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What Every Credit Union Needs to Know Before Choosing an AI Lending Partner

The Zest AI Team shares their perspective on what to look for when evaluating an AI lending partner – Teamwork makes the dream work.

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Since the beginning of humanity itself, we’ve overcome the odds — tigers, lions, bears… recessions, you name it — by putting our heads together, offering a lending hand, and partnering up. People thrive when we work together.

Credit unions are a prime example of just how powerful working together can be, but even the strongest cooperatives need a shoulder to lean on. A partnership provides crucial support, resources, and relationships that make credit unions a force to be reckoned with.

And there are a lot of options out there. Understanding the difference between a vendor and a partner when it comes to building your tech stack is crucial. Vendors offer purely transactional relationships, leaving you with a newfound software system but with the burden of extracting all its value on your own. But a partner steps in to help lift burdens from credit unions’ shoulders, ensuring they can keep gaining momentum by doing what they do best: serving their members.

Partners ensure that credit unions meet compliance standards.

Credit unions take responsibility for all parts of their lending business, including the ability to serve all your members fairly, keep up with CFPB requirements, FCRA reporting, portfolio management, and more. Some credit unions may have the resources to ensure compliance, but smaller credit unions may need extra support.

Vendors may not feel the need to support their customers after the ink dries on that deal. Their primary goal is the growth of their own organization, and they might even be disconnected from industry values, goals, and trends.

On the other hand, partners have a well-seasoned, active team that wants your credit union — and the financial services industry at-large — to do well. Your credit union’s success should be your partner’s first priority, and partners should be responsive to ever-changing policy and business needs, whether it be through times of growth or stagnation.

Zest AI is a partner that stands behind our mission. We work at the table with the NCUA and CFPB to create and maintain the golden standard for compliance, helping create norms and regulations that solidify AI as a safe and fair tool for underwriting. We hire team members who have experience working with credit unions, as underwriters and advocates, and we lead the charge when it comes to fair lending, AI, and explainability. We’re not just invested in our own product, we’re invested in the future of lending.

Partners support credit unions’ strategies and business goals throughout their lives together.

Talking about goals and strategy during the sales cycle is one thing — creating a plan with the credit union and being held accountable on a regular basis is another.

Vendors are likely to show how your goals can be met with their solution at the beginning, but partners share your goals. Think back to all the apps, web services, or subscriptions your team uses. You only contact the vendor when you have an issue, and even then, you’re waiting on hold to speak to a representative you have never seen before and will never see again. Sure, the website is a productive tool, but the vendor isn’t quite invested in your success.

Partners rely on feedback and participation from customers to ensure they build value. Through organizing customer advisory boards, taking NPS seriously, and checking in regularly to align on progress, partners create an ongoing symbiotic relationship. You’ll know the names and faces of your partner’s team, well beyond the sales cycle.

Partners provide access to resources and fill in knowledge gaps.

Not every credit union has in-house resources like IT or data scientists. And even for those that do, taking on deployment, onboarding, and education can become time-consuming. Wouldn’t that time be better spent truly reaping the benefits of a partnership, and keeping the focus on serving your members?

Vendors only provide the solution. Partners help fill in bigger gaps — not only managing deployment and onboarding, but providing educational resources, being available for anything from compliance and reporting support, change management, or providing additional insights that the credit union might not always have access to.

Partners are mission-aligned.

Credit unions are a special community within the financial services industry. They serve their members first, and cooperate to find the best solutions together. Credit union leagues and partner organizations like CUSOs demonstrate just how powerful unity and cooperation can be. They understand the unique relationship credit unions have with their members and are aligned with their industry needs.

Partners like Zest AI provide the proper support and environment to help your credit union evolve with changing economic circumstances. For smaller credit unions, a technology partner can make the difference between maintaining autonomy and having to merge with a larger credit union. At Zest AI, we are committed to ensuring compliance and helping your credit union thrive — teaming up to strengthen each credit union’s mission to serve their members and provide transparent, fair access to credit.

There’s strength in numbers. Choose a partner that’s a team player, will put your goals first, and help you serve your members with confidence. And with the right tools at your fingertips, you can accomplish just about anything.

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