Article

Optimizing Performance in Crisis Mode

blue digital speedometer streaks across screen
By Ryan Myers

6 minutes

Credit unions need to step up digital delivery and be driven by data.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, credit union leaders have shuffled their operations, reassigned and relocated staff, and taken a hard look at their strategic priorities. Some goals have moved down a few notches, while others have been elevated to accommodate shifting priorities.  

Financial cooperatives that committed to developing mobile and online access before the pandemic had a much smoother transition to social-distancing delivery than those that continue to rely primarily on traditional banking channels. Especially for credit unions that have not made big strides in digital channel functionality, this current crisis has underscored an urgent need to embrace performance optimization. 

Work Smarter, Faster 

As credit unions respond to the heightened need to deliver a superior digital experience to members, two initiatives are key: solid, data-driven management and significant investments in virtual delivery. 

By gathering the raw data generated across operational units and deploying it in real time to front-line staff and executives, credit unions can ratchet up efficiencies, speed up turnaround times, improve the member experience and, ultimately, grow their businesses. In essence, they can become smarter credit unions.  

Consider, for example, the impact of skyrocketing call volumes in the contact center as a result of the pandemic. A well-run organization has real-time reporting on call volume, call types, answer times, handle times, etc., enabling leaders to quickly evaluate resource needs. Accurate and easily accessible data can provide such valuable information as:

  • the number of phone agents needed to achieve target service levels for inbound calls,  
  • the impact to service level targets when updating options within the interactive voice response system, 
  • the cost savings from only assigning less experienced, temporary phone agents to the least complicated calls through skills-based routing, and
  • the number of experienced phone agents needed to handle phone-based loan applications while maintaining average hold times of two minutes or less.

A tough economic situation exacerbates the negative impact of outdated systems, outmoded processes and low-traffic, high-cost delivery channels. Now is a critical time for managers to be monitoring their operations and staff workloads in search of systems and procedures that can be streamlined, automated and updated with more advanced technology. They should be inviting employees—the people who know firsthand where wasted or duplicative effort leads to unnecessary costs—to suggest improvements. Every dollar saved by improving efficiency can be redirected into delivery channels and business lines that need to be accelerated.  

While emergency or even recovery mode is not typically the best time to be diving into a major rethinking of how business gets done, the pandemic has made it mandatory for credit unions to commit to identifying and correcting inefficiencies under an accelerated timeline.

Credit unions that are not continually looking for ways to reduce needless spending may not be around for better times. On the flip side, there is a tremendous amount of long-term opportunity because of the upheaval for credit unions willing to embrace it. 

Ryan Myers
Director
Cornerstone Advisors
Now is the time for credit union leaders to identify initiatives that can go on the back burner to free up capacity for critical projects to effectively elevate digital strategies and optimize operations.

Capitalize on New Capacity

The pandemic reset channel affinities for many members. Stay-at-home orders steered branch regulars to mobile and online channels—some of them for the first time. Quite possibly, many members are so pleased to discover the ease and convenience of remote delivery that they won’t be stopping by their favorite branches on a routine basis when regular operations resume.

One credit union executive related this member service delivery story from the early days of the pandemic shutdown: 

An elderly member who drove to his neighborhood branch every week to check his account balances was met in the parking lot by a team member wearing a mask and gloves. Through the car window, the service representative helped the member download the credit union’s mobile app onto his digital device and showed him how to check his balance and make other routine transactions. The member was delighted to find out how easy remote access could be and mentioned that he will likely log in from home going forward. 

If the COVID-19 crisis permanently drives down branch traffic, it will only accelerate a trend that is already well documented. Credit unions need to improve remote channel competencies—not just to deliver on members’ transactional service expectations, but also to drive growth through digital interactions. Honing their mobile and online marketing acumen has become a priority for organizations leading the digital revolution.

More on the Capacity Challenge

Credit unions must address two additional capacity challenges as they aim to step up operating performance in these uncertain times: 

Development bandwidth. Delivering a robust range of services to members as a friction-free experience will require significant time and resources. The technology needs to be identified and related processes revamped with system implementation. It is up to executive leadership to be picky about which projects are prioritized to ensure critical efforts are not hampered by internal resource bottlenecks. 

Online application backlogs. Burdened by double or triple their normal online application volumes over the last few months, credit unions that funnel electronic loan and account applications for manual processing behind the scenes have likely been forced to extend response times and do their best to calm frantic members. While high demand for loans, new deposit accounts, and debit and credit cards is a good problem to have, demand will dissipate if the credit union can’t quickly turn around applications and fund accounts. Smart credit unions will optimize their servicing performance through technology and by eliminating dated policies rather than ramping up hiring or staff redeployment. 

No Time Like the Present

The degree to which credit unions exhibited performance optimization before and during the pandemic varies widely. Organizations with strong digital capabilities and technology-enabled workflows in place have weathered the crisis well. Others, operating with woefully inadequate remote delivery capabilities, were forced to implement stopgap measures or, in worst-case scenarios, simply sent employees home without work to do.

This crisis has trained a spotlight on credit unions’ priorities. It has tested the limits of their mobile and online channels, their ability to mobilize a remote workforce, and their capacity to sustain service levels without throwing bodies at inefficient processes. 

The virtual delivery call to action is stronger than ever. As we move into the second half of 2020, resources will continue to be spread thin, and any credit union that is coming up short on reliable technology and operational data now can expect to come up short on meeting members’ expectations for virtual delivery. 

Now is the time for credit union leaders to work hard to identify initiatives that can go on the back burner to free up capacity for critical projects that effectively elevate digital strategies and optimize operations. Organizations that set the stage to make ambitious progress over the next 12 months will be better prepared to adapt to future uncertainties and execute well in the new normal.  cues icon 

Ryan Myers is a director with CUES Supplier member and strategic provider Cornerstone Advisors, Scottsdale, Arizona.

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