Becoming your members’ primary financial relationship

It is every credit union’s goal to become the primary financial relationship for its members – the relationship that supports their daily financial needs and helps them improve their overall lifestyle.

To achieve PFR status, credit unions need to embrace a human-centered approach to engaging members that fosters their trust. They also need to implement the tools and technologies needed to meet the digital expectations of members and respond to their immediate and long-term financial needs. 

Consumers today are increasingly aggregating their financial services based on what is easy and available to them, a dynamic which has fintechs and Big Techs encroaching on our industry.

Members now have their cards in many different places, and once those cards are loaded into mobile wallets and apps, they are rarely changed. Even when a member gets a new smartphone, for example, tech companies have made it easy to transfer and verify information, so the same cards are automatically up and running in the new device in that member’s commonly used apps. Establishing PFR with today’s digital-first member means remaining in apps, devices and both mobile and physical wallets. 

PFR status also hinges on the stability of payment experiences. Credit union technologies, and especially card products, have to work properly and securely at all times, across channels, without fail. Cash needs to be readily accessible as well. And if members want to speak with a human for help, live service and support should be available for them 24/7.

The Path to PFR Status

Most credit unions understand this paradigm well. Yet, delivering the kind of engaging omnichannel experiences members expect today is a tall challenge. The best approach is to advance your strategies step by step:

  1. Use data to understand members and how trends are impacting them. Remember that trends vary across the country, and a single approach to member engagement will not work for all credit unions. Design for members’ lifestyles, too – not just their life stages.
  1. Develop a technology roadmap of must-haves and nice-to-haves. Take advantage of the expertise offered by industry partners and leverage their technological resources as well. Meet with partners, share your goals and construct a plan to realize your vision. 
  1. Then attack that plan! Execute on initiatives, drive awareness with members and reward them in meaningful ways for taking advantage of the new products, services, and features you are offering.

Integration Is Innovation

As you move forward with digital initiatives, remember the importance of building out an infrastructure that allows all your assets, both human and technological, to seamlessly integrate, scale and advance.  

Take inventory of the number of apps members use to interact with your credit union and consider whether they can be consolidated using APIs or user interfaces. Consider how integration and data visibility can help you understand the purchasing patterns of members and build loyalty programs that resonate with them.

Integration across the infrastructure will also allow your credit union to deliver new products and services faster. So, surprise members with new features in your mobile banking app, for example.  When they see incremental enhancements to your applications, they will notice them, appreciate them – and their bond with your credit union will strengthen as a result.

Focus on Payments and Financial Wellness

At the end of the day, our financial lives center around two important pillars: payments and financial wellness. Payments guide us through everyday activities, from grocery shopping within an app to filling the tank and splitting the bill. They are the financial fabric of our lives – and for credit unions, payments lead to stickier member relationships.

Financial wellness is equally important to nurture and in sharp focus by consumers today as they grapple with both the health and financial uncertainties of the pandemic.

When members feel financially stable, a layer of anxiety is lifted for them. Long term, financial wellness allows members to achieve their goals and dreams – from home ownership to sending their children to college and ultimately their retirement. 

Nurturing financial wellness over the long term with members requires merging technology and talent. This is where your employees shine. Upskilling them and ensuring that they have the best technological tools to serve modern members well across the diversity of their financial needs is essential to earning PFR status. 

Choose Partners Wisely

Across the industry, there are many outside resources available to help your credit union grow and advance. Who you select as partners on this journey will greatly impact your member relationships. 

Partner with organizations offering deep industry analyses and insights, and who can drive awareness and advocacy for your credit union. A financial services partner should also work proactively with any other outside providers you retain to ensure your products and services meet the needs of your own unique member base. One size does not fit all.

The partners you select should align with your values as well, understanding that success is achieved by recognizing and meeting members’ goals and expectations – and that processes and operations must put the member at the center of every decision. 

Ultimately, credit unions play a unique role in the lives of members and fulfill a unique promise to society as well. Staying focused on our movement’s mission will not only help your credit unions achieve PFR status with members, but it will also lift them up while strengthening the communities you serve.

Adrianna Adufutse

Adrianna Adufutse

Adrianna Adufutse is Director, Industry Relationships, for CO-OP Financial Services (, a provider of payments and financial technology to credit unions. Web: Details