It may be too early to call it a trend but at a growing—albeit small—number of credit unions are using internal IT staff to develop mobile apps, rather than buying them off the shelf.
“We did not see what we wanted off the shelf. We came to the conclusion that we needed to build our apps ourselves,” said Ray Black, vice president of marketing and remote delivery at the $1.5 billion Genisys Credit Union in Auburn Hills, Mich.
At $5.6 billion Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union in Live Oak, Texas, Senior Vice President Mary O’Rourke elaborated that RBFCU created its own apps because “we want to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace. So we are always looking for ways to innovate, to keep our apps fresh.”
Using the very same app in use at hundreds of other credit unions, suggested O’Rourke, is no way to achieve differentiation.
A proof of the commitment to home brewed innovation at RBFCU is that it recently introduced a continually updated balance widget that, at the member’s option, displays account balances on a smartphone with no need to log in.
“We had over two thousand downloads on the first day,” O’Rourke said, adding that member feedback continues to be strong and approving.
Back at Genisys, Michelle Mattson, electronic services manager, said that a guiding goal in the credit union’s mobile app development is that they want their apps to be utterly standalone.
“There is no need for a mobile member to have ever even visited our website,” Mattson said. Genisys, she suggested, feels it can get there better creating its own tools.
Genisys is also especially proud of its mobile remote deposit tools, which it built out on its own, using the processing backend provided by Vertifi, the Burlington, Mass.-based technology subsidiary of Eastern Corporate Credit Union.
“We have seen substantial member usage of deposit capture, it’s proven very popular,” Mattson said.
Next Page: In-House at Navy Federal
Another home brewer is Navy Federal, the $55 billion Vienna, Va.-based credit union, which develops all its apps in house, “with help as needed from consultants,” said Meghan Gound, assistant vice president of eChannels. On the drawing boards at Navy Fed is development of a credit card application tool that, Gound said, will feature a wizard that lets a member quickly sort through many credit card options to find one that best suits his or her needs.
The aim is to let a member apply in three steps and get an immediate decision, said Gound, who said the app will launch this winter.
She indicated that Navy Fed also is exploring what it might release as an app for Kindle Fire, a popular, low-cost Android tablet from Amazon.
“We have a laundry list of items we want to develop,” Gound said, who suggested Navy Fed members can expect to see a number of home brewed apps released over the next year.
At Fairwinds Credit Union, a $1.6 billion Orlando, Fla., institution, executive vice president Charlie Lai related that his shop is especially pleased with a home brewed new account opening app for iPad, created when Fairwinds won the right to pursue student business on the giant University of Central Florida campus.
“With this app we can open a new account in three to four minutes,” said Lai. He added that a unique requirement was that the student ID card had to play a central role in the app, because on campus, it is commonly used as a payment tool.
Before, using past generation tools, account opening took maybe 20 minutes, he said. Lai knew that would not cut it in the UCF environment.
So far, Fairwinds has opened around 2,000 new memberships, Lai said, The primary use is by credit union employees who make contact with students during orientations for new enrollees. The students are deluged with information during these days, he said, so Fairwinds wanted a fast, and engaging, way to get them enrolled as credit union members.
Development of the app took around three weeks, Lai said, who acknowledged it is built on top of a PC-based account opening tool that was also home brewed by Fairwinds.
He indicated that the present plan now is to bring the iPad app back to the branches, to take over account opening, because this “will get staff away from the counter and out circulating with members. The iPad form factor offers us unique opportunities.”
Dreams get bigger still, at many other credit unions. Case in point: At RBFCU, the credit union has kicked home brewing up a notch, by taking a page from Google and Facebook, both of which are known for setting aside development days where programmers—working with tight time constraints—focus on creating something useful.
“We want to empower our people to execute their own ideas,” said O’Rourke, who indicated the plan is to challenge his mobile team to produce more apps that are unique to RFBCU.