The brutally honest feedback from a recently assembled focus group of small business owners revealed most of them won’t even consider aligning with a financial institution if there isn’t a robust suite of online banking and technology services.
In other words, having the right types of technology tools that would allow business owners to check balances, transfer funds, capture remote deposits, manage cash and originate ACH transactions could potentially sway entrepreneurs to move all their accounts to a credit union.
The $936 million Whatcom Educational Credit Union in Bellingham, Wash., made a commitment early on to be on the cutting edge when it came to implementing technology that would meet the needs of its business members, said Kent Bouma, business services manager.
“It is absolutely competitive out there,” Bouma said. “If we’re going to be in the game of commercial lending and banking, we have to always be on the forefront or businesses will go somewhere else. You’re either in or you’re out.”
To that end, WECU has been building on its online banking foundation over the past few years to include services such as RDC and ACH origination. To make it happen, the credit union partnered with CU Business Groups LLC, a Portland, Ore.-based business services CUSO that serves 430 credit unions in 44 states. Bouma said some small business owners have said having a sophisticated lineup of technology tools are necessary components for WECU to earn their business.
Later this year, WECU will be launching its new and improved online banking platform, Bouma said. In addition to having a cleaner and improved format with many more useful tools, other new features will include a suite of financial tools as well as improved accessibility for mobile device users.
“With a customizable dashboard that offers budgeting tools, the ability to transfer to members and non-members alike and remote check deposits, the new system will give members the tools they need to take control of their finances,” Bouma said.
WECU is also planning to roll out a mobile app for iOS and Android devices. Windows and Blackberry users will also have alternative access via the credit union’s website, he added.
The enhanced suite aims to grow WECU’s business services even more. As of Aug. 31, the credit union had 4,969 business members, $153 million in business loans and $73 million in business deposits, according to Bouma.
If data from a 2013 Treasury Strategies and MineralTree survey of more than 50 banks and credit unions is any indication, some financial institutions are indeed listening to the requests of their business banking customers and members. Nearly 80% said they offer online bill pay for small businesses followed by online wire initiation at 75% and online ACH origination at 73%. Areas of improvement included offering more invoice management capabilities—only 25% of those surveyed had this capability—and less than half provided online and integrated reporting across payment types.
Meanwhile, more credit unions are increasing their awareness of high-level technology options such as Treasury management services, said Larry Middleman, president/CEO of CUBG. Those small business owners that voiced their opinions within that focus group are of the ilk that prefers a more sophisticated platform to include RDC for check processing and sweep services, for instance, he noted. And, the focus group participants were not billion dollar behemoths. All 10 of them had annual sales ranging from $1 million to $10 million, a range considered to be a sweet spot of service for credit unions.
“There is more of a desire to step it up a notch or two,” Middleman said. “The barriers are, where credit unions have an interest in and a desire to serve more sophisticated businesses, the big gaps lie in the systems themselves. Generally speaking, some credit union host systems really lack the sophistication.”
Frankly, having technology to handle processing such as account analysis might be too complicated for some credit unions to handle, Middleman said. Commercial banks are not immune either, as some of them also struggle with inadequate host systems to accommodate tools such as RDC and sweep services.
When the $1.8 billion Community First Credit Union in Appleton, Wis., wanted to focus on growing deposits and cash management services within its business services space, it turned to Fiserv’s DataSafe. One of the key features of the account processing system allows for a 360-degree view of each member’s relationship. When users access a member record, they can see every product or service the member use in one place, according to Fiserv.
DataSafe supports a hosted environment and an in-house client, said Susan Miller, vice president of strategic development at Fiserv. On the deposit side, account analysis allows credit unions to define and track services that a business member uses. There is also a sweep account functionality and ACH origination.
Next Page: On the Lending Side
On the lending side, DataSafe provides all of the automation for the setup of multiple loans, lines of credit, term loans, real estate loans, participation loans, and SBA loans.
“We’re constantly looking for new features to bring to the marketplace to help credit unions run more efficiently,” Miller said. “Commercial was one of those areas that we thought would offer benefits.”
Part of DataSafe’s scalability comes from its open architecture and ease of integration, Fiserv said. Community First employs a variety of Fiserv and third-party products, and DataSafe integrates seamlessly, the company noted. That access has helped the credit union keep up with what members want, need and demand, said Community First President/CEO Cathie Tierney.
Because the $1.1 billion North Island Credit Union in San Diego has a community charter, it is competing head to head with community banks, said Johnny Galvan, vice president of business services. For that reason alone, the cooperative knew the 15-year old program had to evolve to cater to its business members.
“We realized we needed to have cash management. With everything that has happened from the economy’s standpoint, a lot of businesses were banking with us but their savings were elsewhere,” Galvan said. “ACH has helped because now, we can move money around. It helped retained members during a time when things weren’t looking good for banks and credit unions.”
Since debuting ACH in 2005 and RDC around 2008, both tools have helped North Island grow its net portfolio loan balances to approximately $145 million and deposit balances to $94 million, Galvan said. The credit union is also a CUBG client.
While RDC has been steadily growing, Galvan acknowledged that the service has not gone gangbusters yet. North Island has 58 terminals representing more than 120 accounts, he said. Year-to-date, the average monthly deposit is $916, the average number of items processed is 13 and the total average dollars deposited is $14 million. However, the remote tool helped retain members when the credit union teetered on the edge of financial collapse during the height of the Great Recession.
Today, branch staff is told to identify business members that tend to hold up the teller lines with transactions as potential RDC users, Galvan said. These cash-intensive businesses are also prime candidates for loans.
“Technology is a tool. The key is to implement the technology properly and having the tech support,” Galvan said. “When I was younger, my dad told me ‘computers are great but they’re only as good as the person operating them.’”
Looking ahead, North Island is prepping for a possible rollout of a mobile banking product for business, Galvin said. Because companies are still working the kinks out for this specialized tool, the credit union will likely start on the consumer end in the middle of 2014, he said. While members have also asked for positive pay services, there have been some glitches due to incompatible systems, Galvin said. The credit union continues to work on removing the bugs. Fraud protection remains a top priority.
“All of the higher risks are going to be in the business products,” Galvan said. “That’s where we need to focus our strategic decisions so that we’re not spinning our wheels or having to change vendors. Normal credit unions don’t lend themselves well to business systems. You have to make a decision to either spend more money to have a better product or less money to be forever in beta mode.”