Seattle Credit Union Leverages Data to Create New Products and Services Based on Community Needs

Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Tonita Webb, offers a glimpse into the credit union’s purpose and strategy for data-driven lending.

11/17/2020

Seattle Credit Union is using data-driven design to create new loans and services in a way that goes beyond the gut but still retains the heart.

The credit union is using the targeted branding and marketing services of an outside agency in combination with its own Power BI insights to launch, target, market, and track offerings that range from loans geared toward cyclists and renters, to programs aimed at assisting those seeking American citizenship.

Building a Data-Driven Framework

Tonita Webb, SCU’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, said the business intelligence initiative began a few years ago with the idea of putting data at the center of service strategy.

“Our mission is to provide premium, personalized service for our community,” Webb said. “By leveraging internal data, as well as publicly accessible data sources such as the census, we have a much better understanding of what our community and members need.”

According to Webb, the first step in SCU’s new decision-making process is looking at the data and trust what it shows as opposed to working off of a “gut feeling.”

“Many of our workflows are designed with data and analytics at the forefront: goals, performance, and information available in real time,” Webb says.

SCU uses Power BI in addition to easily understood dashboards, ensuring information is accessible across the enterprise and applied to decision-making.

“We built most of our dashboards with the end user in mind,” Webb says. “Our data analysts work side by side with department managers and staff, which creates a great working partnership and dashboards that serve a purpose.”

The Products ARE the Message

Most recently, SCU engaged Twenty Four 7, a creative agency based in Portland, to help with an outreach campaign targeting the whole Seattle community. Along with identifying potential new products, the effort reinforced the value of using data to strengthen branding.

For SCU, the creative agency adds a data-driven framework and eliminates guesswork, which leads to more cost-effective operations and a higher likelihood of delivering desired returns.

There’s a lot of advantages to this approach, but it’s not easily achieved.

“The challenge and opportunity is to put ourselves in the shoes of others,” Webb says. “To let go of old-style banking, pay attention to what our communities are experiencing, and ask them what they need instead of assuming we already know. It requires us to let go of all we think we know.”

Three loans, in particular, demonstrate how SCU has started better tailoring its products for citizens traditionally underrepresented and underserved by financial institutions:

  • Citizenship loans: SCU worked with the City of Seattle to design a loan that helps cover the costs of fees, medical examinations, and other requirements for those applying for U.S. citizenship.
  • ITIN issuer and loan products: SCU worked with the El Centro dela Raza advocacy and support organization to gear loan products toward those without a social security number who can use an ITIN (Individual Tax Identification Number) as an alternative form of identification.
  • Alternative lending for Muslims: When the Somali community in Seattle was looking for lending products that complied with their religious beliefs concerning usury, SCU responded with an interest-free auto loan program.

According to Webb, since the rollout of these programs in November 2019, the credit union has received 191 applications in total for its Renter’s LoanCycle Loan, and Sweet 16 Car Loan. It has funded 53 Renter’s Loans for $156,516, four Cycle Loans for $9,200, and five Sweet 16 car loans for $46,000.

The availability of these new products and services and the effort SCU has put forth to bring them to market is rooted in the credit union’s commitment to its community.

“It sets us apart because it touches those in our communities that might not fit into a standard banking model or who have been excluded from the mold altogether,” Webb says. “This speaks to our brand and what we continually work on to improve from the inside out.”

Webb says other credit unions can take on the important work of serving specific, unrepresented subsets within their memberships — even better if the credit union can make a meaningful impact on these members and improve their lives or financial standing.

The SCU executive boils it all down to three steps that might sound simple but are far from easy.

  • Forget what you think you know.
  • Ask, “What is it that you need?”
  • Be consistent with the message through the organization, its vendors and partners, and your processes.

Product evaluation at SCU is an ongoing process, Webb says, and the big cooperative will continue to drop and add products based on how well they fit community needs.

“The goal is to create awareness of their availability,” Webb says. “And to provide lower-cost financing alternatives than what they might receive elsewhere.”

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