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5G Doesn’t Matter

Originally published on CUInsight.com

Hey again! It’s your friendly neighborhood Credit Union Geek, talking about the latest webs making their way through your community. Silk-free, of course. We don’t need those strands sticking to everyone. This is an invisible new tech that could change everything.

Or it could just be an evolutionary improvement that enables new capabilities for a range of industries. You decide.

Today we’re going to talk about 5G. Some say it will revolutionize banking. And e-commerce. And medicine. Basically, everything!

Others think it caused COVID-19. They’re wrong, just to be clear.

Join me for a few geeky minutes and we’ll figure out how 5G may, or may not, affect your credit union. And how you can prepare!

What Is 5G?

5G Tower

This isn’t a place to go into deep technical dives. Besides, there are people out there far more qualified than I to lead you on that journey. You want to know the basics. Here we go.

Take out your phone. Maybe it’s an iPhone. Perhaps it’s a Samsung Android-powered device. Whatever it is, I guarantee it connects to a cell tower to work. Sure, with work-from-home, we’re using a lot more wifi, but that doesn’t mean mobile providers are sitting still.

Take a look at the top of the display. There’s some signal bars and maybe a network name. Next to it, you might see a “3G”, “4G”, “LTE”, or something similar. (AT&T users probably see “5Ge”, which is a total lie done for marketing purposes only)

Most of the time, our devices are on an LTE network. That’s considered a 4th generation wireless technology, thus, “4G” is the same thing. It’s fast and does a pretty good job of working where we commonly go.

Sidenote: Yes, there are variations of 4G LTE like LTE Advanced, but remember I said this was a basic overview?

Like most technology, LTE was never seen as “the end of the line”. Even while it was being deployed, companies were working together to design the next generation of cellular tech. What came out of that collaboration is what we now call “5G”.

5G cellular technology promises a few things:

Ok, barring that last one, those all seem great. Let’s do it! I’m sure there’s no challenges standing in our way…

Challenges of Implementing 5G

Cell Tower Antennas
A lot of these to climb and upgrade.

Well, I did bring it up.

Like LTE’s deployment before, blanketing a country (or world) in a new technology is a huge undertaking. Even for companies like Verizon which make a ton of money, you’re still talking enormous investments in equipment, people, licensing, and sheer time.

Bottom line: Every single cell tower (and its “backhaul”, or lines connecting it to the world) needs to be upgraded to support 5G. And that’s not all.

5G is actually separated into two general categories, mmWave and “regular” 5G. The latter is mostly a “bolt-on” upgrade to existing towers, using similar frequencies and offering similar range. But they’re also only slightly faster than what we have today with LTE.

The 5G you see promoted by networks as “nationwide coverage” is the latter. Expect the improvements in each of the previous categories to be…a bit.

The big benefits come from mmWave, but it has a downside: Range. Just like an AM radio station carries for what seems like forever while an FM station goes to static quickly, the higher a frequency, the shorter its range. So short, it could only be a city street corner.

Yes, that means you need a cell “tower” (they’re smaller) on every block, and then multiple ones for a building.

Why bother?

Because mmWave 5G is fast. And extremely low-latency (quick response between device and destination). This can enable new uses, from drones to live VR and more. Right now, we are still figuring out what opportunities it opens up.

One More 5G Challenge

Girl with iPhone
Great photos. No 5G.

Your current device doesn’t work with 5G. Unless you have a new Android or iPhone 12, you’ll never experience the benefits of 5G. Sure, you will have a less congested network as other people transition to 5G, but you’re stuck on 4G LTE. Enjoy the “slow” lane, suckers!

Needless to say, from your perspective as someone not involved in the deployment of a nationwide network, consumer adoption is your greatest obstacle.

Ok, say we’re enjoying the iPhone 12 Pro right now. And I happen to live somewhere that 5G mmWave is accessible, plus, I choose not to use my home wifi (that’s probably about the same speed). How can this make my credit union experience better?

Uses for Credit Unions and Members

Finally, why you came to this party! And after all that education, you’re going to hate this answer, but it’s my responsibility to share it with you.

None.

There is no realistic use of 5G now or in the immediate future for credit unions.

“But I keep seeing articles saying how 5G will change the way credit unions operate!” You’re right. I applaud these people for looking ahead with new ideas. Yet none of them are dependent on 5G. I’ll address just a few here:

iPhone 11 Pro in Grass
  • Improved biometrics for security: Position data of a device takes a tiny amount of information to store and process.
    • With an iPhone, you can even see data on every step you’ve ever taken in Settings/Health/Data Access & Devices, then choose your phone or watch.
    • This information also requires permission to share, and how many members will say yes to their credit union seeing their motion activity?
  • Real-time language translation: Your iPhone does this right now, with the option for it to be totally on-device. No data connection even necessary!
  • Facial recognition: The idea is that your system can get a stream from the camera to identify the user and their facial expressions.
    • First, modern iPhones do all this on-device. Today. No need for 5G. Second, people aren’t fond of sending video of them without explicit permission (that’s why your phone now shows a green dot when it’s recording)
    • And third, you’re now responsible for securing member facial data and all the legal/regulatory issues associated. Any volunteers?
    • That’s not to mention the enormous data usage your app would now use, along with members wondering why your app asks for permission to use the camera.
  • Video chat with members: Yeah, you can totally do that right now with WiFi and LTE. Don’t you already?
  • Faster loan approvals: What’s the slowest part of your loan process? The sending of the data, or the processing on your system (or the manual work from your loan officers)? Yeah, sending documents a half-second faster won’t change this.

We could go on, but I think you have the point.

Instead of looking at 5G as this revolutionary change to how you can do business, let’s look at where you aren’t meeting member expectations today. Because that’s the most important path towards becoming a better community financial institution.

Lessons From 5G

Old Black Phone
Really, you’re just phoning this stuff in.

Since we’ve already established that the tech itself has minimal impact on your operation, what can we learn? Well, two things come to mind:

  • Data management
  • Continuous improvement

Data Management

5G is all about moving data more efficiently. At your credit union, your focus needs to be on managing all your data more efficiently. That way, you can access what you need, when you need it.

You’ve probably heard about “data lakes” and “single source of truth”. In fact, our own Learning Library is gearing up to cover these topics in depth. A friend in the industry, Anne Legg, is all about that process. Other old friends at Arkatecture help make it happen.

It’s essential to improving your member experience.

Which brings us to the second lesson…

Continuous Improvement

Running Along Road
Just keep running.

Mobile providers aren’t satisfied with “same”. To grow revenues and attract new customers, they look ahead to how they can continuously provide a better service. Sure, a lot of it comes down to marketing, but if you don’t give marketing anything to promote, it’s more difficult.

5G comes at an enormous investment from the providers and chipset manufacturers. Then you have to redesign devices so they’ll work with the new tech. It’s way more complicated than you’d expect, but it continues the onward march of technology.

Yet being able to say your network is faster, you can do more with Verizon (or T-Mobile, etc.) than ever before, and that they are connecting you in new ways has value. And then they deliver on the promise with actionable results (like blazing-fast speed tests!).

5G May Not Matter, But…

So, how are you creating your own “5G improvements” at your credit union? What new ways can members interact with their money, connect with your team, and work towards a more financially free and empowered life?

Sidenote: This gave me major deja vu to the Are You Bluetooth or Wifi? follow-up post from what feels like ages ago!

And what are you doing to bring all your data together so anyone can get the info they need? Yes, whether they are using wifi, a back office computer, 4G LTE, or the fancy new 5G mmWave on the corner of fast and blazing fast.

Your mission is your 5G. And better access for all sounds like a good benefit to me.

Digital Transformation Challenges: For Your CU & Members

Originally published on CUInsight.

Did someone say “digital transformation”? Ok, that was everyone shouting it at the same time. Got it. I’m glad we made that transition. It’s all done by now, I presume? You’ve had, what, 4 months? How hard could it be?

According to a survey from Cornerstone Advisors, 70% of respondents claimed their existing systems were barriers to change. As Ron Shevlin, in his Forbes analysis, so appropriately quipped, “the other 30% must have misunderstood the question.”

Thanks, I truly LOLed. I hope you did, too.

“Search your feelings; you know it to be true!” Ok, that was Luke Skywalker. And he was talking about some Force stuff. It’s not important. Fate of the galaxy and all. But not our galaxy, probably.

If addressing your challenges to true digital transformation, right Skywalker was.

We’ll discuss two factors that make your work harder. One is internal. The other, like the truth, is out there.

The Truth is Out There - X-Files
Credit: X-Files (Fox)

Your Systems Can Be Better

It’s an important discussion to have with your team, core provider, technology partners, and product support companies. (Disclosure: That’s people like me.)

Case in point: One credit union’s lending person told me about a challenge with data matching. In arriving from two separate sources, they couldn’t compare easily. Their process was laborious and got, at best, 70% accuracy. Ok, but not good enough.

With a seemingly-small update to their core, they were now able to use another piece of data for matching. Now, it was easy, automated, and 100% accurate. I asked what they did to make it happen. “Nothing, just getting our system to let us filter by that variable was all.”

In their case, the credit union did not have to transition their core, change LOS providers, or undergo a multi-year planning phase. They just needed an update. Am I saying your challenges can be overcome that easily? Probably not. But some might.

Your Members Need Guidance

Compass Sitting on Map

A lot of your members embrace digital solutions. The moment they activated their new phone, your app got installed. Check deposit? Scan and go. Fund management? Easy.

This is what you want to see. Consider adding some nonintrusive and short surveys into the app experience to make sure you’re serving their needs. And never be afraid to glance at what other CUs and banks add to their mobile platforms.

Of course, I’m not suggesting to get into an app arms race. What works for Capital One customers may not be ideal (or feasible) for your credit union. But knowing is essential.

And, of course, building your credit union mission into your app/digital platforms. What’s that mean? Make sure all features encourage responsible saving, a deeper relationship, and educate where able. Above all, make it all easy. Burying options in menus is not the way.

Are Members Using Your Digital Functionality?

iPhone in Hand Black and White

Which brings us to ensuring your tech-savvy members know your app’s features. Look at usage metrics. Do all features see activity? I wouldn’t be surprised some members wish you had a certain capability, only to not know where it is (and thus assume it’s not there).

Trust me, as the go-to “tech fix it” person in my social circle (yes, even remotely, it’s still my role), this is way more common than you think. I get this kind of thing all the time:

“If only I could print straight from my phone! Emailing it to myself to open on the computer is such a pain.” “Um, you can print from your phone. Just hit the share icon, then Print.” “What? That’s amazing! How would I ever have found this?”

Yes, I’m a genius. I tapped the button.

That’s not your only member challenge.

Do Members Trust Your Digital?

Three Black Handsets
“There’s my high-tech!” – Someone you know

For some people, there’s a “digital trust gap”. Before even diving in, let me say, I get it. For my own devices and services, I take major steps to ensuring my security and privacy. It’s way more than the average person. So for someone to want to avoid it all to stay safe? Sensible.

What are some of the specific challenges? I’ll share a few I’ve heard:

  • A paper check is more secure (not to mention convenient and privacy-protecting) than an online bill payment
  • Mobile (contactless) payments are less secure than using a physical card
  • Online banking services just gather up your personal information to sell it to others (or get hacked); it’s safer to just stay “offline” to protect against bad actors and corporations

We could fact-check each of these points together, but why? You know much of it isn’t just false, it’s actually more risk in the opposite direction. Yet it’s also clear that providing facts doesn’t change minds; it can cause further “digging in” to incorrect beliefs.

So how can you work with people who fervently believe your digital solutions are a danger? You acknowledge their concerns (because though wrong in conclusion, they are right in principle), then explain how your approach addresses each.

Honesty & Transparency Always

Moon Jellyfish
Be transparent like these moon jellies.

Will you get everyone to jump onboard? Unlikely. But even for those who reluctantly use your online banking or manage to keep paper versions, they’ll recognize your commitment to honesty. And that’s how you build loyalty.

In our time of forced digital acceleration, I’ve seen some successes. Someone I know who aggressively rejected online banking now has to use it. And you know what? He’s fine with it. They managed to address his concerns well enough.

Systems Are Just Part of the Challenge

You’ll read and hear from a lot of people in our industry talking about digital transformation. I’ve been one of them for as long as I can remember. Everyone has good intentions; to shift credit unions into a digital future to remain effective and competitive.

We know your existing systems are a huge part of that challenge. Unfortunately, I can’t help you with that, only recommend speaking with the providers for their best guidance. Then, moving forward, work with partners who recognize your current and future needs.

As you aim to grow your membership, wiz-bang tech features are fine, but they must be rooted in achieving your mission. Show how what you provide highlights the “credit union difference”, even in what people thought was a basic banking concept.

What have you done to reach, assist, and empower members during your suddenly-rapid digital transition?

Plaid Among Fintechs You’ve Never Heard Of But Changing Banking (2021 Update)

1/13/21 Update: After months of expectations on a Visa acquisition, that deal has now fallen through. Does it mean Plaid’s business model is worthless? Far from it. Part of why the merger will not occur is over antitrust concerns.

Original article to get background on what Plaid does and why they are so highly desired:

No, I’m not talking about the clothing pattern. Plaid is a Fintech startup which just announced a Series C funding round of $250 million. That gives them a valuation of $2.65B. Yes, billion. Chances are, 25% of your credit union members are using their service without even knowing. And Plaid isn’t alone, either in ubiquity or in valuation.

Powering The New Banking

Plaid powers the backend technologies which connect cool financial apps to your bank (or credit union) account. Little players like Venmo. Which is owned by PayPal (they bought them in 2013). I’m sure these aren’t worth your attention.

It’s not like Plaid does anything which may make your credit union into a “Dumb Bank”, simply a place where your funds sit and nothing else. No, they have no plans to take on other traditional bank services. Like mortgages. Oh, it appears they do. But it’s ok, they want your help.

This appears to be a common theme. PayPal’s new debit card “checking program” links with banks across the country to provide needed services, like deposits, check scanning, and lending. ApplePay partners with Discover and GreenDot Bank, itself a Fintech providing reloadable debit cards.

You’re Still Necessary, But Only For the Boring Bits

Fintechs look to partner with banking institutions because the bank part is hard. There’s lots of regulations, safeguards, and steps you know lots about. Basically, it’s easier to buy space in the safe than to build one yourself. Except they don’t pay you. Your resources get used, your members find great value, and might forget you’re the one holding their money.

“So if Fintechs need us banking institutions, why worry?” It’s a good question. And I’ve answered it before, in reference to lending services. How do you best serve your members? Is it with zero interaction, contact, or even awareness from them that you exist?

Of course not! You’re a part of their lives and they know it.

Well, what if your members never knew who you were? What if you were as recognizable as the brand of tires on your car? (I think I have Dunlop, but I’m not sure, and don’t really care, so long as they do their job) Could you still accomplish your mission?

At Least There Aren’t A Lot Of New Fintechs…

If only. Here’s a short list:

  • GoodMoney – Taking a piece of the credit union playbook, they give shares to all users, making them part owners, then use funds to support charitable works. Mission-focused and mobile-centric.
  • Netspend – Prepaid debit products in lieu of using traditional banking
  • Gotransverse – Backend software to allow complex billing solutions for companies
  • Simple – Banking with an app and debit card
  • Koho – Canadian firm with similar product to Simple. Site makes it clear “We are not a bank”, yet with their card, you don’t really need one.
  • PayPal – Besides powering online payments, making business loans, offering the underbanked a checking solution, they can also replace your banking needs. At least they did for this financial sector journalist.
  • Amazon – Business lending, potential checking, and pretty much anything…they’re Amazon

This list is by no means exhaustive. And, more importantly, the larger firms listed (and many more not included, like big banks and other tech companies) acquire start-ups for millions once they offer a competitive advantage. That’s a competitive advantage over you, to be clear.

What Can Credit Unions Do?

It’s unlikely your team will develop the next billion dollar valuation financial services solution. They’re too busy serving your members and countering the efforts of emerging Fintechs!

For me, the only answer is in partnerships. Some Fintechs seek to replace you. Others, like Kasasa or Econocheck (Disclosure: My company represents this service) focus on adding value to your services, while keeping your name front and center.

Your members will look to make their financial lives easier. Services like Plaid might be part of that answer. However, to remain relevant, you must deliver clarity on your value proposition to members as well. Take a look at some of these Fintechs, understand what they are doing and why they are so popular, and then decide how you can adopt these principles to grow into the future!

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