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<p>Credit unions can stand out by offering high-demand services It’s no secret that people are making financial decisions on the Web. In fact, analysts from International Data Corp. expect that by 2004 not only will almost all high-income households access the Web, but more than 50% of these same households will invest their money online. That’s more than $1 trillion in new assets expected to move online in the next three years. And while this presents an exciting opportunity for large and established financial brands, it may represent a challenge for some credit unions that are still learning to effectively use the Web to attract and retain customers. By now, your credit union probably has a Web site. But are you offering your members the ability to access their accounts online? Are you helping members understand their financial futures better? Is your Web site making your members feel more in control of their assets? As a 15-year veteran of the financial services and credit union industry, I believe that credit unions that use the Web to its full potential stand to gain huge benefits. In order to truly take advantage of the current demand for online financial services-particularly next-generation online investment products-it’s important for credit unions to understand how to use the Web in a way that complements their current offerings and brand. Practically speaking, a Web site on its own will not bring you more business. Members will only truly respond to your site if it reflects the experience of your branch, telephone representatives and materials. And for the more advanced members, building on traditional offerings like lending and insurance with high demand products like online stock investing will be necessary for your Web site-and business-to truly click. Using the Web to its true potential can be challenging, and this is often most evident when a financial brand creates a Web site for the first time, or re-imagines it from a series of text-based informational pages to a fully-functional site. It’s at this point that you need to make a number of decisions about the functionality of your Web site. What kinds of products will you offer? Will you give people access to new features that perhaps they did not expect? Asking these kinds of questions is crucial to creating a Web site that works for your members and for your business. And by thinking about online financial products that are gaining in popularity right now, you can feel good about offering the best in financial services today. Enter online investing. To be sure, a financial product like this can play a significant role in your business. I’ve mentioned its ability to increase member loyalty and to attract new ones. But it can also provide you with a new source of long-term revenue, as well as create a new perception of your credit union in the overall industry. Ultimately, online investing can provide you with the ability to further build your business and brand. So how do you get started-and how do you ensure a positive member experience, particularly for people with little to moderate experience with stocks, let alone the Web? First, create an experience that is easy. If you’re offering an investment service for the first time, or building on existing long-term saving products, explain how the service works and offer a step-by-step guide to opening an account. In addition, consider offering a prepared online “tour” of the service, so that members can click and view mocked up pages of a sample account in order to feel more comfortable with the product. Secondly, be sure the service you are offering will provide your members with a regular, recurring system of investing. For example, people who are new to investing in stocks often prefer a monthly deduction from a checking or savings account, as it closely resembles their experience with a 401(k) or pension fund program. In order to make your members aware of a new investment service, you will need to consider effective marketing activity. On the Web, regularly updated product promotions drive greater activity. For example, you might consider conducting a series of promotions that are advertised on your Web site and in your branch to create interest and excitement in the new service. These types of promotions might include free checking, product sweepstakes and contests. In addition, you might also consider promoting the new investment service in a a e-mail newsletter that could not only highlight the features of the service, but also the various products offered in branches and on the Web site. Competing for credit union members has never been more difficult. But with the use of the Web growing, there are more and more opportunities to economically grow your existing business online and develop deeper relationships with your members. If you are serious about success, consider products that are high in demand like online dollar-based investing, and consider my suggestions, easy and regularity, as you add these features to your credit union Web site.</p>

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