Image: iStock/Jelena Danilovic

“People helping people” has been the business mantra for credit unions for decades. These financial institutions pride themselves on running not-for-profit entities that enable members to get ahead financially and obtain loans that they otherwise couldn’t if they went through standard channels.

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

During the COVID-19 crisis, credit unions have found a way to maintain this “people culture” by using video applications that give them face time with their members.

“The ultimate issue credit unions and also banks face right now is branch closures due to the pandemic lowering the amount of foot traffic,” said Tzachi Levy, senior vice president of product and engineering at Vidyo, which provides video conferencing technology. “For most branches, the main differentiator between competitors is the interpersonal relationships employees have built with customers and members over time.”

Levy said with branches closed, video communications are providing a way to maintain personal interactions and relationships.

“When bank customers or credit union members are looking to refinance a house or getting a new car loan, they want to know there’s a person they trust who’s handling their personal details, and traditionally these relationships are developed over time through in-person interactions,” Levy said. “However, as employees social distance or work from home, achieving interpersonal interactions is more difficult.”

SEE: Top 5 video conferencing services to use with remote employees (TechRepublic)

Video conversations now take place through websites, video chats, mobile app calls, and even ATM video. “So, if a credit union member walks into a branch lobby and wants to speak with a loan representative, the member can be directed to a private room with a video setup,” Levy said. “It’s not the same as seeing someone in person, but it does give you immediate access to an expert.”

Maintaining video quality is also important, and it is an issue that IT must tackle. To enable a successful process, these key issues must be addressed on the technology side.

1. Connectivity

Connectivity must be strong at headquarters and also at branches. This can be a challenge because internet service is not universally strong everywhere.

2. Facility preparedness

Video IT equipment must be deployed in branches, and the video rooms must look like professional settings. At a bare minimum, employees need access to a camera, speaker, and microphone to facilitate a call. Beyond that, employees need good sound quality and lighting, as well as a non-distracting background to set the tone for video interactions.

3. Security

“There should be multiple levels of security,” Levy said. “All communications should be restricted and encrypted. None of the information shared should be stored on the video platform. Another layer of security comes from the integration with financial applications that have higher levels of authentication. By hosting the video interaction within a financial application, the avenues for potential breaches or bad actors are dramatically reduced.”

4. Operational changes

Employees who are used to meeting with members in person should be trained for the dynamics of a video call. Shifts of posture can affect the quality of a video call, and eye contact is key. Employees need to be ready to respond if the call is suddenly dropped, or if video quality fluctuates.

While these are interpersonal adjustment skills that IT is not expected to train, what IT should insist on is an active participation from branch management to ensure that the human “soft skills” for video presentations are trained.

The future of video connection

For years, credit unions and banks have considered reducing costs by eliminating branches and doing more business online. They’ve succeeded in moving traffic online, but they’ve also learned that there is still a need for “high touch” communications with customers and members that goes beyond what virtual media can offer.

Brick-and-mortar branches will resume operation when the COVID-19 pandemic abates. However, they will also continue to use video-as-a-service augmentation.

“Video is a great option for financial organizations of all sizes,” Levy said. “It also provides a viable outreach channel for smaller financial institutions with more limited workforces.”