OnPath Federal Credit Union on ‘Experiential Growth’ Path

colorful arrows merge into one path
By Andrew C. Lampkins , Jared Freeman, CCE

7 minutes

The credit union’s ultimate goal is to deliver to members a holistic experience—the OnPath FCU experience.

While “experiential growth” is perhaps a term we coined here at $470 million OnPath Federal Credit Union in Harahan, Louisiana, the concept is nothing new.

In fact, the importance of creating an “experience” came to the forefront with the 1999 book The Experience Economy by Joseph Pine II and James Gilmore. When I read this book, I realized that if we credit unions wanted to compete in the commoditized financial services business on something beyond price, we had to provide an experience. Products and services just won’t get it done in the competitive marketplace we serve.

An “experience” is what we create that causes our members to either be drawn to us or leave with a desire to tell others about their encounter with us. Ironically, while consumers want more from their experiences, their service standards or service expectations are falling. Today, consumers feel like they got good service when the fast-food restaurant gets their order correct! Forget whether the restaurant throws in a cookie, serves up food that is fresh, or delivers it with a smile.

Here at OnPath FCU, we are taking everything we are doing (whether delivered by people or digitally) and building the OnPath FCU experience into and around that interaction. For us, “experiential growth” simply means that we believe our growth as an organization will come when we grow the quality and number of experiences we are creating for our members at every touchpoint.

Creating Experiential Growth

Let’s not overcomplicate this. Creating an experience or “experiential growth” is not some high-level complex formula. In fact, the principles of creating an experience are simple. Walk the member to the car with an umbrella when it is raining. Decorate your branch for the holidays in July. Celebrate a member’s new car by taking a picture with them in front of it.

Community banks and credit unions have all been doing many of these things for years—we just called it “good customer service.” What is changing is how we think about the experiences we offer. We now know it encompasses every aspect of an interaction, including look, smell, feel and sound.

Another thing that is changing is that we are now integrating technology and human interactions to create a constant and consistent conversation with our members across channels. This means we must integrate our data and digital services to the point where they combine to create truly deepen our understanding of our members and our ability to serve them.

We need to apply all of this to how we greet people walking into a branch, how we answer the phone, how we respond to emails, how we handle requests and how we simplify processes—ultimately giving members a more frictionless experience regardless of the delivery channel they choose.

Experiential Growth as a Strategy

We must sort through how growth in the experiences we offer and the investment we are making in them can help us over time. Our focus on experiential growth requires us to see our strategic planning as more of a long-term and “intentional” process.

For instance, we have challenged our teams to look at the experiences they want to create and then make decisions not to “fix” challenges we have today, but to “build” future expected outcomes. This means evaluating both the technology and talent we have in place today compared with what we’ll need to create experiential growth. As a result of this shift in our approach, our strategic planning is becoming more of a livable and actionable discussion than a document with a list of projects to complete.

In all, our focus on experiential growth has transformed our strategy to be all about achieving economies of scale to allow for efficient growth so we can hire talent to fuel better integration, a more holistic digital experience and also have subject-matter experts in more traditional delivery channels.

Measuring Success With This Growth Approach

While we acknowledge that the biggest returns will be over the next five to 10 years, we already have seen growth and success from our efforts and will see more in 2022. We are looking at growth in the total number of members, the number of members who see us as their primary financial institution and the number of members who continue to do their financial business with our credit union. We also are tracking the reasons members leave or decrease the amount of business they do with us.

A final measurement of our success is the test of “Are we on mission?” Our mission is to be financial advocates for our members and the communities we serve. With our retail leadership today, this looks very different than it did in the past. Offering an experience used to be sitting down and helping members balance their check register. Now it’s helping a member to use bill-pay. The way technology has impacted financial advocacy continues to be a measuring stick for our success in delivering on our mission.  

Taking a much deeper dive into behavior analytics will help us measure our success. If we truly are creating experiential growth, our members will want to interact with us even more. We now are looking at interactions beyond a simple count of how many occurred and working to use the data to know the who and when of those interactions.

OnPath’s Next Steps with ‘Experiential Growth’

Having a goal of experiential growth is about expanding our thoughts and then adjusting our behavior to build on the foundation we have already laid.

We are moving quickly to build out both the needed talent and technology integration across the organization. For instance, we are doing a little catch-up with some of our peers with the launching of interactive teller machines. Our goal is not to think of these as a “change” in how we interact with our members, but an expansion to offering a better experience for our members. By leveraging the technology, we create capacity that allows us to then spend time with other members and be stronger financial advocates for them—accomplishing our mission.  

Having ITMs also will shift our resource use and allow us more flexibility in how digital services team members provide the OnPath FCU experience to members.

Our next steps include communicating the plan to our staff at our annual “E.P.I.I.C. Day,” which celebrates the core values our team members voted to establish: empathy, passion, innovation, integrity and commitment.  

Once we cast the vision, we will keep a cadence of accountability. To do this, we have adopted the four disciplines of execution developed by Stephen R. Covey and Chris McChesney. This has us focusing 20% of our time on what we believe will make the biggest difference in our drive for experiential growth. For us, that’s team member engagement. Over the last few months, we have driven our employee Net Promoter Score from 45 to 66. We believe measuring the engagement of our team members translates into experiential growth for our members.

Why Do Credit Unions Struggle With the Notion of ‘Experience’?

We credit unions struggle with “experience” as a framework because we tend to allow the complexity of managing risk and meeting regulatory obligations to become the focus of what we do and how we do it every day. Granted, risk management and compliance are absolute musts for us to do business safely and soundly. But when we as leaders become too focused on these obligations, the idea of creating an experience or having experiential growth for the organization can become very siloed. Retail is creating one experience. Digital is creating another. Operations is trying to keep the wheels on the bus while technology is trying to keep up with requests for things to simply work.

These are challenges faced by all of us across the financial industry. Those who discover how to be “intentional” in what they are doing will continue to find success. Our ultimate goal is to deliver a holistic experience to our members that clearly demonstrates that we are one entity: OnPath FCU. If we can do that, we will have accomplished experiential growth.

Andrew C. Lampkins is EVP/chief experience officer, and Jared Freeman, CCE, is president/CEO of $470 million OnPath Federal Credit Union in Harahan, Louisiana. Both are CUES members.

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