WASHINGTON – Members use their credit unions' Web sites to do their banking, not for surfing the Net. And putting some in-house advertising on the home banking pages of the Web site might be a good marketing strategy. Those are just two of the findings from the first round of the Callahan & Associates' Online Survey Consortium. Washington, D.C.-based Callahan (www.creditunions.com) specializes in strategic and investment planning, financial publications and software for credit unions. Nineteen credit unions participated in the first consortium survey, posting a questionnaire about design and navigation issues on their Web sites for a week earlier this year. More than 38,000 members responded. "Eighty-six percent of those respondents said they use their credit union's Web site primarily to access their accounts," says Scott Patterson, Callahan's e-commerce manager. "That may seem obvious, but it lets credit unions know that right now their sites are not primarily for paying bills, for information about other products or services, not for portal browsing, but primarily for home banking. So you might want to concentrate your time and effort in that area," he says. The survey also found while 76% of the responding members had their credit union site bookmarked, 36% were directly to the home banking page, bypassing the home page. "From an operational and marketing perspective, if you're putting all your highlights on the home page, you're missing a big chunk of your members," Patterson says. He notes that some credit unions don't have the capability of customizing the login page and may want to consider having their vendor add that capability. Participants in the Callahan Survey Consortium pay $8,000 to take part in four of the six online surveys planned this year. The topics are chosen in the same conference calls that are used as forums for discussing results of the previous surveys. Each participant receives results from their own membership plus the entire consortium (including the ones they don't participate in individually) and can join a list-serv for further networking on the issues. The survey consortium is a good way to get fast member feedback on Web site issues, but cannot be viewed as scientific surveys with measurable margins of error, Patterson says. But they are less expensive than individual surveys and much faster and cheaper than mailed surveys, he says. "The participants did find them to very helpful, because it gets them right at the member level, to find out what's really going on," Patterson says. "And some of the most interesting comments came during the conference calls." Patterson said the results showed that respondents in general were satisfied with their home banking experience, but shared a number of concerns that credit unions can act on, such as interface problems caused by using different Web browsers, and access speed issues. While not the only company offering surveys of credit unions, Patterson says the consortium approach offers cost savings and the opportunity to share member-level, actionable information. "The idea was that obviously credit unions are cooperative in nature. This is one of those cooperative ventures that lends itself nicely to this industry," he says. "The idea is that everyone can learn from each other in a non-competitive environment." Some of the other problems noted by members included difficulty accessing the home banking site on pay days and other peak periods, which is something that CU's can take up with their vendors, Patterson noted. Downtime for the sites also was noted by many of the 38,000 respondents. "There's always going to be some downtime," Patterson says. His advice: Alert members when you know it's going to happen and provide an explanation when the unplanned outages occur. Another communication problem was noted by some respondents who complained that their credit unions didn't reply to e-mail. "We heard that over and over again," Patterson says. "If someone sends an e-mail, they expect an answer. They don't get one, they remember. Would a credit union let its telephone just ring and ring? Probably not." The interaction with other credit unions, and actionable solutions that followed, was cited by participants as a particularly valuable feature of the consortium. Twenty-three credit unions from around the country have now signed on to participate, including Tropical FCU in Miami, which took part in the first go-round. It was a valuable learning experience, says Kelly McConnell, Tropical's senior vice president of e-commerce. "One thing our members as well as several of the other participating credit unions' members want is an easy, one-click sign-on to their account information from the home page without having to click through several pages. Two credit unions have found and tested a way to accomplish this and have shared this with the group," McConnell says. The next survey will be on members' use of online financial services outside the credit union. For more information on the Callahan Survey Consortium, call (800) 446-7453. -

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