SeaComm Federal Credit Union
Business View Magazine interviews Scott Wilson, President & CEO of SeaComm Federal Credit Union, for our focus on America’s Best Credit Unions
SeaComm Federal Credit Union is making great strides in the industry, growing significantly not only in membership but geographic locations. By the numbers, as of August 2021, SeaComm reports $755 million in assets, 51,426 members, and nine locations – Massena, Potsdam, Canton, Ogdensburg, Malone, Plattsburgh, Watertown in NY; and Essex and South Burlington in Vermont. Delivering the highest quality member experience is a key tenet for SeaComm staff, who go above and beyond to please and make a difference in the communities where they serve. A focus on continuing enhancement of technology is another prime driver of success for this very popular credit union.
Business View spoke with Scott Wilson, President & CEO of SeaComm Federal Credit Union, for his insights into current challenges in the banking sector and how SeaComm is evolving and planning for the future. An enjoyable conversation with many important takeaways.
BVM: Can you report on some of SeaComm’s recent expansion news?
Wilson: “One item was a merger in a new market for us, completed the second quarter of 2021 with a $6 million credit union called United Neighbors in Watertown, New York. We were able to request from NCUA a charter expansion into two additional counties (Jefferson County and Lewis County, New York) to accommodate that merger. It was a small, single branch credit union; fortunately for us they were just leasing and we’ll continue that lease until we complete a full branch construction. We have a purchase sale agreement now for some new property and are planning that new buildout for the spring of 2022.
“And we have since opened a second location in the State of Vermont. We’re primarily located in northern New York State, but we did start an expansion and completed the construction of our second location in Essex, Vermont – both of those branches are doing very well. And we’re excited to complement the east side of our market now with the west side; the new merger has us focused on opening a new branch over there, as well.
“In 2015, we built a new headquarters using our design/build firm, PWCampbell, out of Pittsburgh. And then we started building new branches in Malone and Plattsburgh, NY, and now South Burlington and Essex, Vermont, and soon to be Watertown, NY. They are all the same look, feel, and design. My philosophy is that when you walk into a SeaComm branch, I want you to know where the teller line is but also where our coffee is located. So you feel comfortable when you come into any one of our locations.”
BVM: How is in-branch banking being affected by technology?
Wilson: “Obviously, drive-thru transactions had an uptick last year and we haven’t really seen that settle back down. However, each market dictates to us how many drive-thru lanes we can have. Our new locations have less foot traffic, with the exception of things like mortgage business. We’re still doing a lot of transactions, but they’ll never be at the level of some of our existing locations which have been around for a long time.
“However, with the growth trajectory we had, and COVID was a precipitating factor, we have seen an increase in our mobile use. From 2018 to 2019, we saw a 20 percent increase year over year in adaption of our mobile platform. From 2019 to 2020 it was 30 percent, and we’re well over that from 2020 to now. We’ve been focusing on the development of our mobile technology, making it as seamless as possible. Consumers have gotten so used to using their phones for everything, that we’ve had to adapt our mobile technology to make sure it is really robust. Anything you can do on a PC, we want to be available to do on our mobile platform.
“Technology in general is so much easier than it was. So I think that those who are still coming into our lobbies, really want to come in to visit with people. It’s a social thing. For example, at our Massena, NY location (our highest volume branch), a member will go right by an ATM and walk in to deal with a teller. I really feel that people like human interaction still. And it takes something like a global pandemic to make them stay out of a branch, and have to use the technology and the drive-thru. But once things started easing up, a lot of folks came back in and were happy to be back to near normal.”
BVM: Are you now seeing generations of the same family as SeaComm members?
Wilson: “Obviously there’s a lot of trust that’s been built up over 58 years, so multi-generational business has developed. Personally, I’m a second generation SeaComm member, my kids are now third generation. Our electronic delivery channels are increasingly being adopted by the older generation from the use of our mobile platform and the online teller to bill pay.
I feel the branch is more of a convenience center. Especially for younger, newer members. They want to know that they have a place to go if they have an issue. Or certainly with larger transactions such as a mortgage, even though we offer an online application and you can do it remotely, people still like to come in and talk through their options with a mortgage representative. Likewise, with our Personal Financial Advisor Services – people still like to come in and talk. That doesn’t mean they’re using it every day, but the option is there if they want it.”
BVM: From a lending perspective, have the number of mortgages increased over the last year?
Wilson: “The refinancing of mortgages has been an increase throughout the industry. The purchase mortgages are extremely high for us. I think folks are taking advantage of the rate environment to get into a first-time home, or to upgrade to a bigger home, or even to downsize. There’s a lot of that happening through the purchase mortgage business.
“When it comes to supporting small businesses, we have a robust commercial loan department. Like other financial institutions, we helped with a lot of PPP, but our business on the commercial side has really developed over the last decade and we’re doing a lot of commercial business in all our markets now. Even though we are new in some locations, word gets around that we’re able to give that ‘high touch’ service experience. That’s something that’s being missed. I spoke with some developers in Vermont and they’re really starving for local institutions that want to deal directly with them. Larger banks have gotten away from that and I believe that’s a niche we can fill.”
BVM: What role does your staff play in the member experience?
Wilson: “We’re now over 50,000 total members. That growth has to do with a lot of core pieces, starting with our culture. We have a culture that focuses on service, and every new employee signs a service promise to take care of the member in these certain ways. We actually have a department called
Member Experience and they survey our members on a random basis, asking a series of questions: did they feel valued; was it an accurate transaction, etc. The score can be up to 7 points, total. This past year, overall, our average was 6.81 percent out of 7 for all the surveys throughout the year. I truly believe that service experience is a differentiator for us. We know that how a person is treated really does matter. We focus on the employee to make sure we take care of them and then they ultimately take care of our members.
“But you can’t have that exceptional member service experience and staff without having a financially successful organization. Weiss Ratings, the nation’s leading independent provider of ratings of more than 19,000 financial institutions, ranked us as excellent in an elite group of 566 credit unions, or 11 percent of the top of our industry. That’s very significant, especially where we’re located in rural northern New York and Vermont. We’re very proud of that.”
BVM: Looking ahead, how will SeaComm continue on its successful path?
Wilson: “We have to deliver to our members what they demand from us. and that changes every day. Members want excellent service; they want us to deliver the best technology at a low price point (including free services). The expansion of convenient locations has been important to members. We’re seeing that in our new branches, and we have to be continually paying attention to what our members are asking from us.
“So looking forward, what members want from us in the future will be our priority. We have to recognize that this is a 24/7 business today. So conversational banking using artificial intelligence is something that’s up and coming and we are exploring that. It’s all part of ensuring that the service delivery channels continue to be enhanced. Our partnership with IMS will enable us to leverage key technology which is in-line with our long-term strategy of providing 24/7 exceptional member experience. We are excited about the endless possibilities this will lead to.”
AT A GLANCE
SeaComm Federal Credit Union
What: Community credit union with over 50,000 members and nine locations
Where: Head office in Massena, New York
PWCampbell – www.pwcampbell.com
PWCampbell is regarded as the premiere design-build firm with a high reputation for outstanding quality and personalized service. With four generations of leadership, PWCampbell has been delivering proven innovative solutions to the financial industry for over 110 years. As true experts in the industry, they specialize in providing a comprehensive end-to-end experience which includes strategic facility planning, demographic research, branded environments, interior design, furniture coordination, and architectural and construction services; all under one roof, on time and within budget.
With their award-winning Technology Solutions team, they’ve quickly established themselves as leaders of in-branch technology. A design-build firm like no other, PWCampbell has renovated thousands of branches and transformed millions of square feet of retail space into unique, state-of-the-art experience centers.
Their extensive history of providing effective solutions has enabled them to form longstanding successful partnerships with many financial institutions – just like their partnership with SeaComm Federal Credit Union.
“We work hand-in-hand with SeaComm to provide strategic space planning for adequate room, increased efficiencies, and an overall inviting environment for employees now, and into the future. In addition, we have helped them add to their retail branch network with new locations, and assisted them in entering new markets. We value their loyalty and commitment to their members and communities they serve. We are appreciative of our fantastic partnership with their Board of Directors, management, and staff.”
President & CEO
CUNA Mutual Group – www.cunamutual.com
Built on the principle of “people helping people,” CUNA Mutual Group is a financially strong insurance, investment and financial services company that believes a brighter financial future should be accessible to everyone. Through our company culture, community engagement, and products and solutions, we are working to create a more equitable financial system that helps to improve the lives of those we serve and our society. For more information, visit www.cunamutual.com.