Evolution Paves Path to Growth, More Services for SmartSource Solutions
WALLINGFORD, Conn. -- Growth has come at a rapid clip for SmartSource Solutions, LLC considering the CUSO was initially launched in 2001 to offer only share draft processing, check collection, and wire transfer services.
The wholly-owned subsidiary of Constitution Corporate Credit Union has evolved to adding design and development services of Web sites, intranets, content management systems, database systems, e-commerce solutions to its offerings. SmartSource now has 172 clients and has grown from two to eight employees including three Web site designers and developers. The CUSO has 90 Web site design and redesign projects completed or currently contracted to complete. Its two league clients are the Connecticut Credit Union Association and the North Carolina Credit Union League. With growth often comes growing pains, but the key is to stay on pace, said Mike Pennell, executive director of SmartSource.
"The challenge is to manage growth and keep a high quality product," Pennell said.
The CUSO originally had the opportunity to do check processing out of state, said Bill White, executive vice president of Constitution Corporate CU. After regulatory changes, check processing moved out of SmartSource's realm and under the corporate's umbrella. It was then that strategic moves were made to add more services. Among the most requested services now are Web site development, Web Hosting and "CUboardroom," a Web-enabled communication channel used as a forum to discuss and integrate director issues and solutions and allows for electronic participation in board meetings for those directors unable to attend in person. Seventy-six institutions use CUboardroom representing nearly 1,800 users with an average of 23 users per credit union, according to the CUSO.
Another popular offering is the Member Polling feature, which Pennell says 85-90% of all new sites are set to deploy. The content management system module allows credit unions to create and display simple polls to online members. A template system helps with consistency and a database backend is capable of producing immediate results, Pennell said.
"We're trying to encourage a marketing approach that will appeal to younger members," Pennell said. "New branch locations, extended hours, a lot of credit unions will do fun polls."
Credit unions tend to know what they want, but some might need a little hand holding, Pennell said. Typically, they come in with second or third generation Web sites where there is no ability to control content. SmartSource works with a credit union in setting a new site map including how the information will be organized and the logistics and navigational aspects. It typically takes eight to ten weeks to get everything in place, but in that period credit unions are learning how to change banner ads and other content--"they can make changes 20 times a day."
"They want the ability to update," Pennell said.
Asset size seems not to be a factor. The CUSO has a $1.5 million credit union client with 700 members all the way up to several $1 billion ones. SmartSource is also seeing more interest in credit unions wanting to have a Spanish translated site, White said. The $112 million General Electric Employees Credit Union, for instance, has launched such an alternative site. The CUSO has completed four Spanish translated sites.
"NCUA has put important emphasis on emerging markets. People are looking to accommodate these markets," White said.
The bulk of SmartSource's growth has come through word of mouth, said Dan Poulin, senior director of business development and marketing.
"All of this has come from a grassroots perspective," Poulin said. "We've never had a sales person per se. We've partnered with other corporates and credit unions work with those corporates so it has helped us form those links.
Pennell, who came from U.S. Central Credit Union and was hired as the corporate's Web master in 1997, said the CUSO has a marketing budget albeit "just not a big one." His long-time connections to the corporate world have indeed helped SmartSource to partner with nearly half of them.
Looking ahead, the CUSO is close to completing a new database system for member and corporate checking, White said. The Corporate Information Exchange will operate on corporate checking, a billing system and customer relationships.
"What differentiates us from the local Web development guy down the street is this is what we do--we do credit union Web sites," Pennell said.