2 min read October 2021 — Community First Credit Union of Florida has been serving the needs of Northeast Florida since 1935. In an interview with Invest:, CEO John Hirabayashi discussed takeaways from the pandemic, current priorities of banking executives and how credit unions are approaching the complex and growing world of fintech.
What is an example of a permanent improvement to your operations that you implemented in response to the pandemic?
During the pandemic, we saw an immediate spike in call volume of about 30%. We identified the need to create a telephone sales unit. Because we weren’t able to open accounts in the branches with our lobbies being closed, we wanted to make it easier for members to contact us and apply for products and services. We took a big portion of our sales-type functions, such as opening an account and applying for loans, and created a standalone unit within our contact center that we call the Express Team. This unit allowed us to take all of these incoming calls and get customers directly to the most suitable individual for their needs, just as we would in a branch. Today, that unit continues to be a high-producing unit and we’re going to further expand upon this.
How has the pandemic impacted your digital services?
Almost 88% of all new memberships were opened in branches. With the pandemic and being able to improve our digital processes, approximately 30% of new accounts are now opened through the digital channel. That trend is continuing. Today, the single-largest center that generates new membership is our online, digital channel.
What is the most important focus of banking executives at this time?
Technology is the biggest area of focus for banking executives at this time. It expands the entire range of activities by financial institutions. The delivery of services is in a state of constant improvement. We’re focused on reducing friction in processes so that customers can use our services with minimal effort and hoops to jump through. We’re also starting to see a big movement toward robotic process automation (RPA) — can we use technology in the form of bots to automate routine tasks that people are doing now, such as transferring or inputting information? We’ve been working very aggressively on this. We have highly skilled employees and we want to free up more of their time to analyze rather than input data. Through our efforts, we’ve saved over 5,000 hours of employee time.
How are you vetting the rapidly increasing number of fintech firms?
There are many fintechs out there, each serving their own particular niche. What they do well are things we don’t do as well, such as creating apps for specific functions like opening an account or applying for a loan. The issue is vetting all of these fintechs. They’re constantly knocking on our door, highlighting the services they can provide and the pain points they can alleviate. We are part of a collaboration with about 70 large credit unions throughout the country called Members Development Company (MDC). We don’t have time individually to sit there and vet all of these fintechs. The idea was to create our own venture capital fund, hiring professional staff to not only vet fintechs but find out which ones can benefit credit unions and maybe even achieve a discounted rate if implemented across all of the member credit unions. The Curql Fund was launched in 2021. It’s a fintech fund with $200 million in capital. That’s how much demand there has been by credit unions for fintech opportunities. Every time they make an investment, they pitch us. This has been a great collaborative way to vet fintechs.
What is your outlook for the next three years?
We’re very bullish on the sector and our institution. We sit today at about $2.3 billion in assets and our forecast by the end of 2025 is $3 billion. Jacksonville and the entire First Coast area has been very strong. The economy is strong. There’s employment growth. There’s population growth. I think we’ve reached a tipping point where this has become a place people want to move to. The amount of rental construction alone over the past few years has been incredible, which really speaks to the demand for housing, and there’s still a lot of growth potential. We have some very strong sectors, such as healthcare, defense and logistics, with good leadership. When I look at the next three years or so, every indicator points to growth.
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