BILERICA, Mass. – From Bellco Credit Union in Denver to Teachers Credit Union in South Bend, Ind., a two-year old Massachusetts software firm, Experion Systems Inc., has been winning new industry converts this summer to a cost-saving training and customer service tool aimed at improving product selection. The "trusted advisor" program provides what Experion-and many of its CU clients contend-is a technology-driven solution to help members get consistent product advice whether inquiries are made at a branch, a call center, on the Internet or in consultation with a product rep. Under the software provided by Experion, participating CUs guide members through a question and answer "decision tree" which helps the CU employee lead the member to select the right product. "What we've found most important is the Experion program provides consistency in the type of product information we give our members regardless of whether it is on-line, at the branch or at the call center," said Tom Sargent, president/CEO of First Tech Credit Union in Beaverton, Ore. The $1 billion First Tech, he said, has served as a "beta site" for the Experion system since last March and the program has already shown success in drastically cutting the on-line abandonment rate on mortgages. "Look when you have 25 different mortgage products, it is asking a lot to expect" the lending staff, said Sargent, to answer member inquiries with equal expertise or to remain unbiased. Some employees, he pointed out, are more comfortable with certain products than others and hence push one line over another perhaps to the detriment of CU profit goals. But under the Experion "advice models," which rely on a series of roughly eight "pop-up" customer questions, the dispensing of product information is tailored to individual member needs but is still standard or consistent across the institution. "Their system allows us to identify the right product for a member in a structured way while giving the front line staff the tools they need," explained Douglas Ferraro, president of Bellco in Denver, which plans to introduce the deposit and loan segment or "suite" by yearend. The $1.3 billion CU planned a rollout for staff Sept. 18. While Bellco is working on a first mortgage product with Prime Alliance, a Seattle firm which has a tech and sales marketing alliance with Experion, Bellco is keeping its options open on the investment or "wealth management" suite which is also offered by Experion. "We may have some other products down the road" in that area, said Ferraro. Ferraro along with other executives representing CUs in the Experion venture are active or on the board of managers in Members Gateway, a 22-CU limited liability partnership based in South Bend and which shares and plots industry strategy on new products. A number of the nation's largest CUs have interest in Members Gateway which has been working with Experion for more than a year, officials said. The president of Experion, Ross Blair, said last week that Members Gateway "will soon be an investor in Experion" though details on the transaction were not immediately available. Richard Rice, president and CEO of Teachers in South Bend, said his CU expects to be offering Experion's savings deposits and loan "suite" by the "early part of the fourth quarter." "I like the idea that it helps employees regardless of their own background or experience help a member make the right decision," said Rice who said he is a "big promoter" of variable rates "because I'm comfortable with it" but based on individual member answers to questions, a more "conservative" approach might be in order. Neville Billimoria, senior vice president of membership, marketing, quality and e-business at the $1.4 billion Mission Federal Credit Union in San Diego, said his CU with 120,000 members and 24 branches is still "a few months away from full development of the on line application" of the loan and real estate products. "But the program does fit into CRM, the current buzz word" said Billimoria in a reference to "Customer Relationship Management." Jeff Farver, president and CEO of San Antonio Credit Union in Texas, said his $1.5 billion CU began serving as a "beta" pilot for Experion last March along with First Tech and so far the results have been positive particularly on mortgages. SACU, he said, has been able to trace an additional 100-200 mortgage applications a month to the Experion program of which "between 10-15% have been turned into" acceptable loans. In a statement, Experion also quoted another SACU executive, Larry Biernacki, senior vice president of lending, as claiming the mortgage application process has been "cut in half." Experion said its "comprehensive" loan advisor program handles "all the specific loan products offered by its customer today: mortgages, home equity loans, personal loans credit cards and auto loans" and on the deposit side, it noted that "with the average IRA balance in excess of $30,000, IRAs represented a huge untapped opportunity for credit unions today." Depending on the number of product suites used, Experion said its advice "solution" package costs between $100,000-$200,000 a year. "This compares very favorably to Forrester Research's estimate of $5 million to develop a system in-house," concluded Blair, the Experion CEO. [email protected]

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