Picture an online community where credit unions and banks peacefully coexist. Users from each type of institution can log in and share useful banking-related information, such as written policies and training materials, which other users download and review completely free of charge.
You can stop dreaming because this community exists on cbanc Network, a Web-based collaboration platform for financial institutions launched in January 2009 by several banking industry veterans in Austin, Texas. Think of cbanc Network as a combination of Facebook, Amazon and Craigslist for banking professionals. New users can create a profile and search for content, such as a sample compliance policy or risk assessment.
Users earn points based on their activity level on the site, which they can use to “purchase” content from other financial institutions. The network also includes vendor reviews posted by users, a Q&A forum and reports completed by institutions following their compliance exams, which users find helpful in preparation for their own exams.
cbanc Network President Myers Dupuy, who works alongside founder/CEO Hank Seale– the founder of several online companies including voice banking technology company Regency Voice Systems–said he and Seale originally guessed the financial industry would be one of the least likely industries to willingly use a collaborative online platform.
“At first, we asked ourselves, how can we get people who are outrageously busy and sometimes technically challenged, to go online and put their work at risk with no incentive?” Dupuy explained.
Dupuy and Seale proved it was possible–more than 3,000 financial institutions use cbanc Network, including 305 credit unions, and the site’s membership has experienced a growth rate of 1000% in the past year. The points-based bartering system allows financial institutions to access valuable content in exchange for sharing their own work, Dupuy said. The site also comes with privacy controls. If, for example, a credit union wanted to hide all of its posts from banks, it could do so. Posts can also be made anonymously, and when a user buys content, he or she must click through a legal disclaimer that holds the supplier of the content harmless.
“Credit unions and community banks are dying on the vine because of a lack of resources and increasing regulations,” Dupuy said. “Each one of them has strengths and weaknesses, so we thought, we if can mold them together, we can allow them to share their strengths with one another. It’s important for the industry and for the economy.”
What’s perhaps most unusual about the platform is that it’s a place where banks and CUs interact peacefully. When the site was first launched, Dupuy said the company asked its initial users–banks–if credit unions should join their network or start one of their own. The bank users replied that a separate network was unnecessary. However, banks and credit unions do have the option of ignoring one another completely on cbanc Network.
“One concession we made is that banks and credit unions can choose to hide their content from the other market,” Dupuy said. “But no one does it.”
While CUs joined the network later in the game and currently account for about 10% of the site’s total membership, Dupuy said the advantage for CUs is that when they do come on board, they’ll have access to a plethora of work contributed by banks. This is especially valuable for CUs looking to dive deeper into commercial services, he said.
“Credit unions that come on to the network start off with a treasure trove of content that will make their days easier,” he said.
Dupuy added that by joining the network, credit unions can potentially save thousands of dollars on services they may have otherwise received from a pricey consultant.
“Let’s say you’re looking for a policy on social media,” Dupuy said. “You can search our network and receive 25 different policies, which are some of the most robust solutions out there. Or you can spend $25,000 on a consultant and just get a single perspective.”
One credit union that can vouch for the value of cbanc Network is the $405.7 million, Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Air Academy FCU. Fraud Specialist Carolyn Marsala said she heard about the site through a different banking-related online network, and so far, she’s downloaded a few sample policies, which helped Air Academy FCU develop its own written policies.
Marsala said she likes the fact that she can search for documents from financial institutions similar in size to Air Academy FCU and easily communicate with other users on the network. She’s also found filling out surveys to be a simple way to earn points on the site.
“I was pleasantly surprised to see that banks were willing to share their information with credit unions,” Marsala said. “The content provides the background information we need, and it saves us a lot of time.”
Jodi Rathbun-Briggs, assistant vice president of risk management for the $1.2 billion, Pittsfield, Mass.-based Greylock FCU, has contributed content, such as a new member business-risk assessment and purchased content, like Bank Secrecy Act-related forms and policies, on cbanc Network during the past few months. She calls the network a very cool “swap meet” where credit unions can find high quality, credible content and turn their intelligence into trading dollars.
“It’s wonderful for credit unions because we struggle with not having access to resources,” Rathbun-Biggs said. “It’s very efficient. If an examiner or an auditor said we need to be doing something, we can go on cbanc Network and see that someone else has been through that pain before. It saves us from having to do the research, and I don’t have to go to my boss and ask for, say, $600 for a new book.”
cbanc Network did not begin as a for-profit venture, but Dupuy said the company is implementing new strategies that will allow it to earn money while still offering a free service to its users. These strategies include signing on advertisers and developing original surveys, reports and business intelligence content that can be sold.
In the future, Dupuy said he sees cbanc Network becoming the go-to clearinghouse for financial goods. The company also plans to integrate a virtual trade show platform, where vendors can reserve a virtual booth for a fee and share their services with bankers. He said new credit unions are joining the site at an average rate of 50 per month and expects rapid growth to continue, with total membership likely doubling within four to six months.
“We understand credit unions are collaborative to begin with and we applaud them for that,” Dupuy said. “This network provides a more efficient way to do that on a more comprehensive scale.”