KENTWOOD, Mich. -- The formula sounds like a win for credit unions: have access to a starting point to pool resources and collectively acquire products and services at lower rates.
That was and still is the premise behind Xtend, Inc., a multi-owned CUSO formed in 2002 and a strategic business partner of CU*Answers, a technical and operational solution provider to 167 credit unions. Nearly five years later, Xtend, which is owned by 37 credit unions, has extended its reach to offer bookkeeping services, member contact services, mortgage servicing, partnered liquidity opportunities, shared branching, member surveys, and insurance services. The CUSO's affinity for smaller credit unions and helping them to compete on a larger scale still holds true, said Scott Collins, president.
"Xtend was designed and developed to allow smaller credit unions to collaborate to look bigger than they are and to have that collaboration to attract vendors," Collins said. "Small credit unions are sometimes passionate, if not more passionate, because they have those survival mechanisms that kick in."
But that doesn't mean the larger credit unions don't exhibit those same fight or flight skills. Xtend's clients range from $5 million to $500 million in assets. Collectively, the CUSO serves credit unions that represent 400,000 members and $3 billion in assets.
This year, Xtend launched an aggressive push to offer bookkeeping, mortgage and credit card servicing and conversion services. The CUSO also recently entered the mortgage servicing arena, providing escrow analysis, escrows payable, agency reporting for five credit unions and a total portfolio of $25 million. This newest service aims to provide further back-office support, Collins said. Some small to mid-size credit unions have generally been slow to get into the mortgage arena, he added, which in the long run, can stunt membership growth.
"I'm a firm believer that having mortgages is the number one indicator for primary financial institution," Collins said. "Too often, small to mid-size credit unions will settle for a relationship they don't own or control or they won't get in the game at all."
Xtend's first branded service was a shared branching consortium with more than 125 locations throughout Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and a "core group" in Washington through affiliation with its sister CUSO, CU*Northwest. Prior to that, a shared resource and staff unit was Xtend's initial entry into the market as a means for credit unions to reduce expenses. But don't call all of this outsourcing.
"We look at it as out-tasking," Collins explained. "You think about outsourcing, it really implies a third party organization that has stringent contracts, cancellation fees and implementation fees. There is a one-page contract with us. We designed it to be very fluid."
Collins also believes the word "outsourcing" automatically means someone internally may lose their job. Of the more than 35 credit unions Xtend provides bookkeeping services for, he said he doesn't know of a single person that has lost their job. One of the CUSO's clients, a 7,000 member credit union, wanted to launch an online credit card program but didn't have the staff to oversee it.
"We're not after anyone's job. We can be an extension of [a credit union's] work charts and we can offload some of those things that people do on a daily basis," Collins said.
Xtend has seen its Member Reach service triple over the last six months. Credit unions can set up platforms to send messages out to members each week. While the service doesn't produce a huge amount of revenue, Collins said that will come down the road through more online banking signees and more.
As another means to help small-staffed, smaller credit unions, the CUSO is in the process of developing its Xtension outbound call center to handle loan application responses and other inquiries and is planning to debut it in the next quarter, Collins said. The CUSO is currently beta testing the center with several credit unions.
With any product or service rollout, Collins said collaboration with other CUSOs has helped Xtend, well, extend its reach. It counts NACUSO and several others among its strategic partners. The collaboration is no different than what well-known entities like MySpace and eBay are doing, Collins said, adding there is always a focus on "seeking best of breed." Over the last nearly five years, Xtend's biggest challenge has been implementing services at a faster pace, Collins acknowledged. The limits the CUSO has on staffing and other resources sometimes slow launches down--"we don't jump into business, we typically wade in."
"Small to medium-sized credit unions have been locked out because of their size, or they couldn't do due diligence or because of lack of people. As you know, credit unions are closing their doors. They have to be able to compete," Collins said on how collaborating can help with this effort.