WASHINGTON -- Financial Service Center Cooperative, one of two nationwide credit union-owned shared branch networks, has announced a pair of alliances that promises to help further the expansion of service options for credit union members nationwide.
The first alliance is between FSCC and Credit Union 24, the national credit union ATM network headquartered in Florida.
Neither organization would characterize what, specifically and tangibly, their alliance would mean, but each emphasized the organic, natural aspect of working more closely together.
"Our two organizations are remarkably similar," said Credit Union 24 CEO James Park. "Both Credit Union 24 and FSCC are member-owned cooperatives, and have a history of innovation to empower credit unions. We share the common goal of helping credit unions face the challenges of an increasingly competitive environment, and we'll explore opportunities to share our technologies and partners to strengthen the credit union community. Most important, this alliance is about bringing together our respective strengths to focus on the needs of credit unions, not on growing our own organizations."
"FSCC's core value of cooperation for the benefit of credit unions extends to our partners," said Sarah Canepa Bang, CEO of FSCC. "None of us can do this alone, and in fact, when we work together, we achieve things that even the largest companies couldn't imagine. It's a little harder, and it requires long-term thinking, but it's definitely worth it."
The second alliance is with PSCU Financial Services, the payments processing CUSO with at least 500 credit unions processing their cards with First Data Corp.
The first result of this collaboration will be to join PSCU Financial Services' mobile technology with FSCC's interface and delivery channel to create a mobile banking platform. The two CUSOs plan to begin offering mobile banking to credit unions as early as May 2008. Officials at both companies report that test transactions have been successful and are confident of a spring roll out.
The service will provide users access to share, checking, bill pay, credit card, and prepaid account information anywhere and anytime via a mobile device or cell phone. In addition, members will experience feature-rich functionality such as funds transfer, bill payment, and checking transaction history. The mobile service was designed to be easily integrated into credit unions' internal systems, the two organizations said.
Credit unions on the FSCC network will be able to use their existing shared branch interface to offer the mobile banking service. The shared branch interface eliminates costly implementation fees and host system programming, they said.
What PSCU brings to the table is its call center expertise as well as its relationship with mFoundry, the firm providing the key authentication software for the mobile transaction, according to David Serlo, CEO of PSCU Financial Services, and Bang.
FSCC will bring its shared branching interface to the deal which, at least in the beginning, will only be open to FSCC credit unions as a group but will allow others to join individually. This is a departure from the norm in shared branching, which has generally served credit union members from shared branching credit unions regardless of the network the credit unions use.
The CEOs explained that the chief benefits of the new offering will be to allow CUs, at a reasonable cost, to offer their members account access in a more convenient, cost-effective, and streamlined way.
"Most of the calls to the call centers we see now are to do mundane, simple things like checking deposits," Serlo explained. "This technology will allow credit unions to more easily let members check their own deposits and free up their call center operators to take more substantive and complicated calls," he explained.
"This will let CU operators move away from just dispensing basic information," Bang added.
Neither executive would speculate on what future products or services the alliance might offer, but Bang said that the FSCC was not looking at offering cards in the future.
Reaction to the news has been fairly muted. Stan Hollen, CEO of the competing ATM and shared branching CUSO, CO-OP Financial Services, downplayed the alliances, noting that there was nothing concrete announced in the deal between FSCC and Credit Union 24 and adding that the CO-OP was working on its own mobile banking service which it will also offer in a partnership with mFoundry, he said.
The announcement comes at a time when there are some signs that FSCC's other recent innovation, offering shared branching services on the Vcom units distributed across many 7-11 stores nationwide, may be running into some resistance.
Some of the opposition comes from what some CUs have seen as one of the weaknesses of offering shared branching at non-credit union owned kiosks like Vcoms. The CUs complain that because they are not CU-owned, Vcom owners can move or remove the kiosks whenever they wish and for whatever reason -- even if that might leave the CU's members without shared branching access he or she has come to depend upon.
This happened to some CU members in Virginia who found that their access to shared branching kiosks disappeared when the owner removed the machines and replaced them with standard ATMs but left the Vcom locations on the network's locator Web site.
Further, enough CUs have concerns in this area that the issue has gotten the attention of the board of directors of the Credit Union Service Centers Network, Inc., the overarching organization that controls the overall shared branching effort between the two new networks. That board, which is made up of representatives from both nationwide networks, voted to change existing shared branching policy and allow shared branching CUs to opt-out of using the Vcom machines.
Standing CUSCNI policy had been that participating shared branching credit unions have to allow their members to use the full range of shared branching services but CUSCNI received complaints from enough CUs that it felt it had to change the policy, according to Carroll Beach, president of CO-OP Shared Branching.
Beach emphasized that the majority of CUs were fine and enthusiastic with the Vcoms but that a few had expressed reservations and CUSCNI decided to change policy -- and network software -- to allow CU's more flexibility.
He also said some CUs had an issue with the Vcom costs. "Most transactions their members were conducting at Vcoms could be conducted at ATMs at a lot less cost," he explained.