About 18 months ago, Steve Hoke and his team were discussing how indirect lending could potentially be a better process for credit unions and give members usable information that would actually result in driving that coveted vehicle off the dealership’s lot.
Hoke, who is director of loan growth products for CUNA Mutual Group in Madison, Wis., said those talks led to the development of AskAuto, a new downloadable smartphone and tablet application that offers credit union members vehicle information and loan application assistance that aims to simplify their vehicle-buying experience.
AskAuto is the latest in a plethora apps targeted at members and others, who are increasingly turning to their hand-held devices to browse on the go, compare prices on the go and ultimately, seal the deal on the go.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the appeal of apps shows no sign of letting up anytime soon. There are now more than 700,000 of them available through Google and Apple. Research firm Gartner Inc. estimated that consumers will spend an average of roughly two hours a day with apps and worldwide revenue for app stores is poised to soar by 62% this year to $25 billion.
So, as the credit union industry continues to gray and the push to court younger, more tech-savvy members to capture them during their peak borrowing years, are apps and even the more established online loan programs, the way to do it?
“What we’re relying on is an endorsement for the credit unions because they have strong relationships with their members,” Hoke said. “As the credit union markets this app, hopefully, this will parlay into building more relationships through cross-selling.”
AskAuto is making an attempt to do that by allowing users the ability to scan the vehicle identification number and get the vehicle’s basic information, including average retail cost of the new or used vehicle and EPA mileage estimates, according to CUNA Mutual. The application saves this information along with the member’s notes and ranking preferences to allow for a comparison between vehicles before deciding to purchase. Once a decision is reached, the member can also submit a credit union loan application through AskAuto.
The new app looks promising for CUNA Mutual as 44% of likely car buyers plan to use a smartphone to compare prices on the dealer lot, the company said citing market research data. Four to six credit unions have signed on to test out AskAuto and a full rollout is scheduled for around June, Hoke said.
While apps continue to grow in popularity, some members may be intimidated by them along with their older cousins, online applications.
One company is hoping to quell those fears by making that initial contact less frightening. EverythingCU.com’s KickStart program aims to increase loan applications coming into the credit union by making it quicker and easier for applicants to initiate contact with a loan officer, according to the firm. Potential borrowers hand off the follow-up to those loan officers.
By providing one form for applicants to complete and providing a feature that enables loan officers to create a personalized greeting and thank you message, KickStart wants the entire process to feel as friendly online as in the branches, whether the member is 18 or 80.
“I am age agnostic when it comes to using technology,” said Morriss Partee, chief experience officer for EverythingCU.com in Holyoke, Mass. “The world at large operates in an online space. On top of that, a few years ago, the fastest growing segment, in terms of online adoption were older folks. To me, it’s about making the process as personable as process, regardless of age.”
Personable means breaking down barriers and fully maximizing the experience while trying to mimic the warm and fuzzy feel interaction commonly seen in the branches, Partee explained.
Most credit unions’ online loan applications are designed to be difficult to complete in an effort to cut down on apps that have no chance of being approved, Partee said. Unfortunately, this difficulty may also cause the credit union to lose good loan applicants who simply give up and go elsewhere for their loan.
“If a credit union is experiencing flat or even negative loan growth, we think the member-first approach that KickStart provides may be just the ticket to help turn that around,” Partee offered.
So far, the $17 million Holy Rosary Credit Union in Kansas City, Mo., is KickStart’s only client. But the cooperative’s president/CEO, Carole Wright, is convinced that the online application program has cut down on unnecessary backs and forths. When asked what percentage of the credit union’s loan goes through the online app compared to the traditional process, Wright said it was hard to pinpoint.
“I would say 10% to 20% of our applications come from KickStart. That is just a guess,” Wright said. “Now, if you ask me which of the most have the most successful close rate, I would say that KickStart helps us get close. My staff likes it because they have tons of information when they start to talk to the member. We have more loans because of KickStart.”
Wright said for smaller credit unions, KickStart may be the impetus to grow loans. In the third quarter of 2012–the first time Holy Rosary CU’s online lending program was implemented–loans grew from $7.9 million to $8.4 million by the fourth quarter, according to its NCUA 5300 Call Report. This is in contrast to the credit union’s total loan figures at the end of the fourth quarter in 2010, which was $4.7 million.
Partee acknowledged it’s been a hard sell to convince credit unions to do lending differently from the traditional paper process.
“We’re trying to figure out why credit unions haven’t jumped on board. It might be scary for some of them,” Partee said. “I think in general, especially with lending, because its core to what they do, it may take some more innovators to jump on board and become successful before others take the plunge.”