As the chief member experience officer at VyStar, the second-largest credit union headquartered in Florida, Joel Swanson is committed to ensuring members are pleased with the financial institution’s products and services. “We are so uniquely positioned because our members already have an affinity to us,” he says.
The credit union’s dedicated staff of professionals, including Joel Swanson, understand that buying a home is a stressful process, so the credit union strives to simplify the process. This commitment is what makes it the largest mortgage lender in northeast Florida. And it’s getting even better.
The financial institution has partnered with TransUnion, a global information and insights company, to bring more financial inclusion to the mortgage sector. By leveraging data from FinLocker, a secure financial fitness app that analyzes consumer’s financial data to provide personalized routes to achieve financial goals, such as loan eligibility for a mortgage, the credit union and TransUnion will better serve its 900,000 members before and during the mortgage process. The result will be more homeownership opportunities.
“VyStar is excited to have TransUnion and FinLocker as primary partners in our upcoming mortgage financial wellness tool Dream2Own,” stated Jennifer Lopez Kouchis, chief mortgage banking officer.
In 2022, the credit union signed the Mortgage Bankers Association Home For All Pledge. It represents the financial industry’s commitment to a long-term, holistic approach to address racial inequities in housing. By signing it, the credit union confirmed its support of public policies and industry practices that advance minority homeownership and affordable rental housing.
The pillars of the pledge include: promoting and supporting public policies that advance minority homeownership and affordable rental housing, supporting market-based solutions through Mortgage Bankers Association’s place-based convergence programs, championing diversity, equity, and inclusion in workplaces and industries, and supporting inclusion in single-family and multifamily housing.
Kouchis stated that the credit union “believes Dream2Own will help VyStar in its promise to bring financial freedom and increase mortgage inclusion by meeting members where they are, in the communities we serve, [and] additionally, expanding our reach to aid future members.”
It’s all part of the process of making VyStar even more efficient to better the member experience. That happens through growth, scale, and better service options. Embracing modern means of development is important to the credit union and Swanson, who brings over 20 years of experience in the technology and financial services sectors to his role.
The Future of Better Banking for All
Membership at the credit union is open to everyone who lives or works in the 49 contiguous counties of central and northern Florida, 26 Georgia counties, and past and present military members and their families all over the world. Traditionally, credit unions offer lower interest rates than banks, making them especially attractive to those looking to buy a home. The credit union’s mortgage interest rates, currently as low as 6.625% for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, are 0.625% better than the national average of 7.25%
Despite high mortgage rates and home prices, the market is competitive because of the high demand combined with tight inventory supply. It’s a frustrating process for many people looking to buy. The credit union hopes to reduce the stress of getting a mortgage for its members.
“We look forward to partnering with VyStar to help manage customers and prospects from lead to funded loan,” stated Joe Mellman, TransUnion’s senior vice president and mortgage business leader. “These digital solutions will help improve the VyStar member experience, reduce the cost of loan production, and drive efficiencies in mortgage servicing while promoting more opportunities for [credit union] members to secure a mortgage.”
Partnering with TransUnion and FinLocker allows the credit union to offer tools that directly benefit potential homeowners and help them make sense of the entire process. The tools provide essential skills, such as home buying and mortgage educational resources, credit monitoring, debt management, budgeting, and planning knowledge to potential home buyers, many from underserved communities. The goal is to assist low- to moderate-income buyers in making their dream of owning a home a reality.
The merger means good news for credit union members. They gain assistance from TransUnion and Finlocker on their journey to homeownership. “By consolidating their financial information in one place, users can easily track their equity, liabilities, and spending,” states Henry Cason, FinLocker CEO. Additionally, members always know where they stand with their goal of getting ready for a mortgage.
“The technology lets users stay on top of their credit reports through a soft pull,” states Cason. “It provides additional tools such as credit simulation, providing valuable support throughout the homeownership process.”
Joel Swanson has said, “We realize that what is happening in the fintech space is changing the industry.”
Joel Swanson Discusses VyStar’s Customer Engagement Champion Award
In July 2023, the credit union was recognized for epitomizing “The Art of Innovation” by Verint, a global leader in customer engagement. “We were so honored to be in Vegas recently to be honored by Verint to win their Customer Engagement Champion Award,” stated Joel Swanson.
“It’s a huge cross-industry global award. Last year it was won by Priceline. Obviously, they are a leader in customer satisfaction, so to be honored at that same level, at VyStar here, and the service we are providing for our members, was really rewarding.”
Swanson continued, “We already give great service. We know that we give great service, but to have a third-party industry-level award recognize us for the service that we give was really impactful.”
The award substantiates the hard work and dedication of multiple people across the credit union. “This award that we won is so meaningful and impactful to VyStar,” stated Joel Swanson. “But it could not have happened without the amazing service provided by our branch and contact center employees who work so hard every single day to build relationships and help our members with their holistic financial needs. And so, while it is an entire company award, and we should all be proud, the work that our front line has done for our members and to be recognized for this is so meaningful.”
It takes a team effort to be an award-winning organization. “The whole leadership team is aligned and works together on defining strategy,” added Swanson.