Joel Swanson is VyStar Credit Union’s chief member experience officer. In that position, he helps plan strategies and devise policies to support the financial institution as it creates positive customer experiences for its 875,000 members. He says the ripples of change extend far beyond VyStar’s Jacksonville headquarters.
“If we do right by our employees, our employees live in the communities we serve, and they help those communities. So if we do right by the community, that helps our employees,” Joel Swanson said while appearing on the podcast “Banking On Digital Growth.”
“And then our members are our community. And so that’s why it’s all cyclical from our members to our employees to our community and that focus. And that’s why we just kind of boil it down to do good and bank better: it’s all connected.”
Recently VyStar announced plans to merge with 121 Financial Credit Union to make best-in-class products and services more readily available for members.
People who work or live in 29 Georgia counties and the 49 neighboring central to north Florida counties are eligible for membership. In addition, military members, past and present, and their families worldwide can also become members of the credit union.
Joel Swanson: The Symbiotic Relationship Between VyStar and Communities
Swanson says the credit union’s primary goal is to provide excellent services to its members. In addition, it’s committed to helping members achieve their financial and life goals. Therefore, the credit union needs to operate as efficiently as possible “because that maximizes [VyStar’s] ability to give back to the communities, employees, and the members. That’s a credit union’s mission at its core,” said Swanson.
How can VyStar become even more efficient to better the member experience? Swanson said it happens “through growth, scale, and then also through better digital delivery, and better self-service options.”
He continued, “That’s why growth and digital delivery are so important for us, to make it so that when members come into our branches, or they call us, it’s because they want to and need that consultation, not because they have to. So, we want to ensure that it’s really additive and not because of an issue. So that allows us to add more to that and continue in the growth and scale.”
Fintech Is Changing the Credit Union Industry
In addition to his over 14 years in the credit union industry, Joel Swanson has over 20 years of experience in the technology and financial services sector. He understands that partnership and collaboration with the fintech industry are vital to the financial institution’s future success. “It really is a team effort,” said Swanson. “The whole leadership team at VyStar is aligned and works together on defining strategy together.” With Swanson’s guidance, the credit union has been working to maximize future growth potential by utilizing technologically advanced tools and services.
He said, “I cannot take credit for it. It is an amazing team. And we realize that what is happening in the fintech space is changing the industry.” According to Joel Swanson, VyStar realized it “needed to find ways to invest in fintech and be on boards with them and help, but also help them help us and our members and the entire industry.”
Financial institutions partnering with fintech companies is necessary, he noted. “Everyone should be doing it,” Joel Swanson stated. “If you’re going to partner with a vendor to offer solutions, you have got to make sure that you’re maximizing your value. You’ve got to find a way to partner with them and find ways to invest in fintech. Every credit union and community bank should be doing this.”
What are the benefits? “It shows that not only do you care enough to be a customer, but you care enough to invest in them,” says Swanson. “If you invest in them, now you’re as invested as they are in growing their brand.”
VyStar embraces change when it translates into better services for members. “One thing I love about being at VyStar is that our board of directors and our CEO already bought into the need to change and the need to be aggressive in this [fintech] area,” said Swanson. “I’m very fortunate to have that.”
People often fear being the first to do something, which can be a significant roadblock to success in Swanson’s experience. “If you’re not willing to at least be at the forefront of something and be leading the change for what you need for your organization, driving on your vision and your road map, then you’re never going to get there,” said Joel Swanson. “The first thing people need to get around is that it’s OK to be first sometimes, as long as you do it in an understandable way and do your due diligence and make sure that you, again, have a seat at the table.”
Swanson encouraged others to be like the credit union, push themselves out of their comfort zone, and strive to be the first because it will better serve their members in the long run. That’s something he enjoys about working to make VyStar the best credit union possible for its members. “It’s so fun being first,” stated Swanson. “And to have a CEO, a management team, and a board that wants VyStar to be first. [And to know] that they will tolerate some mistakes that may occur along the way. Knowing you have that backing and do things that are truly different and unique, oh my gosh, it’s a ride. It’s so fun.”
For over 71 years, the credit union, headquartered in Jacksonville, has been known for being a reliable brand for borrowers. In April 1952, the Jax Navy Federal Credit Union opened at the Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Florida. In 2022 the financial institution changed its name to VyStar.