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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Credit unions score well at the top of the financial heap-and above banks-when it comes to winning public trust on consumer advocacy, according to a new study by Forrester Research Inc. A July report covering a survey of a million U.S. consumers issued by Forrester, a Cambridge, Mass.-based technology research firm, found CUs “are doing well” in the public’s perception as a financial provider by keeping the consumer’s interest uppermost rather than focusing on “the bottom line.” CU consultants hailed the Forrester finding as evidence CUs are “obviously doing something right” in the way they treat members in product delivery. But Ronald Shevlin, a principal analyst at Forrester, warned that CUs should “not sit back on their laurels on this one” since the new Internet age requires strategies which recognize that today’s consumer is far more tech savvy and will look to CU Web sites for “financial help.” Some of those Web sites may not be offering what consumers truly want, thereby diminishing CUs number one position. Shevlin said the favorable trust numbers earned by CUs as shown in its survey “are in part the result of the close interaction that credit unions” already have with their members in their branches. In the Forrester survey conclusions, the statistics showed that in answer to the question: “My primary provider offers products that are best for its bottom line-not for me,” CUs scored the lowest-7.9%-followed by “private bank/trust company” at 9.8%. The remaining scores were: Regional or local bank, 11.4%; Bank One, 12.8%; Wachovia, 14.2%; Fleet/Boston Financial, 15.9%; Bank of America, 17.1%; Wells Fargo, 17.5%; U.S. Bancorp, 18.3% and National City, 18.9%. Rae Miles, a Madison, Wisconsin CU consultant and head of Open Financial Solutions, a nine-CU consortium developing technology strategies, said the Forrester report underscores the notion that while many financial institutions “are jumping on the consumer advocacy bandwagon,” CUs seem to be doing it right. Consumer advocacy, she said, “isn’t simply about helping members buy our products.” Rather; “it’s as much about helping them understand when not to buy products,” she said adding, “you can’t help a member make good financial decisions by simply asking them three or four questions.” She said OFS in its work in building a suite of wealth management tools for CUs said the message is that CUs “need to help educate members so they can make better financial decisions.” In developing those tools, “we wanted them to work in a manner that best reflected the way these credit unions have worked with their members over the years. We took out the high pressure selling approach and replaced it with a hand holding educational approach.” It’s important, she said, that CUs recognize they should not abandon what has been working well in product delivery but instead “we need to find ways to capitalize on the trust we’ve established.” The Forrester survey report noted that there has been a profound shift in the attitude of consumers toward financial institutions becoming “more mistrustful, more insecure, and more hands-on in their financial lives.” The report said customer advocacy “drives loyalty and satisfaction” among consumers and based on 36 “different attributes” advocacy, “is by far the top predictor of consumers’ loyalty to their primary financial provider, surpassing factors like trustworthiness, service and advanced technology use.” The survey statistics, said the report, showed “which financial firms are seen as least mercenary.” Shevlin said while some banks have engaged in “shameless marketing” of products, many CUs have taken a far more educational-approach. He singled out work done by First Tech Credit Union and American Airlines Federal Credit Union of Dallas. Shevlin said those two CUs seem to be outstanding work “in providing product selection tools and helping their members” determine their need for loans and mortgages through “advisor” type programs. [email protected]

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