Doing Better for Users
Educators Credit Union (ECU) was founded by teachers in 1937 so members could borrow and save money at fair and reasonable interest rates. Back in those days, the idea of money management being done through an endless series of zeros and ones on a mobile phone was nothing but a dream. But, my how fast things have changed. Today, digital banking has become the preferred means by which many of us manage our finances on a daily basis.
Mike Mikkelson, the CIO at ECU, a veteran in the credit union industry with more than 20 years of experience, has seen how “digital” has taken the credit union world by storm. That’s why, when he arrived at ECU, he knew something had to change … the credit union’s digital banking platform.
“When I first arrived, it was obvious that the online banking product we were running was not designed for an organization of our size. More importantly, it did not have the flexibility and scalability required to meet the needs of our modern credit union members.” Let’s just say Mike would know. His career spans four credit unions and multiple digital banking platform conversions. So, as he likes to say, ‘This was not my first rodeo.’ “I was convinced that we had to make a change. Not only was our current online banking product inflexible, it was creating serious problems for our members. They were complaining about the lack of parity between our online and mobile app, scheduled transfers not being fully automated, issues with online alerts not working properly. It was obviously time for us to up our game.”
That said, Mike knew the decision to make a switch would most likely come with serious reservations and resistance from his new leadership team. After all, the credit union had just put a lot of time and money into the online banking product that was already in place. “It’s hard to have that conversation when you are new to a company. How do you walk into your executives and say, ‘Hey, I just arrived, but let’s make a change that is going to cost a significant amount of money … and by the way, admit that we made a mistake.’”
But when Mike started sharing some of the issues that members were having with the current online banking product, he was pleasantly surprised by the reaction he got from leaders across the credit union. “I guess that’s what makes ECU such an incredible place. The leadership was totally open-minded and more importantly, wanted to do the right thing. They quickly gave me the green light to start looking at more scalable and flexible solutions.”
Searching For A Solution
With the backing of his leadership team, Mike set out on his search for a digital banking solution that would enable the credit union to achieve its goal of “providing the experience every member deserves.” When Mike was attending a major credit union conference, he ran into a few of the team members at Alkami. “I didn’t know a whole lot about the company. I knew that Alkami was supposed to be the young and the up-and-coming player in the market. At the time, I guess you could say they were the shiny new object that everyone was looking at.” While impressed with Alkami, Mike wanted to make sure the credit union didn’t make the same mistake twice and choose a solution just because it was all the buzz in the market. So, he and the leadership team at ECU conducted an exhaustive evaluation of Alkami along with a number of other established vendors in the market.
One of the main priorities of the search was to find a partner that would provide ECU with the flexible and scalable platform they needed to meet the evolving digital banking needs of its members. “Sure, with our old solution we could request a feature, but it would literally take years before our members could use it. That was totally unacceptable. We had to find a platform and partner that was not only flexible … but fast.”
Another priority was the entire online user interface. “Our previous product didn’t allow us to deliver a seamless experience. When a member wanted to use online banking, they would have to use one user interface. Then, if they wanted to pay bills, they would be forced to use an entirely different interface. We needed a partner that excelled at delivering a fully integrated user experience across multiple technologies.”
With their priorities in hand, Mike and the team began meeting with several digital banking vendors. According to Mike, “It didn’t take long before the right decision became apparent.” He went on to say, “After meeting with all the vendors, it was unanimous across our entire team. Alkami was hands down the best choice.” Even though Mike and the team quickly realized that while other solutions they had looked at were less expensive, Alkami was going to be the best long-term partner and technology investment for their credit union members. “I was a little concerned about price. Not that the value wasn’t there with Alkami, but because we had just put a lot into our current solution. Plus, we were still a small, growing credit union and this would be yet another investment the business would have to make to move forward.”
Starting The Journey
Mike and the team felt strongly about their decision, so they took their business case for Alkami to the president and board of directors. “I have to tell you — I was a little nervous. Still being new to the organization, I wasn’t sure how the board would react. Would they base their decision purely on price? Would they understand the lasting value Alkami could have on the growth of the credit union? But, once again, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with the big-picture thinking at ECU. The board got it. They understood why Alkami was the right choice.” After the board meeting, Mike said, “They get it. They understand that digital banking is the future. And while Alkami wasn’t the cheapest solution, it was the best solution to get us where we need to be.”
With board approval to proceed with Alkami, the team at ECU began the implementation process. Mike, being a veteran in the credit union industry, knew there would be challenges ahead, regardless of which platform they decided to go with. “Any time you do a technology conversion, there are going to be challenges. That’s why choosing the right partner is so critical. You need a partner that is going to be responsive and accessible throughout the entire journey.” And as Mike had expected, there were some issues that ECU and Alkami would have to overcome together throughout the implementation process. “Anyone that has dealt with enterprise software knows that you need to be nimble and flexible during the implementation process. So you need a partner that is going to be there and help you make the best possible decisions and proactively address critical issues when they arrive.”
“That’s what made Alkami so great during this phase of our relationship. Our Alkami account manager was amazing. She ensured seamless and rapid communication and collaboration occurred between our team and the right people at Alkami throughout the implementation.” Mike went on to say, “When we needed to elevate specific conversations, our account manager ensured that Alkami’s executive team was quickly accessible and able to meet with us face-to-face. This allowed us to rapidly formulate answers, secure the right resources and do what needed to be done.” ECU’s implementation wasn’t perfect. But, according to Mike, “That’s been the case everywhere I have been. That said, I will be the first to tell you that if we didn’t have Alkami as our partner — it could have gotten ugly really fast.” Mike really valued the fact that Alkami was there to help him and his entire team overcome obstacles along the way. “I’ve worked with a lot of vendors over the years. No one has ever provided me with faster access to the people that make a difference like Alkami did for us. From their CEO to product management and engineering teams — Alkami ensured we had the right people in the room to make the best possible decisions.”
Shortly after ECU went live with Alkami in 2016, they started receiving rave reviews. Not just from a few members, but from the majority of their member base. Prior to implementing Alkami, ECU had less than 20 percent of members using their online banking product. Within a matter of months of launching Alkami, ECU had more than 70 percent of members using their digital banking platform on a consistent basis. “You might say that we underestimated our member’s appetite for digital banking. But when they saw how easy and flexible Alkami was to use, our utilization rate went through the roof.”
Today, Mike and the team are looking for even more ways to deliver value through Alkami’s platform. “We are working with Alkami on a wide range of initiatives. From helping members with financial literacy, to creating a Member Loyalty Payback dashboard, integrating budgeting tools, adding online card management products and more.” Reflecting on the journey that he and his team made at ECU, Mike said, “Sometimes it’s hard to acknowledge that you need to change directions. That you need to take a step back in order to move forward. But we’re so glad that we did. The road we travelled wasn’t always easy, but thanks to Alkami, the digital banking possibilities that we can provide our members moving forward … are endless.”