In January, we put that question out to our most innovative credit union connections, the members of our i3 program. They were tasked to scan the entire credit union environment and bring back the best innovations they saw happening. In the end, 36 i3ers on 8 teams picked their best finds and put them to the test. They presented on why what they found was the most innovative thing around and we asked you all to vote. After more than 1200 votes were cast, one innovation had the most votes – nearly 40% of the votes, in fact. That innovation? Bank Dora.
We interviewed Alaina Froton and Jeff Medeiros from Bank Dora to tell us all about what they are, why they are the embodiment of innovation, and how it is helping the credit union industry grow, thrive, and stay alive.
How did the unique partnership of four financial institutions and Inclusiv come to be?
JM: Absolutely. We can start way back at its beginning where Dora was actually the vision of Kris VanBeek, CEO and President of US ALLIANCE Financial. He shared this concept with multiple entities and what he discovered is that they were all really excited and aligned with the vision that he had for Dora. These entities were Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union, DCU, Service Federal Credit Union and Inclusiv. We all aligned on the mission and vision and began to collaborate to really bring Dora to life.
Can you talk a little bit more about how Dora’s mission and vision and where you're going next?
AF: Because Dora is backed by the cooperative credit union model, we're well positioned to be a trusted partner to help people access their financial services and provide a pathway to participation in other cooperative-based credit unions and provide them membership. 50 million Americans are not participating in mainstream banking services because of barriers such as distress to the banking system and a historical lack of access to safe and affordable services.
We aim to be a conduit to provide fair and equitable financial services to those under- and unbanked Americans and bring them into the credit union ecosystem. We also hope to provide financial literacy in the future and provide users with resources so that when they do “graduate” to a credit union membership, they are ready to take control of their finances.
You are almost like the gold standard for serving underbanked communities, do you have anything that you've learned over the past year that credit unions should know about when they serve un- and underbanked communities?
AF: Regardless of the size of the institution, many organizations struggle with the same challenges, right? Whether that be aging members, the inability to attract younger members, and things of that nature. We are trying to counteract that with this digital platform. We think credit unions have an opportunity to look at the un- and underbanked populations in a new way within their strategy.
Like say marketing goals or something of that nature. Set a goal to reach those populations that really need to have these financial services. Dora is the neobank strategy of the industry, a fully digital delivery mechanism to attract the underserved and the unbanked and help them establish their foundational transactional accounts to begin their journey to financial wellness.
Through your approach of being fully digital, have you been able to keep that human touch and personalization?
JM: It all starts with bringing it back to step one of building the product with the account holders' best interests in mind. So first and foremost, make it very easy for them. Secondly, when we get down to the human interaction make sure to have the channels open so that they can communicate with you. Within the Dora app, we have a system where you can interact with a Dora specialist in real time through messaging, as if you were texting right from the app. Messages get sent back and forth between you and the support team. And the cool twist is that you never have to leave your app keeping the app itself as the main communication channel between us and the account holders. Third, and to take it a step further, we also have a wonderful business development colleague who is out there within the communities, with the community groups, listening to what their needs are. She's in constant contact with us when she's out in the field, letting us know issues that are arising.
What advice do you have to encourage credit unions to balance the risk with maintaining the growth mindset that's needed to be more innovative?
JM: The advice I would give would be to really look in the mirror and ask yourself, are we challenging ourselves? Are we just being stuck in the old ways of doing things? Are we really thinking outside the box for solutions? If we just stick to the day-to-day, we are going to limit ourselves, especially when it comes to seeing things from a different perspective. So, get out of that comfort zone. Try thinking and looking at things differently and really challenge yourself as an employee, as an organization and as a whole credit union movement. And most importantly, always stay aligned with your vision and serving the people in your community.
This example of collaboration started within US ALLIANCE Financial. In order to scale, they partnered with other credit unions across the country: Affinity Plus FCU, DCU, Service FCU, as well as system-partner Inclusiv.