Tech Champions in the Branch

The branch has always been considered the best channel for banks to deliver personal service. What many bankers probably don’t realize is that the branch may also be the best place to instruct customers in the use of mobile technology.

That, at any rate, is the theory of executives at West Jordan, Utah-based Mountain America Credit Union, which has deployed so-called “tech champions” in each of its 76 branches. These champions are responsible for educating the other branch employees about the credit union’s technology-based products and services so that those employees can then effectively demonstrate the products to customers.

“Our philosophy is that we want to be able to serve our membership in the way that’s best going to meet their needs,” says Jason Rogers, senior vice president of branch administration. “With this program, employees are better educated about these products, how they work, how to troubleshoot, how to sign people up and how to better meet the needs of members.”

Feedback Loop

Mountain America began the tech champion program in March with a 10-branch pilot. The results were so clearly positive that the remaining branches all had their own tech champions by early June, according to Rogers.

“In one case, a woman who just had a savings account with us came in. She was not an active user of the credit union,” Rogers recalls. In the course of discussing Mountain America’s mobile banking application with a branch employee, the customer “signed up for five additional products and services. She brought over her primary checking account and some other items because of the increased convenience that she realized we had to offer through these mobile apps.”

In addition to increased user adoption of its mobile app, the $3.6 billionasset credit union has also gained valuable feedback on its products, Rogers says. “One key part of this initiative was to have communication set up between those on the administrative side and those tech champions in the branches. We had weekly calls with the tech champions and we noticed we were getting a greater degree of feedback on how we could improve the apps as well as common questions and concerns that the membership was raising. That has led to some enhancements to our apps and allowed the online and mobile team to troubleshoot some things that could be functioning better.”

One enhancement that resulted from these discussions was a personal budgeting function that enables customers to monitor all their financial accounts, regardless of where those accounts are housed, says Rogers. Mountain America’s membership is about average in its propensity to use new technology, but members under age 30 now expect their financial institutions to offer phone-based money management and payment options, he adds.

“It’s not so much of a cool factor for them,” Rogers says. “They’re expecting to be able to send money to their friends, parents or landlord, and they want to do it through their phone.”

A key issue Mountain America had to settle before expanding the program to all its branches had to do with leadership of the program. “Our first thought was that the tech champion should be a management member or someone with that level of supervisory responsibility within the branch, because they would be able to get the rest of the employees on board,” Rogers says. “In the pilot group, we had a mixture of employees, and it became very clear that it was more important to get those individuals that have a passion for technology and gravitate to it. We found it really didn’t matter if the individual was a supervisor or a teller.”

Tech champions are also responsible for maintaining and fixing common problems with in-branch technology, such as check scanners, which has reduced the number of calls made to the credit union’s internal technology help desk, according to Rogers. Mountain America has not hired any new employees to fill tech champion roles; instead, existing employees have taken on the responsibility.

“We have incentives that individuals can earn, and there’s some recognition that comes with it, but we have not done a lot of compensation adjustments,” Rogers says. “It’s more about the satisfaction of doing something they really enjoy. And we found that their job satisfaction increased.”

To date, it appears that Mountain America is a lone pioneer in deploying tech champions to its branches. But Celent analyst Bob Meara says the concept has merit since banks have been struggling to migrate customers to mobile technology. “Most banks have historically promoted mobile banking to their online banking user base, which is cost effective and logical, but excludes a number of people who might otherwise be interested,” Meara says.  “Consumers often don’t appreciate that they might like something until they come to understand it better.”

Ms. Whalen is a contributing writer to BAI Banking Strategies based in Berkeley, Calif.