For credit unions that require branch employees to meet regularly at a central location, the cost of flights and gas can add up. And not to mention that time spent waiting at the airport and in traffic equates to lost hours of production employees will never get back.
Enter video conferencing, a concept that allows employees to “meet” from miles away, and recent advances in technology are making it easier and less expensive than ever to implement.
The idea dates back to the 1980s, when businesses began holding video conferences via satellite. Today, video conferencing vendors offer Internet-based services that allow businesses to hold meetings and educational sessions with participants at multiple locations, as well as share files, choose from a variety of screen views and record conferences for later use.
Walt Laskos, principal of credit union consulting firm The Laskos Group, is a video conferencing veteran – in the 1980s, he helped implement the technology for the U.S. Catholic Church and at the corporate level at Key Bank – and says it’s still a cutting edge communication technique that offers many benefits to credit unions.
“If you want to grow and compete, you need to communicate and harness all channels of communication,” Laskos said. “The dynamic of video conferencing is suitable for board meetings and teachings.”
Tom Toperczer, vice president of marketing for San Diego, Calif.-based video conferencing vendor Nefsis, said the infrastructure components required to implement video conferencing were much greater prior to the advent of cloud computing, which Nefsis began using to facilitate its services in 2008. These requirements included purchasing additional servers and securing guaranteed bandwidth, he said.
“Now, all of that is done in the cloud, so the cost and complexity has been revolutionized,” Toperczer said. “Almost everything that you can do in person, you can do in an online meeting. It’s clicking instead of flying and driving. In L.A., for example, a cross-town drive could be an hour, so you’re saving time, gas and trouble.”
Toperczer said the typical credit union business structure – one headquarters location and multiple branch offices – is the ideal model for video conferencing. He said the two most-popular capacities in which his CU clients use video conferencing are inter-office employee meetings and training sessions.
Some video conferencing vendors, including Nefsis, provide software that allows businesses to connect using their own computer and television screens, while others, such as the Pleasanton, Calif.-based Polycom, sell full video conference room systems complete with high-definition screens.
By using in-house equipment, the start-up cost for video conferencing can be relatively low – Toperczer said credit unions can purchase a company-quality webcam for about $50 or an HD webcam for around $100, and use their own computer monitors, television screens and/or projectors to view video.
The Killeen, Texas-based, $118 million Texas Partners Credit Union began using Nefsis’ video conferencing services about five years ago to facilitate quarterly meetings for employees at its four branches. Texas Partners Information Technology Director Christian Mulvey said thanks to the eliminated travel costs, the CU is now holding monthly employee meetings.
Mulvey said his CU also uses the technology to bring together board members (many of whom are retired and like to travel) for meetings, as well as to share documents such as Power Point presentations and record sessions. Texas Partners is also planning to solve issues with members via video conferencing, Mulvey added.
“It helps us maintain a sense of community with our employees, and it allows our board members to attend meetings from afar,” Mulvey said.
Video conferencing technology isn’t just being used in credit unions themselves – credit union leagues are leveraging it as well. The New Jersey Credit Union League just began using it to host educational sessions for league members around the state and plans to record sessions to post on its website as well as use the technology to share promotional videos.
“Traveling is a nightmare in New Jersey, so a two- to four-hour training session would mean a whole day out of the office,” NJCUL Director of Education & Training Barbara Agin said. “It puts the delivery of the information in a whole different ball field, and we can reach more people.”
NJCUL CEO Paul Gentile said video conferencing provides the league with a great opportunity to keep its members informed and stay current.
“Let’s say there’s a legislative push, and credit unions all need to call their congressmen,” Gentile said. “I can (use video conferencing) to go on and say it live. And it’s hip and modern. It shows that we’re being progressive as a league.”
Just as with the implementation of any new software, there’s a learning curve involved with video conferencing, and users mentioned a few pointers that can help make the process successful. For example, Agin and Laskos said that video conference facilitators must make an effort to effectively engage all of their participants.
“As a teacher, your style must change,” Laskos said. “You have to make sure you are engaging all of these people. It’s about communicating effectively, not just communicating.”
Laskos added that while inexpensive webcam options are available, it’s important to invest in high-quality equipment. The NJCUL’s video conferencing equipment is supplied by Panasonic, which the league says allows for a top-notch experience.
“When you do this, you want to make sure you do it right,” Laskos said. “If you don’t, you will lose (your participants’) interest. The resolution of your cameras is representative of you and your brand.”
Nefsis offers a tip sheet to its customers offering suggestions to increase their chances of video conferencing success. These tips include: Make eye contact with your audience, stay away from back or side lighting, avoid wearing stripes, use headsets for the best audio quality and make slow moves and gestures.
The vendor also just released a white paper detailing its “five key factors for success with your business video conferencing system.” According to Nefsis, credit unions should look for a vendor that provides ease of use, secure accessibility, integrated collaboration tools, HD quality video and low financial risk.
While practitioners say much can be accomplished via video conferencing, they agree there’s no replacement for one-on-one interaction. Large special events such as statewide conferences should always be conducted in person, they said.
“Ultimately, there’s no replacement for one on one,” Mulvey said. “But times are changing, and companies are looking for ways of doing new things for cost savings.”