Data Tracking Approach Digs Deeper Into Members’ Habits
Relational database technology could dramatically shift how credit unions review and manage nearly all aspects of their business operations.
The tool uses a different approach to information management by providing additional perspectives on data and tailoring those views to meet both broad and specific needs of credit unions.
Christine Barry, a financial service technology analyst with the Boston-based research firm Aite Group, likened the relational databases’ increased abilities to the difference between providing pictures in two and three dimensions and moving from an account-focused approach to one geared toward the members.
Barry used an example where a credit union previously might have only been able to compare usage among the same individual products such as checking accounts to checking accounts or credit cards to credit cards.
Now, that same credit union can compare product usage among members, she noted. The traditional account-focused approach might have only revealed that 15% of the credit union's checking accounts had direct deposit. The relational database could show that some members who had direct deposit were also strong users of home equity lines of credit.
Using its relational database, the credit union could also ask for more information about three sets of members: those who don't have direct deposit, with an eye toward discerning how to deepen direct deposit penetration; those who have direct deposit with HELOCs, and how they are used; and those with direct deposit but no HELOCs, in order to understand how to better cross-sell members that product.
“This really is a wave of the future,” Barry said. “It's all about deepening that relationship with the member, meeting them across a wider spectrum of needs and cross selling solutions for both banks and credit unions.”
While relational database technology is not really new, Barry said the costs of converting existing databases to relational ones, combined with the much greater power the new technology provides, has yet to break through among credit unions on a wide scale.
However, that slow adoption may change as financial pressures from low interest rate margins, increasing costs of regulatory compliance and diminishing streams of noninterest income combine to force credit unions to seek cost efficiencies and marketing advantages wherever they can find them.
The $296 million Oregonians Credit Union in Milwaukie, Ore., discovered it had been spending more money than it wanted to on a few shared branching transactions, said Sam Launius, executive vice president.
The financial institution, which grew rapidly through mergers from 2004 through 2006, inherited shared branching from one of the merged credit unions and decided to keep the network, Launius said.
“We recognized its value in 2006 and the role it could play in helping us with branch placement and emergency preparedness planning,” he explained, pointing out that the mergers had provided more than 3,000 SEGs with most branches in the Portland, Ore. area. “We tend to have members spread over more of the state than we have branches.”
While Oregonians is happy with the acquired network, Launius said the credit union was spending a bit too much for some shared branching transactions. Using its relational database and reporting tools, the cooperative figured out which members’ transactions were costing the most and crafted a strategy to address the problem.
Oregonians previously used CUnify, Fiserv's core processor that has a relational database component, for some time but had not really deployed all of relational database features, said Launius. As staffers were testing Crystal Reports, a new reporting tool, with the database, they discovered relatively few shared branch users were costing the credit union more money than it wanted to spend.
“We have between 1,700 and 1,800 members using shared branching per month but found something like 150 or 200 members were costing us something like $30,000 per year in shared branching fees,” Launius said.
The members had not meant to cost the credit union money and were not aware of doing so, according to Launius. Oregonians was able to use the database to identify products, services and approaches to change member behavior.
The addresses of frequent shared branch users showed that some of them probably didn't realize they had an Oregonian branch not too far from where they lived or worked. Once identified and alerted, they were happy to start using the credit union's branch, Launius said.
Another subset of heavy shared branch users were identified as not yet having the credit union's debit card, unable to use ATMs or get cash back at point of sale terminals, Launius said. Once debit cards were offered, most of the members were eager to start using them and moved from costing the credit union money with each transaction to Oregonians recouping a bit of revenue at each new point-of-sale terminal.
Finally, using the tools allowed Oregonians to take the final step and put a fee system in place for heavy shared branch usage. From the data collected, the credit union determined that the break between standard shared branching use and excessive use was 2.5 transactions. As a result, it made the first two shared branching transactions free per month and then charged a $3.50 fee per transaction starting with the third one, Launius explained.
Members who conducted three or more shared branching transactions in the previous month were sent a letter explaining the new policy. Launius said while there was some pushback from some members, most complied with the new pricing policy.
Oregonians has been very pleased with how well the relational database worked to both identify the costly transaction pattern and to enable the credit union to put solutions in place.
“Being able to view data on both a member and transaction basis was a real game changer for us,” Launius said.