Insurance CUSO Debut Sparks Momentum to Build More
Plans were already on the table for South Carolina Federal Credit Union to launch another credit union service organization when one of the biggest threats to the industry started to reverberate.
The $1.3 billion cooperative in North Charleston, S.C., wanted to build another CUSO after having an indirect lending CUSO in place for years, said Bonnie Ciuffo, chief information officer. Some early discussions led to which directions to go in.
"What really pushed it along was the threat and loss of interchange," Ciuffo recalled. "We knew we had to find some alternative means of income. Our choice is not to fee our members to death."
With that goal in mind, SCFCU went on a fact finding tour that included the insurance CUSO at the $1.6 billion Founders Federal Credit Union in Lancaster. The visit turned out to be an ongoing collaboration that cumulated in the launch of South Carolina Financial Solutions LLC in May.
The CUSO will offer vision and dental plans as wells as life insurance and Medicare supplements, said Ciuffo, who will also serve as the subsidiary’s president. Some of the credit union’s employees have already signed on with the vision plan. Ciuffo, the first signee, said she was impressed that new enrollees had spread the word so quickly without the aid of any marketing from SCFCU.
Founders was instrumental in helping South Carolina Financial Solutions get off the ground so quickly, Ciuffo said. One of the first steps was hiring an insurance agent, who registered under Founder’s insurance CUSO. Through its vendor contracts, SCFCU’s new venture was also able to secure better pricing, she added.
After waiting for an existing life insurance agreement with a major industry company to terminate, plans were set at press time to launch the CUSO’s own offerings. To serve a growing niche, pet insurance could also be added to the lineup. The service is currently offered to SCFCU’s employees. Ciuffo said a Tower Group consultation meeting with insurance specialists helped to recognize a potentially untapped segment.
Another product gearing up to roll out this month are Medicare supplements such as prescription medicine. Ciuffo knows firsthand how confusing the process can be. She said her mother was bombarded with solicitations and overwhelmed in deciding which plan would be the best choice.
"The benefit we have is our members trust us. They can come in, sit down with us and we can help them pick the right plan," Ciuffo said.
For now, the CUSO will serve SCFCU’s members. If volume builds, Ciuffo said the next move may be to offer entry to other credit unions in the market. Meanwhile, members will hear more at "lunch and learn" meetings. The insurance agent is in the process of visiting branches to bring staff up to speed. Again, depending on volume, and to prevent overloading the new agent, Ciuffo said she may approach her board again at the end of the year to hire another agent.
With the insurance CUSO up and running, SCFCU has goals to launch even more subsidiaries. The one that has the most momentum is a compliance CUSO set to open for business by the end of 2011. The idea sprang from a conversation one of the credit union compliance officers had with Ciuffo had after attending a conference. Ciuffo wanted to get a feel for what some of the timely topics were so she asked the officer to ask attendees about payment card industry standards because of the breaches nationwide that had occurred over the past few years.
"Only one person knew what she was talking about," Ciuffo said, "We have been inundated with regulations" but there may still be a void in how credit unions need to be compliant with PCI.
After talking with SCFCU’s board, the credit union turned to Founders again to co-collaborate on the compliance CUSO. Ciuffo acknowledged that the intent is "not to make a boat load of money but to help credit unions" with their needs.
Rather than offer legal opinions and state law advisory, the new entity will focus on federal regulations. The credit union is in the process of building an internal database that houses compliance policies and procedures. Ciuffo said if that works out, they will expand it for other credit unions to use.
"When there’s a change in the regulation, we won’t have to start from scratch," she said. "The big goal is to create a website to publish articles and blogs about different kinds of regulations and best practices."
Talks are also underway to explore other CUSOs. Ciuffo said she is working with the team at SCFCU’s data warehouse provider to come up with data integrity and cleansing solutions to potentially market to mid-tier market credit unions. More details will be ironed at when she meets with company managers at CUNA’s upcoming America’s Credit Union Conference and Expo.
A human resources CUSO is being explored as well. To gauge interest, a survey will be sent out to area CUs. Ciuffo said offering SCFCU’s service center space to lease for training might be a consideration.