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DALLAS – Having the ability to call in to a credit union to apply for a loan is one thing for a member, but being able to get through to a loan officer on a weekend or after hours or during high traffic hours, is something completely different. That’s why, say board members of the LoanLink Center, credit unions are increasingly relying on call centers to help them handle their loan traffic and grow their lending operations. Four months after going “live”, 230 credit unions are using the LoanLink Center’s facilities to handle their call center, Internet and indirect loans, and 30 credit union leagues own shares in the only credit union-owned call center. The LoanLink Center was formed as a limited liability company in October 2002 by CUNA Mutual Group and APPRO Systems Inc. “to help credit unions grow their lending operations by providing services that expand and integrate channels,” a release announcing the company read. The 75-employee LoanLink Center can handle all types of loans for credit unions, but so far its primary business has been consumer loans including auto loans. It’s also transacted some first mortgage loans. In January 2003, the LoanLink Center took in $264 million in credit union loan applications; the average loan amount per application was $15,000. The LoanLink Center recently assessed the traffic flow of calls it receives. Mike Armstrong, vice president, CUNA Mutual said 10% of the calls occur on weekends, and in a given 24-hour period, 23% of the calls are received before 8 a.m. and after 6 p.m. In addition, 85-90% of the calls received through the call center are taken from members of credit unions that have their own internal call center. Armstrong said this demonstrates the importance of the role LoanLink Center plays as a back-up to CU’s call center overload. “We have our own internal call center that won an award in 2000, and even with that world class level call center, being able to send the overflow of phone calls on loans over to LoanLink Center and have the call answered is a godsend,” said Larry Biernacki, SVP of lending, San Antonio FCU and the credit union representative on the LoanLink Center Board. “Credit union members are choosing to use more remote lines of lending such as the Internet, call centers, and point of purchase. Our intention in forming the LoanLink Center was to integrate these channels back to a credit union’s mission-critical systems at the credit union’s site,” he added. Biernacki said many credit union members are doctors and nurses who get off work at two or three in the morning, before their credit union is open. “That may be the only time they can call in and apply for a loan,” said Biernacki. The LoanLink Center is taking between 700-900 applications a month from SAFCU members. Any credit union can enroll to use LoanLink Center, and they do not have to be affiliated with any of the 30 league’s that own shares in the company. To enroll, CUs pay a nominal set-up fee and monthly maintenance and application fees. When a credit union enrolls in the LoanLink Center, it is assigned an 800-number. Information such as the CU’s loan rates, lending policy and loan calculator are loaded in to the call center’s telephony technology. Each credit union sets its own approval criteria, and many credit unions have the LoanLink Center only take the loan application, with the credit union retaining the loan decision-making. Other CUs elect to provide the LoanLink Center with their loan policies for underwriting loans. When a call comes in, the call center can identify which credit union the member caller is from by the phone number their dialing in to, and the employee then brings up the credit union’s lending information on a screen. All this activity is seamless to the member. The LoanLink Center regularly provides credit unions with monthly reports that include a variety of information on their lending activity with the call center such as the average loan amount, applicants’ average FICO score, and a break down on the times the calls came in from the CU’s members. Armstrong said LoanLink was “strategically building things in to LoanLink for 2003 to provide more outsourcing services to credit unions,” but he declined comment on what they were at this time. -

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