FSI Member Spotlight Episode #12: Credit Unions Innovating in the Fintech Integration Landscape
In a recent FSI Member Spotlight, Praxent had the opportunity to meet up with Benjamin Maxim, AVP of Digital Strategy and Innovation at MSUFCU. Benjamin has been with Michigan State University Federal Credit Union nearly 14 years, the first 12 of which he worked his way up from Web Developer, to Manager, to AVP of Development. Today, Ben focuses on company wide innovation strategy, with a special focus on fintech and emerging member solutions.
Ben defines innovation by jumping off of a famous quote by Henry Ford, an original American innovator: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” With that spirit of embracing speed and change in mind, Ben clarifies that innovation can take many different forms and timelines, from incremental to overnight. But most often, innovation is simply improving on what you had yesterday to make today’s experience better. MSUFCU’s organizational embrace of innovation led to Ben taking the initiative on building an IPhone app in 2009-2010. Online banking was brought in-house during that same period, with in-house APIs built out through 20011 and member launch in 2012. Ben also mentions their early embrace of remote deposit capture – feature that’s considered table stakes in digital banking today. Building from that success, MSUFCU more recently introduced instant member to member transfers and Fran, a member-facing mobile chatbot – both of which significantly increased digital adoption rates for the credit union.
Ben is most enthusiastic about sharing The Lab at MSUFCU, a recent initiative that allows the credit union to bring employees and fintechs together. The Lab is a sandbox for young fintechs to see where they might fit into the MSUFCU ecosystem, as well as for recruiting members to partake in sampling from fintechs and serving on pilot member testing programs ranging from fraud protection to student loan payoff products. Like many innovators, Ben is convinced that bank – fintech partnerships will only increase over time, painting a simplistic if useful picture of fintechs being the LEGO blocks that can be arranged and rearranged to serve as modular products within the banking/credit union ecosystem. Yet within this LEGO world of partnerships, an integration base layer must also exist to ensure continuity and ease of use across the board.
Ben sees a helpful model in creating personalized platforms wherein the banking institution itself serves as the platform, with various services connecting in and providing solutions to customer members. While API connections pull in the data, the banks (and to an extent, users) control the interface to ensure a highly personalized customer experience. Having a finger on the pulse of what customers really want is key here – with a whitelabel fintech product, some elements may be useful to one customer segment while obsolete to another. Maintaining the ability to select plug-and-play applications on an individual member basis makes the most sense to Ben. Still, managing compounding technical debt and other complexities involved with coding into APIs is a constant challenge – watch the full FSI Spotlight video to learn how Ben’s team stays ahead of the curve.
- – High digital adoption rates depend on constant innovation and a high degree of personalization. MSUFCU is a leader in in-house development, early adoption, and piloting unique fintech partnerships that allow customers to explore what works best for them.
- – Initiatives like The Lab at MSUFCU allow fintechs, banking professionals, and customers to come together in a sandbox-like environment and test exciting new applications while providing invaluable real-time feedback.
- – With over 80,000 MSUFCU members interacting solely on a digital basis, Ben believes this push towards digital-only is not just a matter of necessity – it’s a matter of preference that’s indicative of a wider cultural shift that has become overwhelmingly apparent over the course of the last year-plus.
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