Recap: Connect Conference Focuses on Partnership

The 2023 Synergent Connect Conference brought together over 120 credit union staff attendees from 56 credit unions. We had a great time seeing credit union partners from across the country for this two-day event, held at the Samoset Resort in Rockport, Maine, that was packed with valuable information presented by industry renowned speakers and subject matter experts. Credit union staff members had the opportunity to learn about the latest products and strategies, network with credit union colleagues from across the country, and be inspired, all while gathering on the beautiful coast of Maine.

“Seeing credit union partners at Connect is something I look forward to so much each year,” said Cris Wescott, Interim President/CEO and Chief Financial Officer for Synergent. “We collaborate every day, but this is such a great time to see each other in person while hearing from experts about the latest information, all tailored for this specific audience. It was informative and so much fun.”

Sessions and Speakers

The Connect Conference covered a variety of topic areas, including leadership, DEI, growth strategies, community impact, FedNow®, digital consumers, and money movement. Following a video presentation of Synergent News Now that covered accomplishments from the past year as well as goals for the month ahead, Wescott opened the event before introducing Adam Lee for the first session.

Adam Lee

What Matters Now: All People Seen. All Voices Heard

Creating Community Impact with Only a Stick of Gum, a Paperclip, and a Pocketknife

Adam Lee
Senior Manager – TruStage DEI Services

The “All People Seen, All Voices Heard” mantra is core to the multi-year What Matters Now™ research, developed and digested specifically for credit unions. With contributions from nearly 10,000 multicultural and multigenerational participants across the country, Lee shared identity-rich data, insights, and action steps for ways credit unions can help their members and communities achieve financial wellbeing. Lee discussed how the U.S. is becoming more diverse and how this goes well beyond race. Inclusion is a corporate value and, in general, understanding identity helps credit unions better serve their members. In surveys, TruStage found that 60% of people want their children to achieve more financially, and that nearly half of Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Multiracial consumers – and more than half of millennials – believe one job isn’t enough to fulfill their goals. It’s important to celebrate life and financial accomplishments for members, such as paying off student loan debt. Finally, younger generations are seeking access when it comes to building wealth over time and want to know where brands stand.

Lee also led a breakout session, Creating Community Impact with Only a Stick of Gum, a Paperclip, and a Pocketknife. In this interactive workshop, attendees were provided with the basics of an organizing framework called Strategic DoingTM, developed by Ed Morrison and scaled at Purdue University. He challenged participants to practice this framework and find ways to generate a feasible community impact initiative while having limited resources.

In his role as Senior Manager for TruStage DEI Services, Lee is developing and launching products that will support credit unions’ DEI journeys. He has been working in the credit union system for nine years as a former Senior Project Manager for CUNA Mutual Group and as the Incubator Director for Filene Research Institute. At Filene, Lee led a team to test and scale innovative products that advance financial equity. Prior to his time with credit unions, Lee supported communities as a Senior Consultant for Deloitte’s Federal Strategy and Operations Division and as a leader in two AmeriCorps community service programs.

Caroline Vahrenkamp

The Credit Union Renaissance

A Deeper Dive: Solving the Puzzle of Credit Union Growth

Caroline Vahrenkamp
Director of Advisory Services – Filene Research Institute

With over 20 years of experience in and around credit unions, Vahrenkamp understands the uniquely challenging environment credit unions are facing. At the same time, new opportunities are emerging for credit unions to embrace their strengths and grow through a revitalization of consumer and cooperative finance defined by three key themes: humanism, innovation, and transformation. Vahrenkamp took the time to explore emerging consumer and industry trends to help rethink how solutions are delivered to meet members’ needs at their point of need. She also covered key areas of focus in 2023 and beyond to drive credit union success: pricing, products, and promotion. Being ubiquitous and providing convenience, ease of use, value, and security are a few ways credit unions can compete and win in the financial services space. There also is a strategic opportunity: 80% of consumers expect their primary financial institution (PFI) to help them improve their financial health, but only 14% agree strongly that their PFIs actually do.

Vahrenkamp also led a breakout session, A Deeper Dive: Solving the Puzzle of Credit Union Growth. In this session, she provided a presentation and facilitated a discussion on how credit unions can find unique solutions to key strategic opportunities that she referenced in her prior presentation.

With her extensive background in finance, marketing, and product development, Vahrenkamp is on a mission to support credit union innovation and find trends and patterns in consumer behavior that will lead to the development of new products and services to transform the credit union industry. Prior to her work with Filene, Vahrenkamp was at Raddon where she was responsible for consumer research and strategic advisory services. Her past roles also include CFO at Clackamas Federal Credit Union and SVP of Marketing and Member Experience at Elements Financial.

Brandon Krebs

FedNow Update

Brandon Krebs
Technical Product Manager – Jack Henry

FedNow®, the Federal Reserve’s new system for instant payments, went live on July 20, 2023, and is now available to credit unions and other financial institutions. Through this flexible platform, members can send instant payments through their depository institution accounts 24/7. In this presentation, Krebs opened by discussing in detail what FedNow is and how it works. It is an instant payments rail behind the scenes offered by the Federal Reserve that serves as a real-time gross settlement system. Debits and credits fund through a credit union’s Federal Reserve Master account. Both FedNow and the RTP® Network are real-time gross settlement networks, but they differ in two major ways: the settlement mechanism and connection access. Krebs also provided potential use cases for the FedNow rail for Account-to-Account, Consumer-to-Business, Peer-to-Peer, Business-to-Business, Business-to-Consumer, and government and municipal payment scenarios. He also provided an update on where the FedNow pilot is today with both the Federal Reserve and Jack Henry™.

Krebs is a Technical Product Manager at Jack Henry with over 20 years of experience in financial technology. For the last decade, his focus has been on real-time payments over multiple P2P payment systems. While working for FIS, he oversaw the development and implementation of Zelle for more than 130 institutions and the development of a real-time disbursements payment product. He later worked on real-time payments development with Payrailz LLC, until their acquisition in 2022. Today, Krebs is working to integrate RTP, FedNow, and other real-time payment rails into Jack Henry’s Payrailz Digital Payments Platform. He is also a member of the U.S. Faster Payments Council.

Jordan Gardner

Get to Know the Next Generation of Digital Consumers

Jordan Gardner
Account Executive – Northeast Region – Visa

Did you know that Americans will spend 4.6 hours a day on their phone in 2023? In this session, Gardner discussed how to meet members where they are and give them what they want: by providing robust mobile apps with key features to help with payments, budgeting, and advisory services. MCommerce, or mobile device commerce is growing the most overall and is expected to comprise 43% of total retail commerce sales in the United States in 2023. The pandemic helped spur a dramatic increase in adoption, with Gardner breaking it down as:

2017 – The Digital Onset
2020 – Peak Pandemic
2023 – Today’s Normal

Gardner also defined consumer groups that spanned all generations: Established Consumers, New Consumers, and Leading Consumers. Most of Gardner’s presentation focused on Leading Consumers, which is currently comprised primarily of millennials, though it is expected that Gen Z will take over as the leading generation of consumers as they get older. This group uses mobile banking apps, 79% shop online weekly, and convenience is key.

“We need to provide simple, quick experiences that are convenient. Convenience is key,” shared Gardner.

He also advised attendees to “Meet them where they are. Give them what they want.” Digital tools need to be table stakes, easy, and accessible. If a cardholder gets a false decline, 42% will use a different card, 30% will retry the transaction, 23% will abandon the purchase entirely, and 5% will go to another retailer. Providing a positive digital experience is essential.

Gardner is a leader in the digital payments space, with almost two decades of experience in strategy building and resolving pain points within fintech and financial services. Prior to his current role overseeing the Northeast portfolio for Visa, Gardner came from the banking world and first started off his career as a Navy Federal Credit Union Branch Manager in 2006. Due to his vast experience in banking, Jordan can find solution-oriented approaches within the payments ecosystem and trends to help community banks and credit unions grow and thrive.

Money Movement Panel Discussion

Keith Gray, Vice President – The Clearing House
Joni Hopkins, Vice President – Federal Reserve Financial Services
Brandon Krebs, Technical Product Manager – Jack Henry
Moderator: Karen Martin, Assistant Vice President – Product Management – Synergent

Money movement is rapidly unfolding and rapidly being adopted. RTP® and FedNow® continue to accelerate in financial institutions on the network, use cases, and transaction volume. The expert panel leading this session discussed how FIs and their customers are using RTP, FedNow, and faster payments in general, and the considerations and steps credit unions need to take to leverage the benefits of each for their members.

About the Panelists:

Keith Gray

Keith Gray is a Vice President with The Clearing House with responsibility for Strategic Partnerships. Mr. Gray works with these partners to facilitate launching and supporting their payment-related initiatives, as well as supporting banks and credit unions directly as they plan and execute their strategies to leverage RTP and other networks. During his 20+ year career, Mr. Gray has worked extensively with financial institutions of all sizes, as well as financial technology companies on emerging payments initiatives, mobile solutions, and online banking applications. He worked with multiple early-stage organizations bringing new products to market.

Joni Hopkins

Joni Hopkins is a Vice President for the Federal Reserve’s Product & Relationship Management Group, part of the Federal Reserve Financial Services Area. Her responsibilities include engaging and collaborating with community financial institutions throughout the U.S. to help define and prioritize system improvements that advance payment speed, efficiency, and security. Hopkins has been with the Federal Reserve System for over 25 years. She was awarded the EPCOR Marquis Award for outstanding leadership, innovation and excellence in the development, implementation or advancement of electronic payments and risk mitigation solutions and is known as a champion for electronic banking services.

Brandon Krebs

Brandon Krebs is a Technical Product Manager at Jack Henry with over 20 years of experience in financial technology. For the last decade, his focus has been on real-time payments over multiple P2P payment systems. While working for FIS, Brandon oversaw the development and implementation of Zelle for more than 130 institutions and the development of a real-time disbursements payment product. He later worked on real-time payments development with Payrailz LLC, until their acquisition in 2022. Today, Krebs is working to integrate RTP, FedNow, and other real-time payment rails into Jack Henry’s Payrailz Digital Payments Platform. He is also a member of the U.S. Faster Payments Council.