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Balancing Digital & Physical Channels for Financial Institutions

A Podcast Interview Featuring Aaron Young and Coconut Software

A Hybrid Approach to Improving Credit Union Members’ Experiences—Insights from Aaron Young at CU So Cal

Besides deposit growth, every financial institution’s experience and operations teams have one thing on their mind: When do clients want to interact in person, and when would they prefer to take a digital DIY approach?


From the delivery of services to transactions to communication, financial institutions have discovered that not all members/customers want the same physical and digital combination. When empathy is the ultimate goal in servicing members, it may seem counterintuitive that robust data, analytics, and interconnected software solutions are  a gateway to get there.


The implementation process Aaron Young, Senior VP of Retail Operations at Credit Union of Southern California came up with during his FI’s digital transformation is inspiring and thoughtful.


We asked Jim Marous, podcast host and co-publisher at The Financial Brand, to discuss the path Aaron took to implement a proven program and what he can pass on to other FIs amid their digital transformations.


Digital needs to be an extension of the branch, not vice versa.

It’s tempting to think digital first, but Aaron Young says that many members may still need education on how something like a mobile app can make their financial transactions easier in the long run.


“One of the things we’re testing right now,” Aaron says, “is when our members come into a branch to open an account, we walk them through our mobile banking app instead of going to a teller,” Aaron notes that people are trained to visit a teller when they need to make a deposit, but that behavior can change with an in-person demonstration at a branch.


Aaron emphasizes that team members find the best buy-in from members when using phrases that include “options” and “what’s possible.” “When thinking about how we can improve the member experience,” he says, “we want to provide options. When you give people options, they’re in control. When you force one direction by only giving one option, friction happens.”


The Credit Union of Southern California uses many data sources to decide what the options they offer their members look like. With an understanding that member experience is their only differentiator, among other things, they track:


·       Member demographics

·       Website exits

·       Chatbot abandonment

·       Coconut online appointment abandonment

·       Type of in-branch transactions

·       Digital channel paths


Aaron and his team work to connect these data points like breadcrumbs that lead them to the correct answer to fundamental questions about his members, such as:

·       Do members leave one channel to go to the next?

·       How many times did they drop off?

·       Why did they drop off?



Then, as technology evolves, Aaron connects each part of the digital journey to solve members’ problems, ease their concerns, and find ways to seamlessly complete transactions.


Choose platforms that feed data back to pieces of core business.

Credit Union of Southern California offers several access points to their members: texting, phone calls, mobile app, chatbots, in-person, and video. According to Aaron, the institution is ultimately a live-answer credit union. No matter what platform the member uses, they need to find the answers they are looking for. Therefore, his goal is to ensure he provides CU SoCal members with the fastest route to completing a task—especially if it means talking to a human.


“Our phone center is our central nervous system—we aim to answer 75% of our calls in 60 seconds,” Aaron says. “Even when you’re using our chatbot, it’s an easy prompt to speak to a human. We continue to build around that as we grow because we know it’s important for people to be able to get to someone.”


When Aaron started looking for an appointment solution, he prioritized platforms that could increase member satisfaction and net promoter scores, both of which involve human interactions. “We learned through having Coconut in place that our NPS scores are higher when people make an appointment versus when they walk in,” he says. “When members make an appointment, 70% of them

give us high scores versus only 30% of walk-ins. When we started out with Coconut and that behavior wasn’t yet built with members, we were getting 600 combined walk-ins and appointments per month. We’re now up to 3,700 combined walk-ins and appointments per month.”


Our key to success is transforming into an advice center.

As financial institutions shift more and more tasks to digital, many of them are repositioning the branch as an advice center that focuses on solving problems and educating members rather than being solely dedicated to completing transactions.


“We’ve mapped out the skill sets our team members have today versus what they’ll need as we transition into a more advice-driven model,” he says. “We’re piloting a program for licensed bank employees, and we have a few team members who have volunteered to get insurance training so they can sell annuities.”


Aaron believes that branches still carry major importance, but modern institutions must optimize their branch network around their members. “Institutions need to listen to their members and adapt branches to what they [AY1] need,” he says, “which will determine the style of branch and where they’re located. Credit Union of Southern California is, as of now, trying to break down the types of branches we have within our configuration.”


While CU SoCal’s digital transformation isn’t over, Aaron is far enough into the process that he has some incredible insights on what he did that worked and what he would do differently if he had to start over.


In this interview with podcast host Jim Marous, you will learn how to smooth out your hybrid model adoption process, ensure your digital and branch transformation journeys work together, and create experiences that make your digital channels feel like an extension of your branch.


As a skilled and engaging speaker, Aaron is prepared and excited to help you execute your plan that supports your members and empowers your staff virtually and in person based on their needs and expectations. Contact Aaron today to book a consultation call.

Original article by Katherine Regnier - Nov 28, 2023 – published on

Slightly edited by Aaron Young

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