Now is the Time to “Be Different”: The Third Step in America First CU’s Transformation

This post is guest authored by Jeremy Deamer, Manager of Branch Systems Development for America First Credit Union.

When you see the phrase “be different,” it’s usually prefaced by “dare.”

Dare to be different.

But we don’t see the creation of the America First Credit Union Innovation Center as a dare – quite the opposite, in fact. We put so much thought and planning into every aspect of this working laboratory. We carefully calculated and calibrated our choices, using the input from a small, tight-knit, cross-departmental internal working group, and cross-referencing that with industry research and consumer data.

Our motto in building the Innovation Center was “Think different. Act different. Be different.” In our first guest post, our ATM Services Manager talked about having the courage to think differently,  and in our second, I explained how our entire organization needed to act in new ways. Now we’ve reached a place where we feel like we’re actively living the dream. We wanted to be different, and we are.

Our previous blogs dug into the nitty gritty details of getting the Innovation Center up and running. So for this post, we thought we’d do something a little … different. Here are the top 10 discoveries we’ve made since launching this project – the things that confirmed to our organization that we really are acting like an entirely new, unexpected, different kind of financial institution.

  1. We can hang with the Apples of the world. We’re one of the only credit unions with a full branch in a mall – and virtually the only one in the nation that’s using the mall branch as a working innovation lab where people can come in and play around with new technology (sound like another mall favorite?).
  2. Empowering customers empowers us. Self-service terminals from different brands sit side by side at the Innovation Center, giving our members the power to experiment and choose the technology that works best for them. That instant interaction and feedback provides us with essential insights that help us make more targeted, strategic decisions.
  3. Ditto with employees. Our executive board gave us a few mandates, a timeframe and, yes, some money. And then they let us do the work. That freedom and empowerment drove us all to work harder and more passionately than we ever had before.
  4. Our lobby is a living room. We wanted the wide open space of the Innovation Center to flip everything you know about a traditional credit union lobby on its head. We channeled modern boutique hotels, minimalist design and a crisp, fresh color palette to create a place that feels inviting. Then we added 15 big screen TVs. We’ve played host to football watch parties, video game contests with local NBA players, and corporate and community events.
  5. You can bring it in house. This has always been part of our philosophy – doing everything in-house takes resources and money, of course, but it gives us the ability to control our own destiny, customize our solutions (rather than using off-the-shelf products), and operate in a flexible, nimble way in a rapidly evolving tech-driven world.
  6. There’s more than one way to get answers. Customer feedback is a critical, critical component of the Innovation Center. We cannot overstate that. So to generate all that feedback, we ask our members questions. In lots of ways, in many forms. We have two-minute surveys. 15-minute surveys. Hour-long in-house surveys, in which we invite a few select members to connect with us. Emailed surveys. Survey questions on the touchscreens next to the exits. And, of course, through good old fashioned conversations between our staff and our members.
  7. Social media works. When someone tweets about our Innovation Center, the tweets show up in real-time on our monitors. We made the decision to dive in to social media, and that’s almost exclusively how we advertise the Center. It keeps us engaged, not only with our members but with the entire community.
  8. The wider the net, the better. In sourcing technology and materials for the Center, we worked with traditional vendors and long-time partners like Diebold Nixdorf. But we also reached out to some pretty unexpected new resources, from a speaker company that had never done a job for a financial institution, to a former Pixar employee who created animations that leave traditional PowerPoint presentations in the dust.
  9. The “traditional” approach to banking technology updates is finished. We have a mandate to rollout new tech in the Innovation Center at least two to three times each year, and we’re constantly testing new tools. We use the Innovation Center to better understand how our members are actually using services and products, which enables us to make data-driven decisions about how to implement tech in other branches in more targeted, efficient ways.
  10. Emphasize feedback and learning, not success and failure. This is a biggie. It’s a challenge for organizations like ours not to focus on success metrics. We really had to shift the paradigm at the Innovation Center, and give our employees the freedom to see “failures” as early learning that saves us from making a decision that would negatively impact our entire network.

Wondering how your FI could make changes that would drive innovation across the organization? We can help. Let’s talk about your organizational goals.

Jeremy Deamer / Manager, Branch Systems Development, America First Credit Union
Jeremy Deamer has worked for America First Credit Union for 14 years. He started his career as a teller and loan officer before moving into back office systems, helping to support the teller transactional systems. In 2008 he helped to oversee the implementation and creation of a new teller system that included the creation of real-time check scanning, pin pad integration for preview and approval, and cash machine integrations. He currently serves as the Manager of Branch Systems Development and oversees the Credit Unions Loan Origination System and Teller Transactional Systems. Over the last two years, he has managed the implementation of another AFCU “first,” the “America First Innovation Center” which opened in June of 2016.