Quips & AI: You don’t want to miss this great riverfront property
Q&A with Anthony Pomponio, Chief Lending Officer, and Jamie Denunzio, Chief Operating Officer at Riverfront Federal Credit Union
We got a two-for-one in this special conversation with one of our new customers: Riverfront Federal Credit Union. You’ll find this community-chartered credit union close to the eastern border of Pennsylvania, serving the people of Berks County. Small but mighty, Riverfront was originally founded in 1948 to serve employees of the Reading Railroad (there’s gotta be a joke about R & R in here somewhere!).
But let’s learn more about Riverfront FCU through the eyes of some folks who live it daily: Chief Lending Officer, Anthony Pomponio, and, Chief Operating Officer, Jamie Denunzio.
Q: Riverfront FCU has a fascinating history — I'd love to talk more about your founding and how your credit union evolved over the years.
Jamie: You mentioned the evolution of Riverfront, so if I can fast forward to when we onboarded Tim McLeod (President & CEO, in case you were wondering) back in 2014.
We converted to a community charter in the late 2000s, and when we did, we made a concerted effort to reach out to the community to let them know that we’re here. We’re in Berks, we’re their neighbors, and their kids go to school with ours. We live next door to our members, so our commitment to them runs deeper than just serving them from a product and service standpoint.
With Tim joining us, we all put our roller skates on and got moving. Following a member survey, we launched a new series of products and services combined with access points, so Riverfront wasn’t just competing with other local financial institutions but also with the biggest financial institutions when it came to technological solutions. When we implemented a more robust online banking platform, we continued to evolve across the board.
The most recent addition was our service called Riverfront Live, which, to put simply, is video banking. Members can sit in the comfort of their living room on their couch, apply for a loan, pass documents back and forth with a loan officer, sign applications with their fingertips, and be approved before their favorite show is over on the TV. That, for us at Riverfront, is really exciting — to look at where we are now and see that we’re meeting the needs of our individual members and putting them on that better financial path.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about Riverfront FCU and the community you serve today?
Jamie: We serve Berks County, PA, but because of the relationships we had prior to our community charter conversion, we actually have members who are all over the United States and even some internationally. Of course, being rooted where we are, we have a strong focus from a community standpoint. Because of that, we realized that it’s not just our responsibility to offer financial products and services, but to be good neighbors and give back to the areas we serve. We work with a multitude of local not-for-profits to bring awareness to what they’re doing in our backyards.
At the national level, plenty of things deserve a spotlight, but our goal is to work with smaller, local groups that don’t often get the spotlight.
We think that another thing that sets us apart from other financial institutions — including those much larger than us — is that we want to hear each member’s story. Just because we roll out a new product or service doesn’t mean that it fits you. Our goal is to get to know you so we can match you with the products and services you need. With that being said, anytime we roll out a new product or service, we try to make sure that we’re doing it for the benefit of the members, meaning we don’t just push out a credit card because everybody else in our competing vicinity is doing so. We do it because we know our members have asked for it, and it means something to them.
Q: What's Riverfront FCU's mission, and how did you decide on it?
Anthony: It’s to put our members in a better financial position. Our mission is really quite simple, but it's a powerful tool in what we do on a daily basis. Through our consultative approach with our members, we dig into their specific needs and assist them in getting into a better financial position. To echo Jamie’s thoughts, we’re not pushing a product. We’re trying to see their needs and then match them to our current product offerings. It goes back to when Tim came on board and brought the idea to the CU. That’s where it originated. Something quite simple but very compelling.
Jamie: I think the mission provides a focus for us. It’s what inspired the way we survey our members. We don’t just make assumptions as to what they need from us. We look at the data to see the trends that are developing. The survey started as a development point for who we wanted to be in the future. We continue to do these essential surveys when there is a considerable shift in focus and our members’ behaviors, goals, and desires. We utilize our service channels to do transactional surveys to ask how we did and what more we could do. We think it’s critical to continue evolving and not just serve those we’re continuing to serve but meet the needs of the greater community we’re rooted into.
Q: Let’s get into Riverfront FCU and Zest AI's new partnership. What was the “that's it!” moment when you looked into AI underwriting automation?
Anthony: For us, it stemmed from our mission statement. We asked, “What are we missing that will put our members in a better financial position? What’s happening right now that we can improve or implement to help our members?”
The first “lightbulb” moment for us was when we vetted AI/ML companies and saw that Zest AI helped us dig a lot deeper into our middle to lower credit tiers, which are often the underserved market. We saw we can actually get more approvals in this category. On top of that, we can automate that entire process.
My goal was to automate from application to booking to funding when I got here. From what I’ve seen and known so far, Zest will get us to that point. Through that process, we’re able to put our members into a better financial position, particularly in those credit tiers where we haven’t been able to quite serve the way we want. By the way, not only is there automation — there’s less risk. So that was great to see, and our organization will be able to grow and continue to expand our product base this way.
Lastly, I would say that Zest is very responsive to questions. The team we’re working with right now modeled our current data, and we got to see what we were missing. So those things, in combination with our mission statement, worked cohesively, and we knew that was where we wanted to go. Zest was the company we wanted to work with and partner with.
Jamie: If I can toot Anthony’s horn a little bit here — since he joined our organization, he and Tim have made a concerted effort to make the lending process easier for our members. That drive resonates throughout our organization and is ultimately why credit unions were formed in the first place. It’s a big task to expand automation efforts, remove some of that human bias from decisions, and reach deeper to members we want to help. Finding the Zest opportunity and investing in the partnership will continue to solidify that as we move into the future.
Q: What do more yeses on loan applications mean for Riverfront FCU and your members?
Anthony: Word of mouth is very powerful. Tim talks about that a lot — when you get a yes for one of your members and get them into their first car or first house, they’ll remember that. The next time family or friends ask, they’ll refer them to us with a “Hey, go down to see ‘Ms. Smith’ at Riverfront, and she’ll help you and get you what you need.” That’s how we like to approach things.
More yeses, especially in the middle to lower credit tiers, immediately helps that underserved market. But in particular, with personal cash balances falling because of rising prices, this can help us bridge that gap to get a loan into hands that need it. We see more yeses as a big lift for our community.
At the same time, it will help our organization grow and serve a greater portion of our market. At the end of the day, it’s just a win-win for both our membership and our organization.
Q: Anything else you’re excited about that’s coming up?
Folks — this is where I step in and recommend you grab your pen and paper and a couple of tissues because Riverfront is doing great things.
Jamie: We appreciate this opportunity because it is timely — our October campaign we’ve done every year since 2015 is called “Awareness Makes Cents.” We focus on the importance of preventative wellness for women, especially so we can catch breast cancer in its earliest stages and help find a cure for those in later stages as well. We bring a mobile mammography unit on-site, and Riverfront pays for 40 free mammograms for underserved members in our community. You don’t have to be a member at Riverfront to take advantage of the opportunity — though we certainly hope that if our members have a need, they make an appointment with us. I can say we’ve been able to book that unit each year fully, and we’ve gotten some really happy stories to share.
Throughout the remainder of October, we do fundraising and spirit-oriented events with our employees. Donations go to two local causes, both near and dear to us. One is the Berks County Support Services, which provides financial support to women and their caretakers in Berks going through breast cancer. The other is Thanx Wig Bank, which a local salon spearheads. The owner uses her own funding to provide wigs to women in the county impacted by breast cancer. We’re excited to start back up on October 1st and would encourage anyone interested to stop by and see what we’re doing to give back.
All year long, we sell Riverfront branded swag from our swag wall at our newest branch. We turn those purchases around and donate to a local community cause. We also pick a quarterly benefactor, and not only do they benefit from the swag wall sale and can also benefit from account rounding done through our ITMs. The ITMs don’t disperse change but allow members the opportunity to donate the spare change to the current quarterly benefactor. It’s been an excellent opportunity for us and our members to learn more about these organizations we work with, and it’s a huge feel-good moment for everyone involved.