Quips & AI: A change in seasons, but not in heart

Zest AI team
January 18, 2023

Q&A with Nicole DeAngelis, AVP of Consumer Lending and Dillon Tardif, AVP of Marketing at Seasons Federal Credit Union

We’re welcoming in the new year as well as a new customer here at Zest AI. For over 85 years, the Seasons Federal Credit Union team has served folks living and working around Middlesex County, CT. Their goal is to help members make the best financial decisions with seamless, innovative technology available anytime, anywhere.

We’re so excited to have Seasons Federal Credit Union as a new part of the Zest AI family. We want to introduce two team members — Nicole DeAngelis, AVP of Consumer Lending, and Dillon Tardif, AVP of Marketing — who will share some insights into what it looks like to serve members through every season of their life.

Q: Let’s talk about the phrase I found on your website, “people helping people.” I think it gets to the heart of what credit unions are all about. How has that philosophy continued on in your work?

Dillon: Absolutely. The “people helping people” phrase is the foundation for credit unions. It explains the creation of credit unions and how we establish our vision for everything we do. But I see it more like people helping people build a community. It benefits everyone to work together to create a stronger community. When credit unions take the lead in making change and stand beside our members, we make our hometowns better places to live, work, and play. I think it's something we should be proud of.

With banks, people get lost. You feel like another number. But not at Seasons. Our staff takes the time needed to sit down with every single member, listen to their story, see what's going on in their lives, and help figure out how we can work together. Our members are part owners of our credit union, and when they succeed, so do we. And our shared success builds a better community for all of us.

Nicole: I’d like to expand on that thought of how at a bank, people tend to be just another number. Because our employees take the time to get to know our members, the service we provide is individualized.

I spend a lot of time underwriting, right? From an outside perspective, it seems like it's the same thing repeatedly — but it's not. We treat each member and their situation differently. When you’re looking at each member’s life and financial background, you see that everyone has a unique situation and can help improve their lives. So it is people helping people, but I think what makes it stronger is that it’s not the same thing over and over. It’s giving people the individualized attention they deserve when they need it.

Q: I also like that Seasons FCU leadership and employees were part of naming the credit union post-expansion. How did you come to the agreement on the new name?

Dillon: Seasons was renamed in 2006, so that's definitely before my time, and I'm pretty sure Niki's time too.

Nicole: It was just slightly before I joined the team. 

Dillon: No, that's true. I can't believe how long we've been here. Renaming the credit union was a collaborative effort. Everybody got involved — the staff, our board members, and our membership, too. They received over 800 suggestions on new names, and I can't imagine the time it took to narrow it down, but working together, everyone ultimately decided on the name “Seasons.” It just worked for a New England credit union. We have all four seasons here, and it matches our vision of serving our members throughout every season of their lives.

Nicole: The name Seasons is great because of the tie to the seasons and the seasons of our members' lives. I love our logo. Our tree with the different color leaves represents what stages of life our members go through.

Because our original membership base back in the 1930s was these teachers from Middlesex, we talk a lot about serving an older member population. But we've also done an excellent job bringing in younger members who are at the start of those seasons of their lives. In my time at Seasons FCU, I've worked with members who come in with no credit history and worked their way up through a credit card, car loan, and mortgage. It's fulfilling to know that we have the capability to see our members through all of those seasons.

Q: How did you get to considering AI-automated underwriting technology for Seasons FCU? What ultimately led you to Zest AI?

Nicole: We had a core system conversion about three years ago, and before that, we used a custom LOS. During our system conversion, we decided to get back to basics and do away with our custom LOS. I wanted to start over with a blank slate. So we got back to a lot of manual underwriting, but obviously, you see all these online lending companies doing things so rapidly. People are applying for loans and getting approved and funded within days, if not minutes.

While our process is swift, a lot of manual intervention needs to happen. We had to recognize that as a small credit union, keeping up with those big players ensures that our members are not going elsewhere. We need to be competitive to stay alive. In our conversations, we gathered that it's not just the loan origination systems — it's about getting the decision back to our members quickly. The most obvious place to solve that is through AI. We looked at several AI companies, but Zest AI was the most reputable and great to work with. 

Dillon: Part of our mission statement is to help our members make the best financial decision with the help of seamless and innovative technology. Incorporating Zest AI will deliver that value quickly and efficiently to our members. AI is disrupting the financial industry, so we must embrace it and incorporate it into our strategic model moving forward. We want to be better than our competitors, and Zest AI will help us ensure that.

Q: Why do you think it is important that a credit union is seen as a financial partner to members?

Dillon: I think about the times right now. It's scary, but with members' financial needs, the economic climate, and where we're going, our credit union's model can assist everybody. We have the products and services to help anyone through these tough times, and we want to steer people away from those predatory loan options that exist. We don't want them going there because it's ultimately not good for them. 

We have financial education available to be a better institution and a financial partner to our members. As we mentioned, we have a conversation about a member's financial goals and needs. We look at our members as whole people. We think about what we can do to be their partner, how we can help them and not turn them away.

Nicole: I've been with the credit union for 15 years, and I was a member of the credit union before I started working here. The thing that stands out to me in terms of being a financial partner, when I compare Seasons FCU to banks and other institutions I've banked with, I think about how there are always familiar faces and people that care. There's longevity here. There's a genuine desire to see people helping and having a community. It is like family, more than a partnership. Even from credit union to credit union, there are programs that we share because we're really here to better our community. 

 A lot of that goes back to your first question about people helping people. Seasons FCU does a lot of things outside of just finances. We do sponsorships, food drives, and coat and diaper drives to help the community. When people think of their financial institution as a place that goes beyond check deposits and credit card applications, it feels safer.

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