Annual Connect User Conference Focuses on Digital & Keeping It Personal

Connect. In an industry that lives and breathes the People Helping People philosophy, connecting is at the core of everything we do. Whether we are referring to products, services, or relationships, it’s all about being able to connect.

In order to make meaningful connections, credit unions must deliver a personal experience. But is it harder to connect with members today? In the financial world, there are many digital delivery options to navigate. Members are in so many spaces financially that didn’t exist before, whether on their phone for mobile banking or in-app at the coffee shop. And yet the high demand for in-person interactions remains. Branches have new opportunities to connect with members in ways never before possible, blurring the line between digital and in-person interactions. It Portland Ferry TerminalLobster Bakealways has been, and always will be, about providing members with a personal experience.

Synergent’s Annual Connect User Conference drew over 140 attendees to Maine for networking and presentations that covered the latest in marketing, payments, and fintech, tailored exclusively to Synergent user credit unions. This year’s conference kicked off with a Casco Bay cruise and lobster bake the evening before, launching into an informative day of presentations by guest speakers and subject-matter experts.

“Our Mission is Your Mission.”

Todd Mason, President/CEO of Synergent, opened his remarks with a quote from former President John F. Kennedy said in 1962 regarding travel to the moon:

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

Todd Mason

Todd Mason, President/CEO – Synergent

Mason related the quote to the credit unions’ mission to uplift the financial lives of their members, and how this is not easy, achieved quickly, or on one’s own. Years of work were put in, culminating in landing on the moon. As a partner, Synergent is by the side of credit unions day in and day out, helping complete the mission we share.

“Our mission is your mission,” shared Mason. “We have the same aspirations you do, which is taking care of your members.”

Mason reitirated Synergent’s official mission statement: to help credit unions succeed and improve the financial lives of their members. He shared that Synergent’s leadership team recently discussed and analyzed this mission statement in a planning session, questioning what exactly it means to help credit unions succeed. From social mission to growth, five areas were identified:

  • Service
  • Better Prices (and better rates than our competition)
  • Convenience
  • Innovation
  • Experience

“We need to be nimble enough, agile enough to help you succeed, however you define it,” stated Mason.

Connecting with members is harder today. Mason discussed financial trends and the need to be where members are. But he also stressed that credit unions are not alone in meeting the needs of their members. Synergent is here to help.

“We are a team of problem-solvers,” stressed Mason. “We are a compassionate, empowered team united in the pursuit of excellence.”

Keynote Presentation: The State of Everything – And What It Means for Credit Unions

“In practical terms, I’m a meta-analyst,” shared Lee Wetherington, Director of Strategic Insight for Jack Henry & Associates. “You may not run into many of those. I analyze the analysts that analyze the industry.”

Wetherington covered a lot of ground during his keynote presentation, providing clear and thought-provoking insights on the state of digital, payments, data, and the future of credit unions. He kept the audience engaged and laughing while imparting valuable information that debunked some common “hype” in the industry.

“Most of my job is debunking hype,” commented Wetherington. “There is so much hype in financial technology-land.”

In breaking down “The State of Everything,” Wetherington stressed the importance of credit unions maintaining a balanced presence both in-branch and in the digital space, and shared many insightful statistics that impact how credit unions are perceived by consumers, including:

  • Only 16% of Americans use a credit union as their primary financial institution.
  • Two out of every five non-members think they can’t join a credit union.
  • Three out of every five non-members think credit unions don’t offer mortgages.
  • 55% of Americans believe credit unions don’t offer mobile/online banking.
  • 61% of Americans believe credit unions care more about their members than banks do.

Maintaining balance includes staying on top of trends in digital banking and balancing them against personal interactions. Wetherington explained that with the commoditization and “bot-o-mation” of digital banking, focusing on the human aspect is essential, but it is about finding the balance. Top obstacles consumers see to joining a credit union are inconvenient branch locations or not enough branch locations, and this is true across all demographics. Despite the hype narrative, the number of credit union branches in the U.S. actually has increased. But conversely, members also want digital options, but very few prefer primarily digital interactions.

Lee Wetherington, Director of Strategic Insight – Jack Henry & Associates

“People are funny about their money,” quipped Wetherington. “When it comes to money, we like conversation.”

Being at the beginning of the Age of Voice, consumers are not always comfortable speaking out loud about their finances to a bot or digital personal assistant. Where credit unions can meet their members is by offering authenticated digital channels where person-to-person interactions can occur.

“Every member you serve has a different limit of self-service, regardless of what feature functionality you’re offering in that digital channel,” explained Wetherington. “The trick is, if you really want to move the credit union movement ethos of People Helping People forward, you have to be there live, local, personal, and secure.”

Continuing this theme, fintech funding is continuing due to the demand to integrate payments, shifting from a mono-line model to a multi-line model. To do this means implementing APIs for financial data. But, in doing this, keeping it personal is a priority. Not personalized, but rather, personal.

“We are under assault by AI, by chatbots…what commands value in that environment?” questioned Wetherington. “Trust and humanity. That’s what the credit union was built on. People Helping People. The question for your digital banking strategy going forward is not personalization. Personalization ain’t personal.”

Wetherington closed by reiterating that we are in an unprecedented time. We need to use digital channels and connect in a personal way.

“This is the first time that People Helping People will be able to happen in real time, at the moment of need, through whatever device,” emphasized Wetherington. “Everybody got it? It’s a brand new era. The technologists are finally waking up and getting it right.”

Digital Banking Panel Discussion

While Synergent has been a long-time partner of digital banking providers Access Softek and Alogent, new partnerships were forged in 2019 with Alkami and Banno. These strategic partnerships were made as a result of the due diligence research conducted by Synergent’s omnichannel team, keeping a focus on features and development capabilities, and an eye on being able to provide the best solutions to meet the unique needs of each credit union.

A Q&A moderated by Scott Johnsen, Synergent SVP of Operations, was held with a panel of digital banking experts representing each of the providers:

  • Access Softek: Jim Rinehart, Chief Financial Officer
  • Alkami: Sharilyn Phillips, Product Manager
  • Alogent: Michael Muncie, Vice President – Sales Engineer
  • Banno: Lee Wetherington (for Kristie Peterson, Banno Digital Solution Specialist.)

In addition to answering questions through this educational, informative, and collaborative format, attendees also had the opportunity to connect with these vendors directly during lunch and breaks throughout the day.

Connecting Through Product Innovation

Ben Jordan, SVP – Information Technology – Synergent

Todd Mason, President/CEO – Synergent

Returning from lunch, attendees were treated to a Star Wars™-styled scroll listing credit union feedback and problem statements that Synergent addressed in the past year.

In 2018, Synergent created its official Product Development team that strategizes, develops, and delivers the products and services designed to assist credit unions in improving their members’ financial lives. From developing the product, driving the delivery process, and stewarding the product portfolio, the team provided detailed updates on many exciting initiatives. Over 160 opportunities were identified last year by the product team, resulting in five themes for the roadmap ahead:

  • Connect – Communication and collaboration, internally at Synergent, between Synergent and credit unions, and between credit unions and their members.
  • Flow – Workflow and process enhancement internally at Synergent, in-branch, and for credit unions’ back-office functions.
  • Smart – Leverage data, analytics, machine learning, or artificial intelligence, for new capabilities in making decisions.
  • Extend – New offerings that enable Synergent and credit unions to break new ground.
  • Direct – Products and services that impact the credit union minimally, but offer significant value to members.

The Synergent team shared with attendees the problems solved throughout 2018-2019, then looked to the future on what is to come in the next year and beyond for Payments, Marketing, Infrastructure, and Technology.

Payments Roadmap

Rebekah Higgins, Product Owner – Payments, opened by discussing the acquisitions of Elan and FirstData by Fiserv that occurred in the past year. This is one example of how companies are evolving to meet the ever-changing needs in the payments space. Higgins stressed the importance of focusing on all available payment types to meet the needs of members and provide the best user experience. She presented the Payments roadmap initiatives of:

  • Contactless Debit Cards
  • MagTek Integration
  • Remote Payments
  • Managed ATMs
  • Faster Payments
  • Payments Dashboard
  • ROI Analysis

Marketing Roadmap

Doug MacDonald, Vice President of Marketing Services, shared the year’s success in Episys® marketing solutions, data-driven campaigns, variable data printing automation, and the data to email automation API. He also shared highlights from a very successful deposit campaign facilitated by Synergent, speaking directly to one of the top initiatives of credit unions nationwide to drive deposit growth. Roadmap initiatives for Marketing include:

  • Predictive, Proactive, Personalized Member Communications
  • Marketer’s Toolkit Expansion
  • eRewards, eNotices, and eAlerts
  • Digital Advertising
  • Unique Web Experiences

Infrastructure Roadmap

Ben Jordan, Senior Vice President of Information Technology, provided an overview of the infrastructure successes of 2018-2019 and highlighted the goals of having zero downtime, no maintenance windows, and load-balancing between our facilities. He then shared the following infrastructure roadmap initiatives:

  • Document Rendering Engine Prototype
  • SD WAN Prototype
  • Secure Email DLP (Data Leakage Prevention)
  • MySynergent Portal
  • IT Governance NIST
  • Office 365
  • XPerience Beta Testing and PowerFrame Launch
  • PowerFrame Beta Testing

Technology Roadmap

Tyler Hudson, Assistant Vice President of Development, and Samantha Madgey, Team Leader of Development, teamed up to present the Infrastructure Roadmap. They shared an update on Synergent BI (Synergent’s business intelligence tool launched earlier this year), reviewed the data drill-down feature contained within Synergent BI, highlighted enhancements and upgrades, then outlined Technology’s roadmap initiatives:

  • XAccount Change
  • CardXpress
  • Rewards
  • Digital Banking Updates
  • Synergent Tablet

Synergent Tablet Unveiled

Connect User Conference attendees were the first to hear about the launch of Synergent’s newest product, Synergent Tablet. Jeff Will, Synergent’s Product Owner for Technology, shared that Synergent Tablet was developed in response to feedback received from credit unions.

“We’ve been listening to you,” said Will. “You’ve been telling us a lot about the challenges you face, the opportunities that you miss, not being able to service your members, and not being able to go to where your members are. And, even if you can go meet them where they are, you can’t take Episys with you, can you? It becomes really difficult. Members want that contact.”

Synergent Tablet enables credit union staff to conduct transactions with members while on-the-go. This modern, direct interface to a credit union’s Symitar® Episys® core can be used anytime, anywhere, without the need for extensive training. Using Synergent Tablet, credit union staff can capture loan and membership applications, perform transactions, and access account information.

Using Synergent Tablet, a credit union can:

  • Capture membership and loan applications
  • Schedule and perform transfers
  • Search and filter transaction history
  • Deposit checks, place holds, and disburse funds
  • Activate and deactivate cards
  • Review a dashboard of all member accounts

Will next presented a demo of Synergent Tablet. The clean, easy-to-use use interface is designed to be person-centric, pulling up all account holder information in a single view when working with an existing member. When working with new applicants, Will reinforced the security features of Tablet by highlighting the option the user has at login to complete on behalf of the member, or to hand to the applicant to complete a form.

Synergent Tablet currently is completing its first pilot with a credit union. Tentatively, it will be available to credit unions starting in October 2019.

The Synergent Difference

The Connect User Conference is one more way that Synergent serves its credit union users. Finding the right partner to manage integrations, software solutions, conduct system maintenance, and to keep credit unions informed of the latest innovations helps credit unions remain competitive and agile in the financial services space. Synergent takes a holistic approach to meet these challenges, providing strategic consultation, support, and education as the premier managed services provider. This complimentary event for Synergent users fostered in-person interactions, networking, and provided valuable information and insights to assist credit unions with their day-to-day operations.


Congratulations to Ashley Galloway from Oswego County FCU! She was the winner of the grand prize drawing of an iPad Pro Tablet.