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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Credit union members who go online for loan and other applications can go away disappointed, leaving behind unfinished business. Failure to meet consumer expectations is holding back the number of online applications done each year, and it can be prevented, according to Ron Shevlin, an analyst with Forrester Research. “Twenty-eight percent of consumers who applied for a student loan in the past year, and 21% of those who applied for a credit card, did so online, but this doesn’t include those who began to apply online but abandoned the app before submitting it,” Shevlin said in a new report titled “How to Prevent Abandoned Online Applications.” “Even if they didn’t defect to a competitor, firms incurred higher acquisition costs when these prospects applied offline,” Shevlin added. In other words, members and credit unions both benefit from the convenience and speed cited as major reasons for going online in the first place. However, in contrast to e-commerce pioneers like Amazon, Shevlin said financial institutions typically have “slapped online versions of their offline applications on their sites,” which then are abandoned when consumers find out it’s not that easy. For instance, most online applications for checking accounts still require applicants to fill out and send back signature cards. And live help, whether through online chat or over the phone, is not often offered, Forrester Research found. The think firm also noted problems in site design, such as leaving the consumer to guess going in how long it will take to finish the application and surprising him or her at the end with the news that it will still take several days or more to get a reply, although the online experience raises expectations of instant or at least very quick decisions. How to prevent these mishaps? Set user expectations. Tell applicants up front what info they need, how long it will take and display a status bar so they know where they are in the process. Washington Mutual and Bank of America do that now. Pre-fill information. Ask if the applicant is a member and pre-fill as much information in the file as possible. Advertising the ability to do this, in fact, can help prompt applicants to start the process in the first place. Offer real-time help. “It doesn’t take much of a lift in sales to pay for online chat. MortgageSelect.com even gives applicants a private toll-free number to connect directly to the agent they’ve chatted with,” Shevlin said. Couldn’t a well-trained call center staffer do the same at the credit union? Let members save the app online. Forrester Research studies show that 25% of consumers said they could be motivated to apply online for both credit and deposit products if they could save their work online and come back to it later. Try to save the abandoned app. Bank of America and Chase send e-mail reminders to consumers who save an application and don’t come back to it. Others, such as American Express, do a popup window when someone closes out of an incomplete application, asking if the applicant would like to save it for later. “Financial firms lose cross-sell revenue, and potentially new customers, when consumers abandon online applications,” Shevlin said. “Fixing the problem starts with improving the applicants’ experience.” -

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