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<p>I have the privilege of speaking with many credit unions over the course of a year, and I’m asked on a regular basis for my opinions on the world of technology and what it may or may not bring to the credit union system. What I find the most encouraging when I talk to credit union people is the tremendous growth in the level of awareness within our movement regarding technology. More and more credit unions are making the commitment to either establishing a comprehensive, real-world online strategy or enhancing an existing plan. In this spirit, I want to share some insights I’ve gained from credit unions on how they’ve successfully put technology to work-or at least the process they’ve gone through in planning to do so. Fact or Fiction? We’ve built a Web site. Now our members will rush to go online with us. Pure fiction. More and more credit unions are developing a Web presence – about 40% of all credit unions have a Web site – but they are learning that there must be a compelling reason for a member to visit the site. Frankly, an artistic picture of your facilities and some generic “welcome” content (that is rarely if ever updated) that directs visitors to call or stop by in person will not bring Net savvy, or even novice surfers, to your site more than once-and never to return. Credit unions must develop a plan for their online presence, one that builds upon a solid foundation. A simple example might be: Step 1: Develop an informational Web site and see how members react. This step could include FOM details; contact information (e-mail addresses); rates and fee schedules; loan applications; business hours and locations; details on why your credit union makes sense for the visitor. Establish your internal goals and guidelines on site traffic, requests for information and services, as well as referrals. These goals should be a guide on when to add additional capabilities and services. Step 2: Add transactional capabilities such as Internet banking and bill payment-when you’ve reached your established goals and can reasonably plan for success. You must of course go through the due diligence process for these software solutions as you would any new product or service. You must have a good idea what capabilities you want to offer-and that you can support it both technically and with internal resources (funding, staff). Step 3: Integrate automated lending capabilities into the transactional applications. Again, you must have the traffic and need. We need to develop a marketing plan to promote our Web site. Fact. Once your credit union develops a Web presence and is online, it has truly entered a new arena, with new rules, new expectations and new possibilities. There are literally millions of Web sites available for your members to visit. They will need to be directed (or enticed, lobbied and bribed) to your credit union’s site. Experience suggests you can hardly over communicate to your members about your site. In fact, you must promote it relentlessly with lobby banners, articles in your newsletter, statement stuffers and any other avenue available to you that reaches members and potential members. Your Web site address should be on all paper documents given to your members. The entire staff of your credit union should be familiar with the site. That means the address, its features and benefits and any other questions from members about it. We implemented an online strategy three years ago and trends show a steady increase in the number of members using our services.so we hit the mark and we have no need to review or change our plan. Fiction. Any plan over 18 months-old is typically outdated. How many of your management staff can identify your original online business goals and objectives? Consistent growth in traffic without continuous monitoring and adaptation is more than likely resulting from the progression of your membership to online usage inherent in the overall population and not at all related to anything about your site. And don’t let current perceptions of “dot.coms” lull you into believing there aren’t new online solutions and opportunities being developed every day. There are.and the shift to online business is unstoppable, whether today’s rate of change is incremental or rapid. Members always come to the home page first when visiting the Web site. Fiction. Unless you consistently monitor your Web traffic and look into the detail of your usage reports, you probably are not aware that the typical visitor enters and leaves a credit union Web site from the Internet banking application (assuming the CU offers Internet banking). The result is all those nice banner ads and promotions you have on the home page are not being seen because the typical user bookmarks the Internet banking section of a site and seldom visits the home page. Success How credit unions measure online success varies. Some review site traffic, others review member usage of specific applications. There isn’t a specific measurement that’s better than another. Success is based on what your expectations are. There are some credit unions very happy with a 7% member penetration rate with its Internet banking application because they consider it a bonus service. Another credit union isn’t content with a 45% penetration rate because their strategy is to migrate the bulk of their members to the online environment. Some credit unions consider themselves successful only if they offer all the leading edge applications – from 15-second response time on online loan applications to account aggregation. Others see nothing wrong with a basic informational site that 30% of their membership regularly uses. The key is knowing and planning for what you consider success. Of course, success (or lack thereof) essentially comes down to knowing your membership. You must not only ask them, you must beg and plead with them to provide feedback to you on how you are meeting their expectations In my experience, some key areas that can determine success include: The level of commitment given to promoting online solutions. Having online solutions integrated throughout the rest of your credit union’s operations so all staff can respond to member inquiries. Developing a plan for your online tools and continually reviewing/modifying the plan in order to provide the greatest member satisfaction possible. The online world will continue to move at a dizzying pace. In my opinion, if you’re not an IT professional, trying to keep up is fruitless. Let the so-called experts – like me – have all the fun in trying to keep the IT world in focus. Someone will always be willing to sell install and help you run the latest cutting edge tools available. The challenge is the ability to stay focused on the critical thing, namely what our members needs and wants are. With those as our top priority, online business will fall into place.</p>

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