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What We Learned About the Future of AI and Credit Unions at CUNA

By Milind Borkar, CEO, Illuma Labs
November 13, 2023

Artificial intelligence (AI) was the hot topic at the CUNA Technology, Operations, & Member Experience Council Conference this year. Ideas, insights, and inquiries about AI were on everyone’s lips. Here are our takeaways from the sessions and conversations we were able to join at the conference.

Members Will Soon Expect AI to Be Part of the Conversation

Members aren’t just embracing AI as part of their experience. In the near future, they will expect to use it for all types of service – including those that involve conversation. Everyone will use AI assistance day to day, and talking with AI will be normal. We already see widespread adoption of AI in smart assistants from Alexa to Siri.

Credit unions and fintechs are already joining the game. Does this mean every new use of AI will be met with open arms?

Not necessarily. Transparency and consent are important when you introduce new technology to users. Human in the loop review is also essential to keep AI learning and training in the right direction.

As a best practice, credit unions should communicate to members about how new AI tools are being used to improve member experience. This approach helps solidify the perception of AI as being used to speed and smooth the member experience, rather than a cost cutting measure that makes it harder to talk to a human.

AI Is Non-Negotiable for Member Experience and Account Security

The opening keynote on Friday, “Navigating the AI Frontier: Transforming Credit Unions and Empowering Members,” was hosted by John Best. He was joined by Saroop Bharwani, founder, Joey Rudisill, CIO at Central Willamette Credit Union, and Kathy Sianis, VP of FI Strategy at Posh Technologies. They talked in detail about how AI is now “table stakes” for financial institutions seeking to serve members.

They also noted that it can be used to improve member experience without compromising security. In fact, AI can be used to enhance security. One of the most promising emerging uses of AI in credit unions is for fraud detection. AI and machine learning (ML) can be harnessed to analyze data and patterns to flag suspicious activity or behaviors that might have been missed before.

Contact centers remain one of the most common targets for fraud, including account takeovers. AI is already in use for real-time fraud prevention in the call center as part of our own algorithms in the Illuma Shield™ voice authentication platform. The panelists agreed that contact center agents shouldn’t be burdened with the job of authenticating members.

We agree. Verification takes time away from serving members, and fraudsters are better equipped than ever to answer security Q&A correctly and slip past even the most alert agent. Instead, verification should be handled with state-of-the-art security technology so that agents can focus on providing outstanding service.

How Can AI Positively Impact Credit Union Teams?

Employees across all industries are actively looking for ways to use AI to make their jobs easier. Credit unions should take the lead rather than playing catch up with their staff. By becoming early adopters and embracing AI, credit unions can be more alert to the parameters and guardrails that need to be in place with these new technologies.

What’s one key area to tackle? Talent churn in the call center remains a huge problem. Again, the contact center is particularly vulnerable to retention issues, so helping agents have a better experience on the job will be a big win. If every agent in the contact center has a built-in “virtual assistant” helping them provide better and faster service, the stress of this job can be greatly reduced.

The most obvious place to start is having AI take over mundane jobs.

  • With more time available, what could contact centers start doing for members?
  • What opportunities will this open up for cross selling, upselling, and strengthening relationships?
  • What if the call center even had more time for proactive outbound outreach?
  • How would you begin to communicate more effectively with members about financial education resources and the full range of services available at their credit union?

What About a Future With Just AI and No Humans?

One interesting thought experiment explored at the conference was the use of AI as virtual agents that take on members’ tasks around digital transactions. For example, people are already using technology platforms to pay their bills and make other financial decisions for them.

What if they end up delegating phone calls around financial transactions to their AI assistants? What if those AI agents end up talking to intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs) at credit union contact centers? This AI-to-AI communication would cut out the human element entirely. The idea brings up some VERY interesting questions.

How might delegating decisions to AI (such as where to bank) affect the credit union industry? This is a sector that takes pride in the human touch and how they make members feel. In a future with AI making more daily decisions for people, will this focus on having a relationship with a financial institution be impacted?

Of course, the question that bubbled up for Illuma is…what if members do start having an AI assistant make phone calls to a contact center about financial transactions. How will call center agents respond in these situations? How would credit unions authenticate a member who has an AI speaking for them? Food for thought!

We’d love to hear your thoughts and comments about the AI topic and how you plan to implement it in your credit union. Connect with us!

About Illuma

Illuma, a Credit Union Service Organization (CUSO), specializes in voice authentication software that replaces traditional knowledge-based authentication practices in call centers. Illuma provides frictionless voice authentication and fraud prevention for credit union contact centers to substantially reduce call handle times, improve member experience, and increase account security.