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COLUMBIA, S.C. – Sixteen percent of online consumers cited a credit union as their primary financial provider, up sharply from 9% in 2001, according to a recent survey by Forrester Research. “With superior service, higher deposit rates and lower fees, credit unions are gaining as the preferred financial provider among online consumers,” Forrester analyst Ron Shevlin says in a July paper titled “Credit Unions: Use the Net to Become Primary Firm.” “They can continue this run by offering superior online services and capabilities,” Shevlin says. By continuing to charge lower fees, offer better rates and deliver service that’s superior to banks, credit unions can continue to make gains among consumers, Shevlin says, and the online presence will continue to be a key factor in leveling that playing field. How the industry is going about this was the topic of a series of interviews Credit Union Times did with seven diverse credit unions around the country and three of the big Internet services and home banking vendors. Here’s a look at what some of the players in the field had to say: CUNA NETWORK SERVICES “Functionality!” That’s John Hobko’s one-word answer to how a credit union’s Web site should be organized. “Pertinent information should be found within a click or two. The site should be well organized, informative and educational, with account access and loan information easy to get to and to understand,” adds Hobko, president of CUNA Network Services. And it’s not out of reach even for small organizations. The availability of third-party software and application service providers means a credit union employee “with knowledge of Web development and design will have no difficulty in creating the appropriate links and updates,” says Hobko, who oversees Web site hosting for more than 265 credit unions and ISP services for more than 70. Speed, utility and substance are all important factors to keep in mind, he adds. “We wouldn’t expect members to wait in a long line at the credit union. The same applies,” Hobko says. He says the average page should take no more than 10 seconds to load. The Web presence also should be feature rich. “A site with just text and basic information will not be visited often. A site that lets the members access their accounts, re-order checks and calculate loans will be used by members,” he says. DIGITAL INSIGHT Once the basics are taken care of, it’s time to leverage. “Realizing a Web site’s full potential, a credit union should address up-selling and cross-selling opportunities as well as self-service functionality,” says Digital Insight’s director of Web development services, Ken Stauffer. In other words, CRM, or MRM as it’s sometimes called in credit union land. Stauffer says that can be as simple as intelligently designed promotions “that are perceived as timely content and not advertising” to sophisticated targeted marketing of things like pre-approved loans, something DI is stressing as it seeks to service and add to its roster of more than 1,550 clients. Knowing what your members want also takes some basic homework, not just technology such as data-mining and logging page views. “What are your members asking for while in the branches or contacting the call center? Channel these requests with a custom-developed form on your Web site,” Stauffer suggests. Such basic knowledge also can reflect in actual organization of the Web site. “Many sites feature a product-centric view; that is, according to their products and services. Others are categorized with a member-centric view: they offer sections for senior citizens, teens and children,” Stauffer says. “One of our credit union clients is exploring how to showcase its various employee segments on their site. “A survey of current end-users will help determine the best way to organize the site, making most easily accessible the items the CU’s users feel are most important to them.” LIBERTY INTERNET SERVICES Bill Wagner looks at the back end of the system when asked what’s the new “must-haves” for credit union Web sites. “First, the credit union must have the control to make changes quickly. The ability to keep content current and inviting is one of the strengths of offering Web site access to members,” says the director of sales and marketing for Liberty Internet Services. “Another sometimes overlooked function that we consider a must is the ability to capture member e-mail addresses. This allows the credit union to respond quickly and personally to member inquiries and needs,” as well as create targeted marketing opportunities, says Wagner, whose client roster includes more than 450 credit unions. A successful site goes beyond the basics, he adds. “If the site doesn’t provide valuable information and functionality, the member will simply use Internet banking then leave the site. If that happens, it’s a sure sign the Web site needs to project more value to the member,” Wagner says. One way to ensure that dynamism is to emphasize what separates credit unions from banks. “Committed service to members should be highlighted, as well as a dedication to improving the financial well-being of member-owners,” Wagner says. Offering the same functionality “as the bank down the street”, with better rates and personal service, along with such touches as links to and from SEG’s Web sites, and perhaps special promotions targeted at them, will help set the credit union apart, he says. AFFINITY FEDERAL CREDIT UNION Demographics are a big deal at Affinity Federal Credit Union. A big CU ($1.1 billion, 108,000 members), it targets two groups of youngsters on its site (www.affinityfcu.com) by offering them games, education and more. “Our Savvy Savers account for children ages 12 and under has 7,600 members. Our Connect Account, for teens ages 13 to 17, has 550 members and was just introduced earlier this year,” says Bryan Clagett, vice president of marketing and e-commerce for the Basking Ridge, N.J., institution. “The bill payment and home banking are obviously important, but the rest of the Web site is, too,” Clagett says. Adults aren’t forgotten either. “We’ve done something fairly unique by taking a hybrid approach to segmentation on the site, with areas targeted toward the needs of key demographics, such as getting married, having a baby, retirement. You click on those and you get targeted loan information, calculators, information you need,” Clagett says. Affinity also uses its MCIF system to do such things as segmented e-mail marketing and targeted banner ads, and emphasizes direct member service with such things as live customer chat. Clagett also proudly points out that DI-client Affinity was one of the first to do something that’s now considered a standard best practice. “We long ago put our home banking log-in on our home page,” he notes. AUSTIN AREA TEACHERS FEDERAL CREDIT UNION To Kerry Parker, a credit union Web site should basically be able to do “anything that can be done at a branch or over the phone, through a secured channel.” The latter is the hurdle the president of Austin Area Teachers Federal Credit Union in Texas and her staff are trying to overcome. For instance, her 66,000-member, $405 million CU (www.aatfcu.org) is working on automated decisioning and settlement for consumer loans. The first part is easier than the second, she notes, adding: “This is not an easy task nor an inexpensive one.” As far as updating functionality, Parker says her CU “does it on the fly as needed,” and it currently is switching from Digital Insight to Southwest Corporate FCU as its Internet banking vendor. ENVISION CREDIT UNION The big “must-have” has become a “now-have” for Envision Federal Credit Union (www.envisioncu.com) in Tallahassee. “It’s online chat. We’ve had it for a little over a year now and couldn’t be happier, and neither could our members,” says Leslie Hantman, e-systems coordinator for the 32,000-member, $160 million CU. Next up are loan, check-imaging and e-statement capability, as well as a major home banking product conversion that will make offering those new functions “a snap,” Hantman says. One of the first credit unions to go online (as North Florida Education Credit Union), Hantman says some lessons learned early still remain, including to avoid the flash while enhancing the function. Just because someone is using a dial-up from home, for instance, “they shouldn’t be punished because the Web designers are creating the sites on a T1,” she says. HERITAGE TRUST FEDERAL CREDIT UNION Keeping the site updated as rates change and features are offered is the order of things at Heritage Trust Federal Credit Union (www.htfcu.org) in Summerville, S.C. “We are very active in implementing new features very quickly,” says Joe Grech, senior vice president of retail services for the 62,000-member, $300 million Digital Insight client. Home banking and bill payment are in place, with e-statements and check viewing on the way soon, Grech says. “Next year, we will explore online lending and more targeted marketing of our members individually,” he adds. Call-center software solutions and voice-over IP phone service also are new technologies Heritage Trust has implemented to improve member service. PIEDMONT AVIATION CREDIT UNION Keeping it simple and keeping it fresh are key goals for Apriel Elliott in her role as marketing assistant in managing Piedmont Aviation Credit Union’s Web site at www.pacu.com. The $200 million, 75,000-member CU in Winston-Salem, N.C., uses Digital Insight as its home banking vendor, while it uses CUNA Network Services’ templates to design and update the site. “It’s very simple. You can be a new Webmaster with no experience, sit down and with their help make a simply awesome Web site,” she says. “Overall, I think what we want to do is make sure we are constantly changing, that members are not pulling up a dead site with nothing new. I keep the basic look the same, but always put something new on the home page that catches the member’s eye,” Elliott says. Catching the member’s business also is a goal, too, and PACU offers bill pay, VISA and consumer loans and a growing roster of other services to its online users. STATE EMPLOYEES CREDIT UNION “Just keeping the credit union and its Web site in the minds of the members is the best practice of all,” says David Carson, e-commerce development specialist at the State Employees Credit Union of Michigan. “You can have the best site in the world but if nobody knows about it and nobody uses it, it doesn’t matter,” says Carson, who oversees www.secu.org for the 75,000-member, $575 million CU in Lansing. To make sure that doesn’t happen, SECU, with NetZee as its home-banking vendor, ensures basic functionality while working to offer the best of the new technologies, including e-statements and e-mail marketing. Online chat also is something “we’re looking heavily at right now,” Carson says. “That will really help when things happen like a member running into a problem filling out a loan application. Without it, a member is more likely to just close the window out and never get back to it.” STATE EMPLOYEES FEDERAL CREDIT UNION Doing anything online that you can in-house remains the brass ring at State Employees Federal Credit Union (www.sefcu.com) of New York, and you can grab it if you’re willing to pay for the ride. “I think technology today is all relative to the money you’re willing to spend on it,” says Michael Castellana, chief operating and financial officer for the $940 million, 112,000-member DI client based in Albany. “While we won’t take anything away from the non-online side of this, we were very early adopters on the Web and it’s gone beyond even our original lofty expectations,” Castellana says. SEFCU has more than 30,000 active users, and is logging numbers like 25% of consumer loans originating from the Web and 15,000 check copies in the first month that service was offered, unadvertised, online. So what’s next? “We are in beta with wireless right now, and we’re investigating account aggregation,” Castellana says, calling the latter “a necessity in the long term.” -

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