Visit www.summitcreditunion.com, and you might forget you’re perusing a financial institution’s website.
After deciding a simple, purely informational site just wouldn’t cut it, the $1.7 billion, Madison, Wis.-based credit union called upon its Web management vendor, the Barre, Vermont-based L9, to create something interesting, customizable, and most importantly, interactive.
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The result: An aesthetically pleasing website armed with features that allow Summit CU members and staffers to build meaningful connections.
The credit union first connected with L9 in 2006 when the vendor conducted a website redesign for the credit union. This redesign provided Summit with a visual upgrade from the bland, brochure-style site it had been using, but it wasn’t interactive in any way, according to the cooperative.
The two companies began contemplating the incorporation of interactive features on the site shortly after, and L9 created several mini-sites for the credit union to help promote the community campaigns it had been working on: “Pay it Forward,” “Project Money” and the “DoMore Endeavor.” Still, Summit wanted to extend the concept of interaction to its entire site.
“The goal was to have our website be a place where members can do something, and for them to have a reason to go back,” said Carl Walser, Internet services manager at Summit. “We started to get more into the idea of personalization, and we built in a lot of ways for people to interact on the site.”
In the spring of 2011, the credit union rolled out its current website, which includes many ways for members to communicate with Summit staff members and each other. Every Web page within the site provides some way for members to interact and tell their stories, said Jamie Bay, marketing manager at Summit.
The inviting, easy-to-navigate website has sections of money management articles that allow members to leave comments and a community tab that includes local event listings and group message boards. Also on the community tab is “In Your Words,” which allows members to submit responses to finance-related questions chosen by the credit union. This month, it’s “What’s the one thing you’ll always splurge on?” Each month, one lucky member’s response gets printed in the credit union’s e-newsletter.
Another feature, “My Summit,” allows individual and business members to create a profile and customized view of the website. Members can bookmark their favorite articles, launch discussions with other members in their communities and post ratings and reviews of credit union products and services. A feature called “My Goals” lets Summit members keep track of their personal and financial goals.
“When the vision for Summit’s latest website was first presented, the idea was to focus more on the content and articles, instead of information about products, services and rates,” said L9 President Spencer Pryce. “A few times I even asked ‘can we really do this?’ So, it was very exciting.”
Walser said since the new website’s launch, Summit has seen thousands of members sign up for My Summit, and hundreds of member comments have appeared on the site. Both he and Bay noted that the credit union’s slick new site might even be setting a trend in the industry.
“I’ve been getting calls from other credit unions who say they came across our site and started checking out what our members are saying,” Bay said.
Walser has also noticed a shift in website design.
“A year ago, there were maybe one or two credit unions that were going beyond the basic, brochure-style site design, but now many credit unions are moving to the interactive style.”
Bay said since the site redesign allows credit union staff to interact with members instantly, improved member service has been an added benefit. “Now, we can look at the monitor and turn situations around right away,” she noted. “We can answer questions a little better.”
Pryce and L9 Design Director Jason Powell said their implementation of Summit’s new website was a collaborative effort and an experience that even led the vendor to discover innovative website ideas.
“It was exciting because Summit gave us the opportunity to help us move into a place we wanted to be with the Web,” Powell said. “A lot of our clients weren’t looking at the Web as a communication tool, but Summit was, and they also wanted to push their brand. It was progressive.”
Pryce and Powell and said one of L9’s main priorities is to use tools on the Web to help credit union clients solve problems.
“I like to translate a credit union’s brand to its website,” Powell said. “We’ll also learn what kinds of problems a credit union’s IT department, marketing department and even CEO is facing, and then figure out how to solve those problems.”
Having worked on many credit union websites, Pryce and Powell are well versed in what works and what doesn’t. Now serving nearly 30 credit unions, L9 is building a presence in the industry. They said while several aspects are crucial to any credit union website, such as loan rates and online banking functionality, one key element credit unions must keep in mind is that maintaining a complex website requires constant use of resources.
“Credit unions need to have an understanding of how to manage their features,” Pryce said. “It’s one thing for them to have a vision of what they want, but it’s also going to require ongoing support.”
From a design perspective, Powell said it’s important to emphasize consistency and effective branding. The biggest mistake credit unions make with their websites? Pryce said it’s not giving them enough attention. “It’s something that needs constant attention and needs to be in the forefront from a marketing perspective. The Web is a constantly evolving thing.”