By partnering with fintechs, Union Savings Bank has rolled out an innovative digital tool that uses AI to help customers achieve financial wellbeing.
By Aileen McDonough
Union Savings Bank
Community banks have long been a bastion of relationship-focused service. But what happens when a community bank makes the decision to put technology—specifically, AI—at the heart of its customer service strategy? For Union Savings Bank (USB), a $3 billion-asset community bank in Danbury, Conn., it’s all about helping customers on their journey to financial wellbeing through innovative solutions and a friendly, supportive team.
USB recently launched Spending Insights, a solution that integrates with the community bank’s mobile banking app. It’s designed to automatically track and analyze customers’ spending habits, then offer opportunities to budget and save money.
So, how did a community bank whose headquarters still occupy the building where it was founded in 1866 become a tech-forward organization in the AI space?
USB worked with fintech partners FIS and Personetics on this project, and chose their solution in large part due to its ease of use, which generally results in higher adoption rates for personal financial management (PFM) tools. “Nearly 95% of our mobile customers are aware of [Spending Insights] or are getting insights, and 20% of those folks are actually clicking on and engaging on those insights themselves,” says Chris Barlow, USB’s vice president of digital channels. “We’re obviously still looking to grow that.”
“We never want to lose sight of the importance of good conversation. The AI tools just make it a deeper, more meaningful conversation.”
—Rick Judd, Union Savings Bank
The community bank has achieved nearly complete awareness and almost five times the typical rate of engagement for PFM tools, only six months into its launch. Alongside strong engagement numbers, the customer reaction to USB Spending Insights has been positive, with many leaving favorable comments, reviews and ratings of their experience, Barlow says.
Peter Scotch, director of the USB innovation center, says, “Our understanding of PFMs is that you typically get 4% to 5% engagement on them—again, because of the heavy lifting the customer has to do.”
The human factor
USB Spending Insights is part of a larger educational initiative at USB, FutureTrack, which offers goal-based financial coaching free of charge to USB customers. Customers can schedule in-person appointments with certified FutureTrack coaches to receive advice and establish accountability to their financial goals.
Rick Judd, the executive vice president overseeing FutureTrack, says the program “helps people along their financial journey.” The Spending Insights tool helps customers notice their habits, while equipping them with the understanding to have an informed, productive conversation with their banker about how to reach their financial goals.
“The educational piece complements well-trained staff,” Judd says. “Having an AI tool presents an educational opportunity, and coupled with good sound advice from people, it’s a perfect marriage of technology and the human component that we really value. We never want to lose sight of the importance of good conversation. The AI tools just make it a deeper, more meaningful conversation.”
Ambassadors to the digital world
In combination with USB’s relationship-banking practices, its new technology allows it to support the financial well-being of all its customers. As Scotch points out, “We stay relevant by continuing to roll out tools that make it easier for people who are more engaged digitally, and then tie that with the appropriate expertise in the bank that can talk to them when they’re ready.” The community bank employs digital experts at every single branch; it calls them digital ambassadors, a term that was chosen because it’s perceived as knowledgeable but approachable.
Judd says the digital ambassadors bridge the gap in technology know-how for both staff and customers. “We can have all these fantastic tools, but if there’s a gap between the tools and understanding, then it doesn’t really benefit the client; it doesn’t improve the customer experience,” he says. “Digital ambassadors are charged with being the educators, both of the team and the public. If we make things approachable, more people will get engaged.”
“We have this vision for improving the financial wellness of our customers, and we’re looking for the right solutions to support that vision.”
—Peter Scotch, Union Savings Bank
Barlow adds, “They are the go-to when a customer says ‘Hey, can you help walk me through this?’ They are also on the front lines with training the rest of the branch about our new capabilities. We hold periodic meetings and training sessions to make sure that everyone in the branch is aware of new technology rollouts and is prepared to take customer questions and comments when they come in.”
Continuing to innovate
This is not the end of technology innovation for Union Savings Bank. According to Barlow, USB is helping FIS evaluate fintechs and improve its customer approach. “We’re becoming known as the bank that is technology forward, ready to think about adopting new technology,” he says, “and we’re getting good feedback about that.”
In the end, “tech meets touch” has been the right approach for Union Savings Bank, because it enables the community bank to provide for the needs of the customer, keeping their financial well-being top of mind. Scotch says, “We have this vision for improving the financial wellness of our customers and we’re looking for the right solutions to support that vision.”
“The end result is they feel financially fit,” adds Judd, “and that’s important to us.”
Aileen McDonough is a writer in Rhode Island.