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Tech and Innovation

Joel Swanson of VyStar on Improving Efficiency in Banking

Joel Swanson of VyStar

VyStar Credit Union is the largest credit union headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, and the 13th largest in the United States. Joel Swanson, its chief member experience officer, is committed to providing a personalized interaction to all of the financial institution’s members. 

During an appearance on the podcast “Banking on Digital Growth,” Joel Swanson discussed how VyStar is evolving the banking experience to make it even better for members and employees. Efficiency, especially in the banking sector, translates into an ability to best utilize limited resources with minimum cost and maximum output.

VyStar, guided by highly experienced, business-minded leaders like Joel Swanson, embraces the opportunity to explore new options and ways to serve its members better, such as streamlining mobile banking. Swanson said that the credit union is “more of the frame of mind across our board, our whole management team of, ‘This is a necessity.’”

It is necessary since more Americans are turning away from traditional face-to-face banking, preferring to bank digitally. A Forbes Advisor: 2022 Digital Banking Survey found that in 2022, 78% of adults in the United States opt to bank through a mobile app or website, while only 29% of Americans would rather bank in person.

Since accepting the chief member experience officer role, Swanson has guided innovation strategies that improved the not-for-profit financial cooperative’s relationship with its members. In addition, he played an integral role in establishing a fintech investment fund, which resulted in $40 million invested in various fintech credit union service organizations. He’s also responsible for spearheading the digital experience for 69 locations and a contact center with over 250 employees that operates seven days a week. 

Joel Swanson: From Chief Digital Officer to Chief Member Experience Officer

When Swanson joined VyStar, which serves more than 875,000 members, he brought over two decades of experience in technology and financial services. 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 financial institution’s chief digital officer. 

“When I came into that role, I hypothesized and recognized the need for something but didn’t know how to solve it yet,” Joel Swanson said during the podcast. As for the need he identified, Swanson said it was “simplifying technology. Every bank and credit union was doing things the same way. And we all had these Frankenstein, pieced-together software vendors. Everybody had a different version of those, and then within those companies, different products. And everyone thought they’re a unique flower and were trying to put these things together.”

He continued, “I recognize that when you have that kind of a disjointed internal experience, that creates a disjointed external experience. But, for example, every bank or credit union of our size had 27 different experiences [where] a member would interact with us digitally when they came to our website with different accounts and single sign-on.”

To complicate things further, as a result, VyStar employees would have 27 different systems to manage. So how did the financial institution simplify that? “My hypothesis was we needed to find a bank in a box,” said Joel Swanson. “I started going out and asking around, and I had a really hard time finding it. That’s kind of what was going on in my mind back then.”

VyStar’s Exciting Expansions 

The credit union, then called Jax Navy Federal Credit Union, opened in 1952 as a welcoming place for members of the United States military and their families, along with civil service members, to borrow or save money.

It earned the Top 10 Military Friendly Company designation from Viqtory, a data-driven military marketing company. The honor further bolsters the credit union’s ongoing commitment to championing 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, the credit union’s president and CEO. “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 to attract, develop, and retain top talent and further support the communities we serve.”

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

Branches of the credit union are popping up in the Peach State. VyStar locations are coming to the Atlanta metropolitan area in Smyrna, Johns Creek/Suwanee, Marietta, Stockbridge, and Norcross. There’s also a full-service location in the Golden Isles. “The vibrant area serves a wide range of residents,” stated Chad Meadows, the credit union’s chief operating officer. “We are looking forward to better serving our current members in the region while also welcoming new members looking for convenient options.”

The financial institution prides itself on bettering the communities where its members and employees work and live. For example, not far from VyStar’s headquarters in Jacksonville, it renovated a seven-level parking garage on Forsyth Street to boost the vibrancy of the downtown area. “That energy is enhanced by the building’s first tenant, the Jacksonville Children’s Chorus,” stated Meadows. “The organization has been looking for a permanent home, and the ground floor of the structure on the Main Street side will produce the perfect setting.”

Joel Swanson agrees. “It’s all cyclical from our members to our employees to our community and that focus. And so that’s why we just kind of boil it down to do good, bank better, because it’s all connected,” he said.

He added that the credit union is “uniquely positioned because our members already have an affinity to us. They trust us, and they like us. Those are the signs of a job well done.”

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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - Tech and Innovation - Joel Swanson of VyStar on Improving Efficiency in Banking
Anna Papadopoulos
Anna Papadopoulos is a senior money, wealth, and asset management reporter at CEOWORLD magazine, covering consumer issues, investing and financial communities + author of the CEOWORLD magazine newsletter, writing about money with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind. You can follow CEOWORLD magazine on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or connect on LinkedIn for musings on money, wealth, asset management, millionaires, and billionaires. Email her at