Despite having a small percentage of business members, some credit unions believe they are now better positioned to grow their penetration in the small business market than they were prior to the start of the financial crisis a few years ago.
Aite Group revealed that forecast in a new report, "The Small Business Strategies of U.S. Credit Unions." The data also showed that 17% of credit unions believe small businesses will make up between 1% and 30% of their total member base three years from now, compared with only 4% that have achieved this to date.
Still, business members represent a small percentage of credit unions’ total member base–less than 10% of the membership for approximately 62% of survey participants. In many of those cases, the percentage is less than 5%.
Aite said it surveyed 83 credit unions primarily among the top U.S. 1,000, as they tend to be the most active users of technology within the industry and are the most likely to serve small business members.
"New and proposed regulations, the need to identify new revenue streams, and a slowdown in membership growth are driving credit unions to grow their penetration in the small business market," said Christine Barry, research director with Aite Group and author of the report.
"Winning small businesses will not be easy," Barry added. "[It] will require a well-thought-out strategy and effective use of strategic technologies. For those institutions with the right plan in place, the rewards will far outweigh the costs."
Indeed, three factors are driving the focus on building up member business services. The regulatory environment has led some credit unions to compensate for expected losses in fee-based revenue resulting from new and proposed industry regulations by identifying new revenue streams. Business banking may be one channel to consider, Aite reported.
Another driver is the slowdown in membership growth, the firm offered. While 92 million Americans are members, the rate of growth has declined over the last few years. Aite said small business and Gen Y segments are still under-penetrated markets.
Credit unions have also shifted their attention to business services because the gap between what small businesses need and the products and services being offered to them by their financial institutions remains wide. This gap can create a market opportunity for those institutions armed with the right tools to serve them, the data showed.
Aite estimated that only about 6% of U.S. small businesses generating less than $10 million in annual revenue consider a credit union to be their primary financial institution. The five largest banks in the United States currently enjoy the greatest share of this segment’s business, while community banks have seen their penetration increase more rapidly than all other financial institution segments over the last few years, according to the report.
Most of the businesses served by credit unions have been treated like and served similar products as consumer members. Barry said such a strategy will no longer be effective as the needs of these businesses become more sophisticated.
"Credit unions must ramp up their business banking capabilities or risk losing current business members to competitors and missing out on the new market opportunities that will be critical to their future success," Barry offered.
One way to make that happen is through technology, Aite found. Small business owners are more technologically savvy than they were in past, and are increasingly expecting their financial institutions to provide them with the types of capabilities and online experience they have grown accustomed to from online retailers such as Amazon, Barry said.
The tools that may help credit unions build their business service presence include remote-deposit capture, online business banking, mobile banking and social media, according to the report.
Aite said credit unions have historically been much slower adopters of remote deposit capture than their bank counterparts. While nearly all of the 100 largest U.S. banks and almost half of U.S. banks beyond the top 100 already offer the technology, far fewer credit unions, only about 10%, are live with it. Still, 42% of survey participants described remote deposit capture for business members as either a high priority for their organization or something their organization probably will deploy over the next two years.
Credit unions have made further strides in online banking adoption, Aite found. By the end of 2011, 60% of credit unions expect at least 40% of their business members to be banking online while 35% expect at least 60% to be doing so. Eighty-two percent said that they will definitely be investing in new channels like mobile over the next two years.
The use of social media to reach small business members is also expected to continue. An 2010 Aite survey found that 90% of CUs will have a dedicated budget for social media efforts by 2012.