, one of them being Vice President of Digital Products Brian Skiba. Skiba joined about eight months ago from JP Morgan, where he led the bank’s self-directed stock trading product group and gained experience building a new digital line of business, along with a dedicated team, from scratch. “The idea of doing the right thing for the member as opposed to appeasing shareholders was appealing to me, and I could tell [Ent was] a really close-knit team, so culture was probably the biggest thing that pulled me in,” Skiba said of moving from the big bank to the credit union.

Culture was also a big selling point for the developers Ent recruited. “On the developer side, it was a war for talent for sure,” Marjaniemi noted. “One thing that helped us was if we could get a developer somewhat interested and get them in the door, they kind of fell in love with our culture and the fact that we actually had a headquarters. Many of them had been working remotely for years and were itching for a chance to be in the office.”

As Ent pushes forward with its core conversion, one focus for 2023 will be nailing mobile app features that may seem small but heavily influence the user’s experience; for example, it plans to ditch clunky drop-down menus in favor of an interface that allows for smooth, intuitive navigation on the user’s end, Skiba noted. He added that decreasing the amount of time it takes to complete everyday banking tasks on Ent’s mobile app will be a priority.

But beyond simply improving the overall digital banking experience for members, Ent has a bigger goal of using digital innovation to improve members’ financial lives.

“Brian is trying to land this plane with 100 parts being assembled, but the experience design team, Brian and his product team are really excited to try to dive into helping members improve their financial quality of life,” Miles said. “That’s our mission statement, and there aren’t a lot of out-of-the-box vendors that are doing it in an elegant manner. So the design team has been talking to members first-hand to understand how they interact with their accounts and money, and coming up with concepts and ideas. Again, we need to get this plane on the ground before we start adding all these new things.”

Aside from basic budgeting tools, Ent’s new digital financial wellness tools might include a predictive cash flow analysis solution that foresees a member’s spending activities and makes recommendations, Skiba said. Miles pointed out that Ent’s current online banking platform includes a personal financial management solution, but that it’s not prominently featured on the site and can be hard to find.

Miles added that product managers will be assigned specific, niche areas of focus, one being member engagement and improving the quality of members’ financial lives (other focus areas include originations and onboarding, and the mechanics of day-to-day retail banking). “We won’t have those conflicting resource constraints that we had in the past, where everybody is calling on the same group of technical resources to try to do their many disparate projects,” he said. “Instead, this group knows their focus is improving members’ financial quality of life, for instance, and they’re laying out their future. And they’re bringing that back to the business units to say, ‘We really think this is a value add,’ and driving that. This is a ways out there, but it’s a bright light on the horizon that everybody’s excited to keep charging toward.”

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