Disney’s Credit Union Looks to Fintech Companies to Meet Member Needs

© Can Stock Photo / karapasDisney’s credit union needed more magic.

Last year, the 132,000-member Partners Federal Credit Union, in response to member requests, wanted to roll out the ability to apply for loans and open account on mobile, but was unable to.

“Our members could transfer funds, and deposit checks on mobile,” said Chief Marketing Officer Mike Terzian. “But we couldn’t meet the needs of members as rapidly as we’d like to. We were beholden to our vendor.”

Looking beyond core vendors is a common theme in the days of the digitizations of banking. Chris Parker, chief member services officer, noted, “We had to look beyond the credit union to the fintech space.”

Of course, community institutions should tread quite softly when partnering with fintech startups. As John Waupsh, chief innovation officer for Austin, Texas-based Kasasa, writes in his new book Bankruption, “When choosing a partner, use the size of the fintech startup market to your advantage — don’t marry the first one you see; date around a bit.”

Partners serves members primarily in Florida and California, though it has members and interests in all 50 states. It’s not your average credit union, however, because its members are far from typical — they are the “cast, employees, and imagineers” of the Walt Disney Company. Its Florida market — meaning employees of Walt Disney World — is young and tech-savvy. Its California market — employees of Disney’s studios in Burbank and Disneyland in Anaheim — is older, but there is tremendous demand for mobile technology in both markets, Parker said.

Disney as a company is an innovator in the payments space, most notably with its MagicBand wearable payment and identity device. MagicBand allows your kids to spend lots of money and be identified if found wandering the park in a sugar-induced daze, clutching armfuls of Frozen merchandise. Not really — actually MagicBand is part of a sophisticated system Disney uses to customize visitors’ experiences and remove some of the usual hassles involved with traveling (and managing kids.) The bands are mailed to customers in advance of their visit — one for each family member.

To serve the mobile needs of its members, Partners turned to Kony, an enterprise mobility platform that is also based in Austin. “We had no web services layer in 2015,” Parker said. the credit union moved from one developer to six and in the process built a wrapper around its core to interact with Kony’s mobile layer and add features such as card controls, Touch ID login, and billpay to mobile. One tool that Partners developers found particularly useful was Kony’s Visualizer design tool, which allowed for designs to build in Photoshop and then devs can “plug it in and plumb it,” said Terzian.

This work was completed in the summer of 2016. Partners refers to this as a unified or universal channel experience — the ability to do everything a member wants to do in branch, online, or in-app. The new mobile offerings did not directly translate into reduced branch activity, though mobile transactions did increase, Parker said.

The core system of Partners is Jack Henry’s Symitar. JHA has a state-of-the-art mobile offering courtesy of its Banno unit, but it seems that for Partners, this was not a good fit. Several community institutions have mentioned that while they could not afford the mobile offerings of their core vendors, they could afford the services of smaller vendors. This seems to point to margin squeeze in the ancillary offerings of core vendors in the near future.

Whatever delivers the best experience is the thing, Parker said. “We’re cast serving cast — the number one thing is trust.”

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