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FRAMINGHAM, Mass. – So how do consumers choose where to take their banking business? First, prospective credit union members and bank customers are looking carefully at the numbers and locations of branches before opening a checking account. Second, they are looking in more than one place for information to help them decide which institution to choose. Third and perhaps most important – since the most likely new customers are younger ones – credit unions should offer varied channels likely to reach younger prospects and do their best to integrate these channels. The three points above highlight a recently released trends report by Forrester Research, based on a June 2004 study of about 12,000 North American households. The report featured strong advice for maximizing Web leverage. “It’s a cross-channel world,” says Forrester analyst Ron Shevlin. “Regardless of which sources of information influenced customers, one thing is clear: Most used more than just a single source.” Roughly half the consumers in the study said branch convenience was a criterion. But most of them didn’t simply drive by branch locations or count the neighborhood ATMs. Before opening an account, half of those surveyed said they visited a branch. Meanwhile, only 26% of respondents said branch visits were their only source of information. Roughly half the respondents said they were influenced by referrals from family and friends, rating referrals as a reason for choosing where to have a checking account just below the other criteria of fee structure, minimum balance requirements, and service reputation. “Few consumers use just a single source of influence,” Shevlin says. This was especially true of price-conscious younger consumers. Even though Gen Y (age 18-28) consumers were more likely than older consumers to rely on referrals, they also were much more likely to visit a branch and the institution’s Web site before opening an account. Call centers and the Web trailed on the list of channels consulted. Just 22% of consumers spoke with a phone representative, according to the Forrester study, and only half of those said the conversation influenced their decisions. An even more meager 17% of consumers did online research, and only a third of those said they weighed their Web research in deciding where to open a checking account. However, with close attention to a credit union’s Web site, the marketing department can leverage the effectiveness of the online channel. Forrester’s advice: Offer comparisons that show exactly how you are besting the competition – just as you would do for a prospect sitting in the branch office, Shevlin says. An example is Washington Mutual’s site (www.wamu.com), which recently featured a Web page headed by “Compare & Save. See the difference?” Sell the service advantages of your institution. You may have metrics on how fast you respond to email. You may be able to cite independent quality assessments. You can even publish the results of customer satisfaction surveys you’ve conduct online, as ING Direct’s (www.ingdirect.com) recently did. Make sure to share leads with representatives in the call center and branch. Bellco CU does through a link on its Web site at www.bellco.org. “This is why online product selection tools and calculators are so important,” Shevlin says. “For example, Bellco’s online IRA selector lets users forward the results of their online research to reps in the branches – where they’re more likely to apply for the product, anyway.” -

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