On the digital transformation journey with GTE Financial’s Brian Best

It was mid 2016 when Brian Best was handed the top job at GTE Financial in Tampa FL and he’s been charging ahead since.  With over $2 billion in assets GTE Financial is among the nation’s biggest but as CEO Best is busy remaking the institution for the contemporary age.

Resting on laurels is not how he sees his job.

He said that a lot of his drive to remake GTE Financial grows out of the recognition that it’s in a different position.  He elaborated: “In our community, Tampa Bay – we have a lot of Millennials. 51% of our members are Millennials.  And they really like digital. They like the ease of access. We believe they also like brick and mortar.  But we know we need good digital.”

Best dated the start of GTE Financial’s Digital Transformation back to 2015  – he was chief experience officer then – and, he said, the institution’s aim has been to win member loyalty with superior experiences. “We want to make sure our experiences are beneficial to our members. Experiences are what differentiate an institution. Products don’t.”

Said Best: “We are 100% focused on what the member experience looks like.”

Think about that.  Most financial institutions offer roughly the same products and – hype aside – there often isn’t much that distinguishes the basic products at one institution from those at another.

At GTE Financial Best is driven to go beyond the basics and drill into what – really – will captivate members.  That’s at the heart of this digital transformation.

Best said a continuing obstacle is that third party vendors “don’t want to give up control of their APIs,” that is, their Application Protocol Interface, which enables communication with the program.  Many tech vendors jealously guard their APIs and, although that is understandable, it also complicates the job of an institution that is seeking to give members a unified experience.

Best added that many vendors also don’t get that “we want to give our members a different experience” – meaning that GTE Financial does not want to settle for the same off the shelf tool kit that is in use in dozens, maybe hundreds of financial institutions.

“What should digital transformation look like,” Best went on. “We believe a member should be able to access – easily – key information in their accounts.” He pointed to an amortization table as a case in point.  Loan customers should be able to easily access it – that table is crucial to seeing ahead with a loan – but doing so just isn’t ways easy.

None of these changes are simple and many aren’t quick. Best said, “Our main competition is ourself.  We have every big bank in Tampa. They are throwing money at digital transformation but their experiences aren’t that great.”

He added: “Our true competition is the Amazons, the digital payments landscape.  If we don’t live in that world we’ll lose touch with the future. It will be ugly for us if Amazon gets into the banking world.”

“Much like Amazon, the experience needs to be intimate even when it is digital. The artificial intelligence has to really understand what the member is looking for.”

“We want to create real intimacy in the virtual environment.”

Read that again. What Best is saying is that the companies that are winning succeed in combining great digital with genuine intimacy and personalization.  

Getting there just may be critical.

Best nonetheless said he is very optimistic, about the future for GTE Financial in particular and for credit unions in general.  “Credit unions have always put the person first – that’s why I started working for credit unions. Night and day difference between our culture and at the banks where I worked. Banks have a different mission. Credit unions will persevere because of that focus. If we lose that focus we have risk.”

He also shared a valuable tip. Just about every day GTE Financial gets 100 new members. What produces that steady stream?  Best thought about that before he answered.

Here is what he said: “It’s mostly word of mouth. We put a lot of effort into philanthropic giving

We provide $500,000 to $700,000 annually to a lot of non profits in Tampa. We average two financial literacy workshops a day. Word of mouth increases through the right activities. If you are doing the right things, word of mouth happens quickly.”

He continued: “70% of the time new members tell us they really like how we support the community.

They have a good feeling about where they are putting their money when they open an account with us.”

Can you say similar? Do your members?

Robert McGarvey

Robert McGarvey

A blogger and speaker, Robert McGarvey is a longtime journalist who has covered credit unions extensively, notably for Credit Union Times as well as the New York Times and TheStreet, ... Web: www.mcgarvey.net Details