One year in, Solarity’s Member Satisfaction Score soars
By Mina Worthington, Solarity Credit Union president and CEO
One year ago, Solarity Credit Union redesigned its branches and eliminated the teller lines. As members step inside, they are warmly greeted by Branch Experience Guides. Members make use of self-service Smart ATMs, which can handle most routine transactions previously done by tellers. Our Branch Experience Guides, many of whom are former tellers, are available to assist. It is now faster and easier for members to conduct their day-to-day banking while our staff are more readily available for more complex banking needs.
A vision to change banking by putting member experience at the center of decision making
In early 2020, as the pandemic swept the globe and Washington became one of the first states impacted, businesses were shut down and “stay at home” orders were given. The executive team at Solarity used this “forced pause” as an opportunity to evaluate the in-person, branch experience of its membership.
Fortunately, the groundwork for digital transformation had begun years earlier. In 2012, Solarity’s leadership team began investing in the technology infrastructure to evolve and make banking easier so members could spend more time doing what they love with the people they love.
The industry-wide consumer trend away from branches isn’t new. Prior to the pandemic, Solarity experienced year-over-year declines in overall branch transactions while mobile and on-line transactions were rising. To explore this trend, in 2015, Solarity piloted a tellerless branch. It was Solarity’s first entrée into the idea of what a branch of the future could look like.
With branches empty during the pandemic, our Board decided it was time to go “all-in” on the concept of the tellerless branch. Internal teams went to work journey mapping every scenario of our members’ branch experiences. We began talking to our members about better ways to conduct their banking transactions at every opportunity. We trained our staff on how to have warm, empathetic, consultative conversations with our members.
Research guides the way
Before moving forward with a branch overhaul, we conducted extensive membership research. This involved analyzing more than 10 million transactions involving digital, self-service, telephone and human-assisted channels of delivery. With the knowledge of how members were using our delivery channels, we were able to make sound decisions based on data.
The segmentation strategy placed members on a spectrum, from fully digital to fully teller assisted. There were some very interesting insights. For one, we found that very few members used tellers 100% of the time; and further, that subset was primarily making payments on indirect loans. Additionally, we learned that 99% of all cash withdrawal transactions could be conducted at an ATM with just a nominal increase in limits.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, our more digitally engaged members were using teller transactions 5% or less. Over the course of 2020 – due to shut-downs and social distancing – we saw a large increase in members adopting the credit union’s digital and self-service options. Our goal was to empower members to change old habits, yet still be ready to meet their needs when the world reopened.
Based on our analysis, we concluded that online banking, mobile banking and Smart ATMs would provide members with the options that they need to take care of nearly all their daily banking transactions. We transitioned our lobby staff to the roles of Financial Guides and Experience Guides. Experience Guides assist members with Smart ATMs. Financial Guides meet with members via video conference inside private rooms to open new accounts, take loan applications and assist members with more complex banking needs.
The branch transformation also transformed Solarity’s membership. Prior to the pandemic, heavy branch users comprised more than 15% of our membership. Now, they make up less than 9% of members. By January 2021, Solarity tracked 69% of its membership using digital and self-service options, and that number is even higher today at 76%.
Member testing was critical to reopening
Before re-opening in the Spring of 2021, Solarity invited a cross-section of members, including those who prefer in-person banking as well as digital enthusiasts, to help test the new branch experience. These members were able to try the Smart ATMs and give feedback on the transition from tellers to Experience Guides.
Member reactions were mostly positive, including among members who were reluctant to adopt digital options. They appreciated the simple speed and convenience of the Smart ATM and that they were in and out of the branch much quicker than with traditional tellers.
Introducing a new way of banking
When we reopened our doors, members were wowed by the change. Some immediately loved it, and others were slow to adjust.
“I just hate technology but if I have a nice person guiding me like I did, I guess at 86 years old, I will have to keep trying,” one long-time member said. “It’s nice having someone to help me as needed.”
“I hated the computerized banking in the lobby, but now: I LOVE IT!! It is quick and easy,” another member commented.
Our members gave us a chance to show them easier and more meaningful ways for them to manage their finances.
“This machine can complete all my transactions. Seriously? Well, that’s futuristic,” said one of the first members to experience the new branch.
“I love being able to still talk to someone face-to-face if I need to get an account or a loan,” said another member. “It doesn’t bother me at all that it is through a screen. I’ve become used to that over the last year.”
Some of our favorite stories, collected from our member experience surveys, are from members who strongly disliked our new lobbies and now cannot imagine banking another way.
“I like the new lobby and if you need help, someone is right there to help you. You have made the lobby a very nice experience,” one member wrote.
Another wrote, “I like the option of automated transactions but with the extra security that someone is there if you need anything.”
“The folks were friendly and helpful. Using the Smart ATM was a breeze,” wrote another member.
Solarity’s innovation doesn’t stop at branch lobbies
Our goal is to make banking easier in every aspect of our members lives. Notably, our new home loan eSigning Experience transforms the process of applying for and obtaining a home loan. Members are now able to complete the entire experience online, from application to closing, including utilizing an online notary. Members no longer have to schedule time off of work and hire a babysitter to attend the closing. Members can even close on their home loan from the convenience of a mobile phone or tablet.
We appreciate our members’ willingness to adapt and change and we are grateful that they are constantly challenging us to innovate. The decisions we make are led by our commitment to deliver reliable banking that gives our members peace of mind so they can focus on what really matters. We innovate to make members’ lives better.
About Solarity Credit Union
Solarity Credit Union, in Yakima, Wa. has 175 employees serving more than 54,000 members. With more than $1.3 billion in assets under management, Solarity offers a wide range of financial products and services with a focus on home loans and providing extraordinary experiences to members. Solarity membership is open to everyone who lives, works, worships or attends school within a Washington State school district. More information can be found at solaritycu.org.