The nation's two nationwide shared branching networks took large strides into member service and mobile banking with two announcements at CUNA's Governmental Affairs Conference last week.
Both announcements came from Financial Service Centers Cooperative Inc., the shared branching network that had cut the deals to make them possible, but FSCC emphasized that the innovations were open to all shared branching CUs regardless of direct network affiliation.
The first innovation allows even members of shared branching credit unions that don't have mobile banking to be able to access their CU accounts via text using a smartphone. Thanks to a partnership between cuwireless and FSCC, the innovation allows members of shared branching credit unions to obtain their balances and transaction histories with a simple text message. They will also be to transfer money in between their different credit union accounts, including making payments to loan accounts, FSCC said. But money transferred from savings to checking via text message would still be subject to the Regulation D limit of no more than six such transfers per month, the CUSO added. The service is free to members of credit unions that are directly affiliated with FSCC, but members of credit unions that use shared branching through an "extended network" will face a charge of ten cents per text transaction. "Our goal was to make mobile banking even easier to use," said FSCC CEO Sarah Canepa Bang. "For some people, even a smartphone can seem slow if you want on a limited range of services." Members of affiliated CUs that want to sign up for the service can do so through the CUSwirl website.
The second innovation helps members of shared branching credit unions more easily and cheaply fill their needs for foreign currency when traveling internationally for business or pleasure.
Stemming from a partnership between FSCC and a leading online foreign exchange company, the innovation allows participating CUs to offer their members foreign exchange.
"Our motivation for this was to really offer credit unions something that they had to send their members to a bank to do," explained Evan Shelan, CEO and founder of eZforex, an online foreign exchange company.
"We are committed to offering our credit unions the best benefits in financial services," noted Bang. "Our relationship with eZforex will provide access to a much-needed product for consumers who travel internationally. We are pleased to offer our members the ability to purchase foreign currency quickly and conveniently without experiencing credit card surcharges, unnecessary fees and inflated exchange rates."
The partnership will allow the members of participating credit unions to buy or sell foreign currency online or through the shared branch outlets, the companies said.
The foreign exchange company cited U.S government figures that 77 million passengers traveled from the U.S. to international destinations in 2010 and spent roughly $207 billion. "An opportunity virtually untapped in the credit union industry–until now," the company said.
Shelan explained that the Longview, Texas-based company had gotten under way in 1992 and incorporated in 1994. The company really took off in 2001 and 2002 when it recognized the value of being able to offer foreign exchange services to travelers and firms online.
Because foreign exchange rates are set by combinations of markets and different governments, the only way that foreign exchange companies have had to make money has been though fees on the service. These have traditionally been fairly high, particularly in tourist and traveler venues like airports and seaports, Shellan explained. On average, rates in those places can range as high as 11%, with banks coming in at around 7% to 8%. By contrast, eZforex charges between 4% and 5%, according to a company spokesman.
Further, the relationship allows the credit union, if it so chooses, to subsidize the members' purchase of foreign currency as a member benefit, the company noted.
The company acknowledged that contemporary ATM networks allow ATM cardholders to draw money from the US accounts in local currency and that would seem to mitigate the need to purchase foreign currency before a trip. But with an average of three such purchases per trip, all at high fees, a credit union member would do far better to buy the currency they needed ahead of time, the firm said.