The banking crisis of the past couple years has created both challenge and opportunity for credit unions as they adapt to a new normal, and technology tools can be a key way for them to survive and thrive, according to a new report.
The Aite Group surveyed 83 credit unions ranging from under $100 million to more than $1 billion in assets in December and January and found that, specifically, mobile and online channels, along with serving small businesses, are at the top of the list of their strategies and anticipated information technology spend.
The report–"The IT Priorities of U.S. Credit Unions"–found that 65% of U.S. credit unions are spending more on IT in 2011 than they did the year before, and that 57% identified mobile banking as a "high priority."
Remote-deposit capture and online account opening also were strong priorities, as were social media channels. Meanwhile, 51% will "definitely" or "probably" add products and services to attract small businesses, and fully two-thirds plan to devote additional staff to commercial and small business lending.
All the respondents found implementing strategies to target young members either "challenging" or "very challenging," and 60% said technology vendors were the biggest influencers of their technology decisions as they devise new strategies.
"The role of technology in credit union strategies has grown more critical than ever before as a way to overcome these challenges," said report author Christine Barry. "Technology will also be used to attract new members, compete against larger institutions and ensure further growth and success."
She added, "The results of our survey indicate that many credit unions are on the right track, following a path that will bring sustainable future growth and new revenue streams." The report also made some specific recommendations for credit unions.
Move forward with plans to invest in mobile and online channels. They level the playing field with large institutions by providing a user- friendly experience that keeps members engaged and more available for online marketing and cross selling.
Take advantage of small business opportunities. "Small businesses remain an untapped market, and their satisfaction levels with banks have declined over the last couple years," Barry said, adding that "going after this segment will require much more advanced small business banking solutions than those currently in place at most credit unions."
Leverage the things you already do well. "Most credit unions already offer very high levels of service," the Aite Group report said. "These levels can be further enhanced through the use of technology and member analytics solutions." Specifically, invest in tracking member activities to create better product bundles that meet their future needs.
Technology vendors, particularly core processors, also were a topic of discussion in the report.
"A core banking system is often the largest IT investment a credit union will make. It’s therefore not surprising that a credit union’s core banking vendor is also often its primary technology partner and technology decision influencer," Barry said.
Limiting the number of vendor relationships also limits integration and vendor management issues and often leads to discounted pricing through bundled offerings, she said.
Core providers with broad product portfolios, in fact, are in an "advantageous position over smaller, more focused technology vendors," Barry said, adding that the most important consideration for credit unions when selecting a technology partner is the ability to meet most of their technology needs.
However, credit unions aren’t as satisfied with their primary technology vendor as they could be, Barry said the survey results showed. Only 8% described the functionality within the solutions offered by their primary technology vendor as "fully" meeting their needs, with half saying those needs were "partially" or "to a rather limited extent" met by that vendor.
The report made two specific recommendations to technology vendors.
Focus on education. Vendors are in a unique position to effectively advise credit unions and should make the effort to "truly understand the unique needs of each and every one of their credit union customers." The result will be deeper, multi-product relationships, Barry said.
Make data actionable. Vendors should try to create new ways to utilize the valuable information already available from its solutions and would find many credit unions willing to pay for that actionable analysis.