Twenty years ago, in the Credit Union Times inaugural issue, there was an article about Payment Systems for Credit Unions questioning whether there was enough business for the CUSO and its new competitors in the card processing arena.
Today, PSCU Financial Services handles processing and an array of other services that didn't even exist back then-think online banking and bill pay-with a client list of 1,300 credit unions representing more than 14 million individual accounts.
Newest among those services is the Florida-based company's bid to use high-tech gear to deliver one of the first tools of member service-reaching out and touching by phone.
Called BCP Digital Messaging, the offering extends the use of the company's existing automated messaging system from marketing to emergency alerts, providing the ability for credit unions to make up to 10,000 calls an hour alerting members to how hurricanes, earthquakes, power outages and other emergency situations are affecting the credit union and those who depend on it.
"BCP uses the same outbound dialer as our marketing campaigns. It also is used by our collection product to call delinquent accounts, and we saw the opportunity for our credit unions to rapidly contact their membership to deliver any kind of message they wanted," said Peter Grandelli, PSCU's chief operating officer.
"It's really a kind of business continuity process," he said, "and a natural complement to our call center operations." The company is working to integrate its original call centers in St. Petersburg and Phoenix with the former Digital Dialogue operation it recently bought in suburban Detroit, now all working under the Total Member Care brand.
A major step in that process will occur in the coming months as phone switches are upgraded to allow card and core transaction processes to transact seamlessly between centers, Grandelli said.
"That will give us the real business continuity of being able to off load calls to any of our sites at any time. We're only a couple months away now," he said. Reaching that point will allow the centers to operate together in the event of weather impacting operations by workers, for example, unable to get to the centers because of snow in Michigan, a hurricane in Florida or a wildfire in Arizona.
The past few weeks have been a learning experience for both sides of that equation. Just ask Julie Rife, manager of financial services at $258 million NAPUS FCU in Alexandria, Va.
"We were closed from Friday the fifth at 12:30 p.m. until we opened two hours late on Friday the 12th," Rife said of the February snowstorms that paralyzed much of the Middle Atlantic states.
"We normally use PSCU as our after-hours link to members and for overflow, but they were sort of like a lifeline for us during the snowstorm," said Rife, who manages a 10-person call center at her 37,000-member institution.
"Without them we would have had a huge disaster, I'm sure," Rife said, "and we learned a lot from the experience. We're going to include in our disaster recovery plans now the ways we saw we could improve."
One of the ways credit unions can improve their response is with the automated dialing service that PSCU now is adapting for emergency use, the company said. The first user is not yet on board but Grandelli said he expects it to gain traction, especially among credit unions that have successfully used the solution for marketing campaigns.
That includes $248 million America's Christian Credit Union in Glendora, Calif.
"We have a disaster recovery plan in place but could probably use that if we had to reach our local membership quickly about something like that," said Bryan London, the 26,000-member CU's vice president of marketing.
He said his credit union already has used the calling system to market a term share certificate product. The first taker walked into the branch within two hours and the system recorded 87% phones reached in its 8,000 calls.
"That's actually pretty phenomenal," London said.