Fail Forward Fast Before It’s Too Late

Don’t be afraid to #SpeedUp

By Jennifer Oliver, CEO, South Bay Credit Union

As a credit union with a community field of membership, we struggled to create a real connection with our membership, particularly younger members. We decided we needed to meet them where they are. (That's me on the left during our Poppy Hour at the popup branch!)

South Bay Credit Union sets aside a little money each year to experiment in small ways with big, sometimes zany, ideas; we’re not a large credit union – just over $100 million in assets – but it’s important to us to try new things. We visited a shared working facility, like a WeWork, and we loved the environment. Hundreds of people, many of them millennials, were working in disparate fields for a variety of companies, doing their own thing yet interacting in a very natural way around the coffee bar or in the lounges. We loved it.

How could we incorporate this concept into our credit union? Or better yet, how could we incorporate our credit union into the concept? The Underground Community is all about failing fast and learning from it. Join us today with your ideas and experiences!

Thus, the South Bay Credit Union popup branch was born – a social experiment if you will. We wanted to stay relevant, and we couldn’t do that sitting behind a desk at our headquarters or in our other standard branches, waiting for people to come to us. We wanted to go out on the street and talk to people about their needs, and then introduce them to the credit union. We couldn’t wait for millennials to come to us. The shared work spaces were the ideal incubator for the idea.

There was little financial outlay, so we got all the strategic and financial benefits at little cost. We rented the space, which was only a month-to-month contract and we already had a VPN to connect remotely to the credit union. We adapted the workflow and could offer everything we do in our regular branches except dispense cash, and another financial institution already had an ATM nearby.

We set up our temporary shop and showed the workers, some of whom turnover regularly, how to apply for loans remotely and other ways to interact with us. And because we could literally watch them interact digitally with us, we could see the sticking points in our user experience that we could translate into improvements.

We also loved being out in the community, seeing members at different locations and how they interact. It also led us to set up appointments for members rather than sitting around waiting to meet with a member service rep, which they really liked. Many want to primarily use digital channels but appreciate face-to-face interactions when they have questions or problems.

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It helps that our chairman is Chris Otey, Chief Revenue Officer of CU2.0, who has a long history in credit unions and fintech. He’s been a great sounding board for some of my off-the-wall ideas, and he’s got credibility with the board that helps bring them along when we want to experiment.

I would do some things differently – more specific communication, more visibility and more incentives to get account conversion, but that’s the best part of a popup branch, we get to start all over again at another location down the road.

I refer to the popup branch as an experiment, but it didn’t happen by accident. We started our strategic transformation in 2014, updating and modernizing all of our branches, including mobile and online. We reinvented our branch experience, which includes ‘hoteling stations’ rather than offices, including for me and collaborative space. We also incorporated video banking and chat with POPio and installed interactive teller machines to help extend our office hours.

The effort isn’t one and done. Each year we will do a little experimenting here and there. It’s in our strategy, and it’s in our culture to fail forward fast. #SpeedUp. Not everything will work as we hoped, and that’s ok. That’s the point. We’ll be comfortable knowing that at least we tried and learning from the experience.