How Call Centers Cope With Ever-Changing Threats And Technology

Call centers are a $13 billion industry in the U.S. alone. In the inaugural PYMNTS Call Center Commerce Tracker™, in collaboration with IntraNext Systems, PYMNTS dives into the commerce ecosystem that drives them, along with news and a directory of top providers in the space. The Tracker also features in an interview with Jeannie Sugaoka, senior vice president at Technology Credit Union, who describes the 113 percent spike in fraud that her call center operation has seen over the last year, and what they’re doing to fight back.


Communication and financial technology have both undergone rapid transformations over the years. The ways we talk and exchange money are almost entirely different than what we saw decades ago.

But, even as the rest of the world evolves, some things do not change. Despite the shifts from home phones to cellphones to smartphones – and from cash to credit cards to mobile checking accounts – call centers have remained omnipresent.

When consumers are having trouble with their financial accounts and services – whether it’s due to fraudulent activity or simply questions about their account or loan statuses – they often find themselves on the phone with their financial institutions in hopes of getting the problem solved without spending the entire day on hold.

Yes, call centers have soldiered on for decades. While their existence has been constant, though, the conditions and threats the industry have faced have kept pace with the changing world around them. Modern technologies, like mobile banking, have meant new questions and requests from customers, as well as a massive spike in fraud directed at call centers from hackers and other cybercriminals.

For the inaugural issue of the Call Center Commerce Tracker, PYMNTS caught up with Jeannie Sugaoka, senior vice president of support services at Technology Credit Union, for more insight about the ever-changing call center industry. Technology CU is a financial institution based in Silicon Valley, California, with more than 91,000 members and $2 billion in assets. Sugaoka has run its call center for more than two decades.

Changing Customers

Sugaoka noted that the shift in technology largely came as Technology CU was going through other changes. Before she first arrived at the company in the early 1990s, there wasn’t even a dedicated call center – just one employee, alone in an office, taking calls from customers.

But Technology CU was quickly adding new members and, at the same time, customers were already looking for more convenient ways to bank without having to physically visit a branch, Sugaoka said. Before the dawn of smartphones or the popularization of online banking, that meant getting on the phone with a financial institution’s call center – so the company opened a call center to better serve its customers.

As remote banking capabilities began to evolve, the reasons customers called quickly began to change, too. While some would still call for basic functions like checking their balances, consumers’ focus had shifted toward other services, including money transfers, loan application and other lending capabilities. All told, the credit union’s call center now receives approximately 2,500 calls per week.

Sugaoka also noted that call centers have become increasingly essential for financial institutions as more financial activity has turned away from brick-and-mortar branches.

“Now, we handle everything, from lending to answering questions from our secure email line, to automating some of the services people used to go into branches for, whether that’s transfers or some other kind of transactions,” Sugaoka said. “Because so many fewer people want to actually spend the time to go down to a branch and speak with someone in person, we’ve really become the first, or even only, point of contact when members want to speak with a real person.”

But while the reasons customers are calling may have changed, Sugaoka said the core things they are seeking from an interaction with a call center have not.

“No matter what they’re calling for, they all want the same supreme and convenient service,” she said. “They want it now, they want it to be a quick conversation and they want it to be as easy an experience as possible.” 

Changing Threats 

While keeping the experience easy and convenient is top of mind for Technology Credit Union, Sugaoka said the recent increase in fraud at call centers can cause friction for both the centers and their customers.

According to data published by, one in every 2,500 calls to a financial institution’s call centers is fraudulent. That represents a 113 percent increase in call center fraud over the past year. As such, it is more important than ever that they ensure customers are who they claim to be when they call in.

“It’s a delicate balance to strike, because we want members to feel like this is convenient and easy and not a difficult process, especially when it comes to authentication,” Sugaoka explained. “But, we [also] have to stick to our guns when it comes to verification. We know that when people do have their [identities] stolen, they come back to us and say they’re really appreciative of all the precautions we take when they call in, and they understand why we do it.”

Technology Credit Union currently uses a combination of automated fraud solutions and human verification to authenticate clients. Sugaoka noted Technology Credit Union is working to develop authentication solutions using new technologies – including automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence – to build new authentication techniques and technologies to keep bad actors at bay in the future.

“We think that new technology can [not only] help us better serve our members [and] give them new capabilities and knowledge we think can help them, but also to better protect our members,” she said. “It’s something that can help us, ahead of time, know about the member when they call in. So, we can be on the phone and know who this member is, that they are who they claim to be and exactly what they’re looking for. It can help us give them a really easy, convenient experience — and that’s our end game.”


To download the inaugural edition of the the PYMNTS Call Center Commerce Tracker™, click the button below.


About the Tracker

The PYMNTS Call Center Commerce Tracker™, powered by IntraNext Systems, serves as a monthly framework for the space, providing coverage of the most recent call center commerce news and trends. The Tracker also includes a provider directory highlighting the key players comprising the call center ecosystem.