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Joel Swanson Leads VyStar’s Member Experience

Joel Swanson

Joel Swanson is VyStar Credit Union’s chief member experience officer. He’s dedicated to providing a curated banking experience to all of the financial institution’s more than 900,000 members nationwide. The credit union — then called Jax Navy Federal Credit Union — opened in 1952 as a dependable place for members of the United States military and their families, along with civil service members, to borrow or save money.

VyStar is the largest credit union headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, and the 13th largest in the United States. When Joel Swanson was a guest on the podcast “Banking on Digital Growth,” he discussed how the credit union is improving the banking experience for members and employees.

The credit union, guided by highly experienced, business-minded leaders like Swanson, embraces the opportunity to explore new options and ways to serve its members better.

Since joining the financial institution as the chief member experience officer, he’s led an inventive approach to improve the not-for-profit financial cooperative’s relationship with its members.

“When I came into that role, I hypothesized and recognized the need for something but didn’t know how to solve it yet,” he said on the podcast. Swanson recognized the need to “simplify technology.” He noticed that every financial institution, including the credit union, was doing things the same way.

“We all had these Frankenstein, pieced-together software vendors,” said Joel Swanson. “Everybody had a different version of those, and then within those companies, different products. I recognize that when you have that kind of a disjointed internal experience, that creates a disjointed external experience.”

How Joel Swanson Is Making a Difference for VyStar Members and Their Communities

Swanson brings over two decades of experience in technology and financial services to his role at VyStar. He also had over 14 years of experience in the credit union industry at two top-20 credit unions when he was hired as the credit union’s chief digital officer.

He’s overseen the digital experience for over 69 branches and a contact center with more than 250 employees that operates seven days a week.

VyStar has worked hard to be recognized as a credible, welcoming credit union in Florida — and now it’s paving a similar path through Georgia. In 2023, it’s expanding into new cities and regions across the Southeast. In early 2023, it finalized a merger with First Coast Federal Credit Union. And in April, it announced a planned merger with another Jacksonville-based financial institution, 121 Financial Credit Union. Multiple branches are also in the works for central Florida, including Altamonte Springs and Winter Park, as well as Lake Mary, which opened earlier this year.

“It really is a team effort,” said Swanson. “The whole leadership team at VyStar is aligned and works together on defining strategy.” With Swanson’s guidance, the credit union has been working to maximize future growth potential by utilizing technologically advanced tools and services.

Swanson and the financial institution are focused on bettering the communities where members and employees work and live. “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,” he said. “That’s why we just kind of boil it down to do good and bank better: it’s all connected.”

For example, the credit union proudly sponsored the 2023 Jax River Jams Concert Series featuring national acts like Grammy winner Shaggy and country star Chris Lane as well as a roster of local musicians. “It’s so exciting to have the session of River Jams wrap up this year,” Swanson said at the event. “It’s been amazing with the amazing talent that’s been coming to Jacksonville. And giving concerts outdoors for free for the Jacksonville community.”

Swanson continued, “It’s been so fun to see the warm reception that the Jacksonville community has provided, not just Jacksonville but the greater area. Everyone knows that VyStar is all about doing good in the communities we serve. That includes everything it is in that community, whether it’s arts, culture, or musical entertainment. And so it’s been so great to be a part of this for the past three years.”

Swanson’s been a regular at musical events over the years. “It’s always a great time,” he said. “But bringing the River Jams downtown and getting that engagement and energy into downtown Jacksonville during what otherwise may not be as busy of a time, right, bringing people down on a Thursday evening to enjoy the beautiful downtown [area] has been really meaningful and that’s wonderful to see.”

The Credit Union’s History of Award-Winning Service

Since Joel Swanson has been the member experience officer, the credit union earned the Top 10 Military Friendly Company designation from Viqtory, a data-driven military marketing company. The honor illustrates the credit union’s continuing commitment to advocating for military members, veterans, and their families.

“It is an honor for VyStar to be recognized as an organization that cares deeply about the military community,” said Brian Wolfburg, president and CEO of the credit union. “From individuals to families to small-business owners, we are committed to providing opportunities to the brave men and women who have served our country. These important designations will help us continue attracting, developing, and retaining top talent and further support the communities we serve.”

Joel Swanson credits the credit union’s commitment to embracing change as a reason it can offer better services to its members. “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,” he said. “One thing I love about being at VyStar is that our board of directors and our CEO already bought into the need to change. I’m very fortunate to have that.”

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