WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – An organization called Members Group, a CUSO affiliated with the Iowa Credit Union League is among the first to offer credit unions the possibility of allowing their members to purchase pre-paid gift cards online. Card giant Certegy Card Services also has a gift card product that is available for credit unions to offer, but as of July 1 the Alpharetta, Georgia based company had not officially inaugurated them. PSCU Financial Services, the St. Petersburg, Florida, firm which processes card transactions for many credit unions that process with Denver based First Data Resources, is working on a gift card product that it plans to have in place in time for the holidays. Pre-paid gift cards are one of the fastest growing and most popular card products. Credit unions that issue them make a small amount of money on the their issuance and then collect interchange from the transactions the Visa or MasterCard branded cards generate. They can also benefit from the phenomenon of people buying a prepaid gift card for, say, $50 and the recipient perhaps using only $48 of that. "They might just let that amount of money stay on the card, or they might forget about it or whatever," said Gayle Welter, Marketing Manager for Members Group. Welter said the organization has four card designs immediately available for members of participating credit unions to choose from when they visit the sales site, credituniongiftcards.com, on the World Wide Web. Welter described the card offering as a blue "generic sort" of gift card, a "funky" sort of card with geometric designs, a goal oriented card which would be suitable for organizations to offer their workers as rewards and a patriotic card. She said the organization is working on a holiday themed card as well as a birthday themed card. Welter said the program currently has one credit union signed on, the $64 million Premier Credit Union, based in Des Moines, that helped the group develop its gift card program and served as its beta testing institution. Welter explained that Premier had long been linked with a major international insurance firm and had a membership that was widely considered to be interested in technical innovations. She credited Premier's help, in part, with Members Group building as much flexibility as it has into its program. Not only is the program open to all credit unions, not just those that process card transactions with Members Group, the program allows credit unions to set their own fees for the sale of the cards to its members. Premier, for example, has told its members that it will wave part of their card purchase fees if the member uses a Premier issued credit card in the transaction. "We saw an opportunity to provide our members an exciting new product that offers convenience and easy usability, while strengthening our business relationship," said Steve Flamm, vice president of Premier Credit Union, a $64 million financial institution that serves the employees of The Principal Financial Group and its subsidiaries. Since rolling the program out to its members in mid-July, the program has sold 45 cards online, Premier reported. "People are using gift cards in a variety of ways," Flamm added. "We had one Principal employee buy a card to thank another employee for a special project they had worked on. One father bought a number of cards to send to his kids who live all over the country. Our members are embracing the flexibility of being able to give a gift that can be used just about anywhere." Flamm said card amounts have varied from $25 – $100. He said he expects that more gift cards will be sold as students head back to school and people start thinking about the holidays. Welter said that Members Group began the card program after being approached with a need for bulk gift card program. It was in the course of evaluating that need that the organization realized that there was a market for a retail gift card outlet. "The market for financial institution issued gift cards is relatively untapped, but for each credit union to develop and launch their own gift card site, the cost is prohibitive, particularly when members are purchasing cards only one or two at a time," said Chris Gunnare, Vice President, Account Management for Member Group. "So, we have created a site that allows credit unions to control the text and maintain their branding strategy while offering their members an affordable product." Members Group reported that it already has other credit unions committed to participating in the gift card program even thought it has not promoted the program heavily yet. [email protected]

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