Building a Digital Banking Strategy While Maintaining a Historic Brand

  • Craig McLaughlin
  • March 02, 2021

Established in 1951, the San Francisco Fire Credit Union was originally founded by firefighters, for firefighters at a time when they weren’t able to get financial services from banks. Through the years, they’ve developed a reputation among locals for their exceptional service. By 1995, the bay area credit union moved to a community charter. SF Fire now serves Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties.

We recently interviewed President and CEO, Kathy Duvall, on her experience working with us to create a digital banking strategy; this is what she had to say.

An online presence does not equal a positive digital experience

Before we entered the scene, SF Fire’s attempt to move towards a more digital approach proved unsuccessful and left members feeling frustrated with their online experience. “We didn’t have a strategy around digital transformation,” Duvall explains. “Of course, we had an online presence, and we had a website, but […] we really had no direction. We all felt very strongly that this is where we really needed to [invest] our money, our emphasis, [and our] energy, but we didn’t know how to do it.”

By that point, members were engaging with SF Fire’s digital channel 60 times more than the physical branch and 40 times more often than with their contact center. Suffice it to say, translating the credit union’s storied, high-touch customer service and unique values from offline to online was crucial.

Creating a strategic digital vision

“When we started off, we approached it just purely as a technology play,” notes Duvall. “But Extractable taught us [it’s] so much more than that. It’s not just about [banking technology] in and of itself, it’s [about] how we can help [members] do [their] business better?” 

“Working with Extractable has been really pleasant. […] They’re not going to come in and say, ‘We’ve done this at five previous financial institutions, therefore, this is how you need to do it.’ They took the time to get to know who we were, what was important to us, and adjusted their expertise to help put together a strategy that was best for SF Fire.”

The first step towards moving SF Fire to a digital-first approach (while maintaining their level of service) was helping them understand that they could still offer the same personalized member experience through digital means. 

One of the ways we accomplished this was through the creation of member personas. “We [gained] some really good insights,” recalls Duvall. “[Extractable] educated us about our existing members and our potential members. [As a result], we were able to think about our product set (and how we position those products in the marketplace) differently.” 

Another part of our process was to meet with the leadership team, both one-on-one and as a group. “They wanted to meet us [to gain] clarity around what our task was, and then we’d have regular meetings with them.” Duvall goes on to describe another part of the process she found particularly invaluable, “They participated in one of our board planning sessions at an offsite meeting and presented our digital experience strategy. It was extremely helpful. They engaged with the board, [there were] lots of questions and answers, and it was terrific because they were able to share a ton of industry insight, not just about SF Fire but from all the experience with their other clients. [It] helped our board buy into the big ask that we were [making] in terms of future investment.”

A member-first strategy; a reimagined brand

Because of the sheer amount of tech out there — from third-party vendors to competing fintech companies — it can be daunting for our clients to figure out what their digital banking strategy roadmap should look like. 

“We have all these non-traditional competitors entering our space. [And we have to] think about serving our members with the most basic needs, where [banking technology] is heading, and how to mirror those two. Most importantly, [we have to consider] how to [build what’s special about credit unions] into our [digital banking strategy roadmap], and how technology can support and not hinder that.”

That said, our mission was to help this historical institution catch up in the digital arena without losing the SF Fire brand in the process. That meant learning how they interacted with members, identifying pain points, and coming up with a member-focused digital banking strategy roadmap. As Duvall points out, “Now, more than ever, virtual’s where it’s at. So, it just emphasizes the importance of us continuing to invest in this channel and evolve with our members and our future members.”

Now armed with a strategic, member-focused digital approach, Duvall had this to say: “The advantage to growing digitally versus the traditional way in a branch is it’s much more cost-effective, but I think more exciting is that you can reach more of your potential membership [through digital means] versus just having brick and mortar and a branch on every street corner. Increasingly, SF Fire’s trying to win the digitally native and Extractable has allowed us to serve them better.”

Honoring a legacy of service; boldly moving into the future

Want to get the full story on how we helped SF Fire Credit Union deliver (and enhance) their patented level of service through digital means? 


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