Fifteen credit unions are betting the time is right for a credit union centric digital wallet. That’s why they threw their weight behind startup CU Wallet, the brainchild of Paul Fiore, founder of Digital Insight, and Kirk Drake, CEO of the Hagerstown, Md.-based CUSO Ongoing Operations.
The move was announced in a Sept. 23 press conference and elaborated upon in follow-up interviews with the principals. Details remain vague, but officials say the driving force behind CU Wallet is a belief that credit unions need to jump on the digital wallet trend before competitors like PayPal and Google Wallet grab credit union members for themselves.
“CU Wallet provides credit unions the opportunity to not only stay competitive, but to potentially leap ahead of other financial institutions,” said Dennis Pierce, CEO of $1.8 billion, Lenexa, Kan.-based CommunityAmerica Credit Union, one of the 15 backers of CU Wallet. “We’ve seen significant mobile adoption at CommunityAmerica, and we believe mobile wallet adoption is in the near future.”
Mary Monahan, executive vice president and research director of mobile with Javelin Strategy + Research, said her research indicates that “consumers trust their financial institutions with their money and their preference is that this is where they will also get their digital wallet.”
Monahan, who stressed at the time of the interview she had no knowledge of CU Wallet, said early adopting consumers already are making their digital wallet choices and that financial institutions waiting to offer the payment channel run a real risk of being left behind.
Carlisle & Gallagher Consulting Group’s Peter Olynick, a payments expert based in Charlotte, N.C., agreed.
“CG believes that half of today’s smartphone users will be using those devices to make routine purchases within the next three to five years. As such, we believe most financial institutions should be actively working to partner/develop a solution for their customers,” he said.
Next Page: One Nevada
Paul Parrish, chief financial officer at the $697 million One Nevada Credit Union based in Las Vegas, said the other factor setting the stage for CU Wallet is the continued erosion in interchange income. He said revenues generated via transactions inside a credit union owned mobile wallet may well help replace those dwindling interchange monies, a primary reason he said One Nevada is supporting the initiative.
“Currently available e-wallets aren’t in One Nevada’s best interest,” Parrish said during a Sept. 23 press call. “The best example is Google Wallet. You’d think Google Wallet is harmless. But the problem is the impact on member loyalty. Google has inserted itself between us and the merchant.”
That division, Parrish said, could lead to long-term member erosion.
Futurist Jared Nichols, a strategy consultant and principal of the Boone, N.C.-based Jared Nichols Group, pointed to another advantage that would accrue to credit unions if they had their own wallet.
“Credit unions, like other financial institutions, realize that their future is dependent on deep insight into their current and future customers. The digital wallet allows them to bypass third party data miners,” he said.
Drake, too, hit the theme that wallets may generate substantial data that will lead to better member insights and possibly also profits. Drake supported that by pointing to other players— notably Google—are deep into finding value in mobile wallet transaction data. If they can do it, he said, so can credit unions.
Fiore, in an interview, said he envisions a short road to market for CU Wallet.
“We should be live in credit unions by Q1 2014,” he said.
That is because the CU Wallet game plan is to license existing wallet technology. By using proven tools, CU Wallet will be able to go active with considerable speed, he said.
Also part of the plan is forming a CUSO to own the CU Wallet products, Drake said in an interview.
“There will be a subscription agreement where participating credit unions sign operating agreements,” he said.
The 15 credit unions already announced would be enough to support a CUSO, he said, adding that the group has confidence more credit unions will sign up.
Other credit unions that have involved themselves in CU Wallet are the $747 million Quorum Credit Union in Purchase, N.Y.; the $2.29 billion Affinity Federal Credit Union in Basking Ridge, N.J.; the $979 million Workers’ Credit Union in Fitchburg, Mass.; the $1.45 billion Arizona State Credit Union in Phoenix; $1.6 billion University Federal Credit Union in Austin, Texas; the $3.2 billion Kinecta Federal Credit Union in Manhattan Beach, Calif.; the $1.8 billion Washington State Employees Credit Union in Olympia, Wash.; the $2.5 billion Northwest Federal Credit Union in Herndon, Va.; the $3.5 billion DFCU Financial in Dearborn, Mich.; the $398 million City & County Credit Union in St. Paul, Minn.; the $870 million TwinStar Federal Credit Union in Lacey, Wash.; and, the $5 billion Digital Federal Credit Union in Marlborough, Mass.