Leading Through Crisis, Making Opportunities Out of Challenges: Part 1 - Tucson Federal Credit Union

Leading Through Crisis, Making Opportunities Out of Challenges: Part 1

First of three articles from the series Hasta La Vista, BabyLeading Through Crisis, Making Opportunities Out of Challenges Series.
Written by
Matthew Gaspari, Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer at Tucson Federal Credit Union

What A Year

My initial thoughts on the year 2020? Hasta La Vista, Baby. With just over half the year gone, most people I know are ready for the ball to drop on this crazy year, hopeful that a vaccine or therapeutic drug will have shifted things back to mostly normal by then. Interestingly though, as an executive at Tucson Federal Credit Union (TFCU), the challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic have also been opportunities. Service delivery and retail banking were already going through transition pains brought on by continued innovation and disruption in the financial services space. The pandemic at first blush looked like a big obstacle in our way, but the reality is that clarity was borne from the challenges, and because we had already begun our transformation, TFCU was uniquely positioned to respond.

One of my responsibilities is to prepare the credit union to react to consumer behavior changes by developing a delivery system transformation. The goals: place our most valuable resource—our team—in position to have the greatest impact and to motivate our membership to embrace self-service technology at the same time. These are not mutually exclusive strategies. In fact, implementing our predesigned changes in service delivery are predicated on being able to redirect consumer behavior to self-service in targeted areas while maintaining a high level of engagement when needed. TFCU was well on our way to implementation of the branch transformation plan having started an innovation rollout in 2016. At the heart of the strategy are Interactive Teller Machines or ITMs which are a hybrid approach to service delivery. ITMs take the speed and accuracy of technology and fuse it with personal engagement and human interaction. Without ITMs and the engaged and efficient service experience they provide, the second article in this series would not be possible.

Why ITMs?

Not every credit union executive agrees with me on the ITM solution with one even saying he would never waste money on that technology. Every credit union has their own strategy, and so while I disagree with the sentiment, I understand that there are alternative opinions. I also make no assertion that this strategy works for every credit union.  Like all businesses, credit unions have unique member traits and behaviors that help to drive strategic direction. For Tucson Federal Credit Union, our quest over the last four years has been to transition our lobby business to a consultative endeavor and motivate membership to adopt alternative options for transactional businesses. This strategy isn’t unique to TFCU as most credit unions are working on some version of this seeing the trends for retail delivery and needing to adapt. Where TFCU differs in the local market is that we have chosen to maintain engagement with a large percentage of our membership through video teller banking versus moving them to adopt self-service only technology.

ITMs are essentially ATMs with a video connection to a live person and are used as in-branch or drive-thru solutions. (Streeter, 2018). For TFCU, the drive-thru application for initial implementation strategy made the most sense as an introduction to our membership because the interaction via ITMs closely resembles a traditional drive-thru transaction. What we couldn’t know in 2016 was that we were creating a highly effective pandemic response strategy concurrently. As said by all-star 1930s pitcher Lefty Gomez, “It’s better to be lucky than good.” I like to think because we were on the leading edge in using this innovative technology that luck followed good strategy.

Since March 18, 2020, our lobbies have been closed to appointment only pushing all transactions to our drive-thru video tellers. Again, this is not unique right now; most, if not all, financial institutions have done the same. But what we have learned over the last several months is that the effectiveness and engagement created through the video interaction of an ITM is for us the key complimentary strategy to achieve a true consultative environment in our branches. Not just an emergency solution, but an inflection point in the timeline of branch banking.

The challenges of COVID-19 have led us to achieving our service delivery strategy two to three years ahead of schedule. There is a clarity for me in how to deliver six-star service across all channels while simultaneously transitioning workflow to support consultative service delivery. It is a strategy we might have missed or not had the nerve to consider without the having to make dramatic changes due to the pandemic. Next in the series, read about our decision to move to appointment only banking.


Randhawa, M. (2020). How the Appointment Economy Is Changing the Retail Banking Experience. Retrieved from https://thefinancialbrand.com/100563/appointment-scheduling-software-retail-banking-cx-branch-digital/

Streeter, B. (2018). Mobile Video Banking Ready to Rock: Insights From Early Adopters. Retrieved from https://thefinancialbrand.com/74247/mobile-video-banking-insights-best-practices/