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Alexa, how did this credit union win a Best Practices Award?

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What’s the best way to get members to interact with the credit union via a digital assistant like Amazon’s Alexa?

For Enrichment Federal Credit Union, the path to member adoption went straight through employees.

The results of that process and the rollout have earned the Oak Ridge, Tenn.-based institution a 2018 Best Practices Award from Credit Union Journal in the voice banking category.

About two years ago the $494 million-asset institution began working with Symitar, its core processing provider, and Best Innovation Group on launching a voice banking service for digital assistant devices. Alexa was selected because it was the most mature product available, said John Merritt, chief information officer at Enrichment.

“When we started this process, Google hadn’t released a product to compete,” he said. “[Alexa] was the product that was out there and it was getting the most market acceptance.”

Merritt explained that during the process of developing the service, the CU encountered a number of hurdles. For instance, Amazon rejected Enrichment’s “skill list,” which basically outlined what its service would do, seven times before finally approving it.

With the functionalities in place, Enrichment was ready to test the service out. Rather than hope its employees were comfortable with digital assistants, the credit union bought Amazon Echo Dot devices for all 115 employees for about $5,000. The expense was worth every penny, to hear Merritt tell it.

Merritt and three other c-level executives visited two branches each, carrying gift baskets filled with the Echo Dots.

“We made a little mini party out of it saying, ‘Here’s what it is. We want you to have this type of thing. Let’s get your account set up and go from there,’” Merritt said.

Training started with simple transactions like funds transfers and then moved into more complex territory. Enrichment employees had access to the service before members “because we thought it was important that all of our people be comfortable with the product and knowledgeable about it – that they understand what it will do and how it works,” Merritt said. “We didn’t want there to be any reasons people couldn’t do that, and we also wanted to build excitement.”

When members saw the devices at teller windows and asked questions, employees were able to respond confidently. The CU also ran a variety of monthly competitions for members and awarded Echo Dots to winners in order to get more devices into members’ hands.

Get on the bandwagon

As of late October, Enrichment had 183 members using the tool across 199 different devices, with nearly 3,700 requests completed. While those numbers are fairly small, Merritt said the credit union expected a slow start. And members who have adopted it, he noted, have been enthusiastic about it.

“When we put this in place, our intention was we did not just expect a windfall of acceptance and adoption, but we thought it was important to get it out there and get in front of it to convey a message that our credit union is on the front end of the technology curve,” he said.

The devices have even made life easier for some disabled users. One Enrichment member who won a device is blind, and when the Alexa service went live, Merritt and CEO Orin Peters took the Echo Dot to her house and set it up for her.

“She went from having to use a laptop with a screen reader software to now she sits it on her counter and she can talk to it,” he recalled. “She can say, ‘Alexa, open Enrichment,’ and she can check her mortgage balance, transfer money, all that – right there in her family room.”

Merritt and other credit union executives expect usage to grow steadily as more consumers begin using Alexa and similar services. Enrichment is already in the process of developing its banking offerings for other virtual assistants.

Merritt would encourage other credit unions to develop a service that works with virtual assistants. He would compare these products to mobile payments, which has had a slow transition for some consumers but others are religiously devoted to it.

“[The virtual assistant] ecosystem is not going away,” Merritt said. “Folks are going to use it to manage the heat and air in their house [and] to let them know what’s in their refrigerator. Those things are coming out more and more, and financial institutions need to decide [if they] want to be plugged into that ecosystem…You either need to be a part of that process or I think you’re going to get left behind."

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