VyStar Credit Union’s Joel Swanson has been at the forefront of the digital revolution in banking for years. He has over 20 years of experience in technology and financial services and 14 years in the credit union industry. And he is an ardent supporter of uncovering creative ways to invest and partner with fintech companies to help the credit union thrive by giving customers the best banking experience. That includes utilizing cutting-edge methods, like banking as a service.

After studying how members utilized the financial institution’s services, Swanson, VyStar’s chief member experience officer, understood that to become as efficient as possible, it needed better digital delivery and self-service options. On the podcast “Banking with Digital Growth,” he said, “My hypothesis was, we need to find a bank in a box. We needed to find a vendor that’s created banking from the ground up with modern technology. So there’s this banking as a service concept, and platforms are coming out trying to solve exactly that need. VyStar is no longer just talking about it; it’s doing it.”

Understanding Banking as a Service

Banking as a service is a digital transformation in which licensed banks integrate their digital banking services directly into the products of other nonbank businesses. Think of it as white-label banking because it provides banking products and services through third-party distributors. It’s a way for a nonbank business to become a banking provider without needing to hold a banking license.

An airline offering customers a debit card that awards loyalty points for paying with that card is a good example. Another example is if the airline offers customers an online loan to pay for their travel tickets directly through the airline’s app or website. The airline never actually touches the customer’s money. Instead, it acts as an intermediary. 

“Any kind of online mobile banking system is a very complex conglomeration of a vendor system as well as partners,” stated Joel Swanson.

They are significant because they can improve the end customer experience. And it’s becoming big business. According to the Finastra survey “Banking as a Service: Outlook 2022 Paving the Way for Embedded Finance,” banking as a service will grow to a $7 trillion industry by 2030. In addition, Future Market Insights Banking as a Service (BaaS) Platform market research stated that the global banking as a service platform market is growing at a compound annual growth rate of 15.7% and is predicted to hit $12.2 billion in 2031.

Joel Swanson: VyStar Caters to Members’ Needs

Embracing banking as a service platform is just one of the many ways that VyStar strives to better the lives of its members. The credit union was founded at Florida’s Naval Air Station Jacksonville in 1952 to support past and present military members and their families. VyStar embraces the responsibility of being a trusted community leader and financial institution. That’s been the case since its inception. Its purpose is to do good and lead by example. 

In 2022, it gave over $4.8 million to hundreds of nonprofit organizations dedicated to improving local communities. Additionally, its employees contribute thousands of hours of volunteer service to better the world around them.

“VyStar employees live in the communities we serve, and they then help those communities. So if we do right by the community, that helps our employees. And then our members are our community,” said Swanson. “And that’s why it’s all cyclical from our members to our employees to our community and that focus. And that’s why we boil it down to, ‘Do Good, Bank Better’ — it’s all connected.”

Swanson continued, “To do the best, we have to operate as efficiently as possible because that maximizes our ability to give back to our communities, to our employees, and our members.”

The credit union now serves more than 875,000 members, with assets totaling over $13.5 billion. Swanson’s job is to ensure those members are satisfied with the services VyStar offers. One way he and the financial institution accomplish this is by making it easy for members to access their finances.

“Their debit card can work at ATMs nationwide as part of a network that we have through many leading retailer brands where they’ll be able to access their account free of charge at those ATMs,” Joel Swanson said. 

It’s Never Too Soon To Learn About Financial Literacy 

VyStar is committed to bettering the lives of the community it serves, starting with the youngest members. “It really is a team effort,” said Joel Swanson. 

That’s why VyStar launched its High School Branch Program in 2006. It offers worksite experience and internship opportunities to students in the communities it serves. Students supervised by VyStar personnel and their school’s career and technical education teachers manage a team of students working at the credit union. 

Since its inception, the program has trained over 106,000 students, offered 1,788 paid internships, and hired 66 graduates of the program as full-time employees. 

In 2022, it introduced the High School Debit Card Give Back Program. The purpose of this is to unite the community to support local education. Every school in the program has a unique, school logo-branded debit card. The credit union donates 5 cents to the specific school for every purchase made with a branded school debit card. 

According to Chad Meadows, the chief operations officer, VyStar is “incredibly grateful for everyone who shares in our commitment to support students and educators in our communities and helped make the first year of this program such a success.”

Meadows added, “This program is meant to be an opportunity for students, teachers, alumni, and anyone with pride in their neighborhood school to make a difference through their everyday purchases. We encourage anyone who is interested in participating to get involved.”

Each school can earn up to $10,000 a year. Currently, 18 schools participate, and VyStar donated $31,061.15 during the program’s first year. The top five earning schools in 2022 were: Bartram Trail High School, West Nassau High School, Fleming Island High School, Palatka High School, and Pedro Menendez High School, all in Florida.

“We are so proud of the schools in our High School Branch Program, and we know these funds will be put to great use,” stated Michael Rathjen, the credit union’s vice president of school programs. “It’s exciting to know how popular these debit cards have become. This is only the first year of our Give Back Program, and we look forward to donating even more money to our school partners in the future.”

By Manali