CUs Are Turning To Technology To Help Cope With High Price Of Gas

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. - The rise of gasoline prices is inspiring many credit unions to explore new technology opportunities as a way to provide more at-home banking services for its members that may want to avoid driving to a branch.

Financial Resources Federal Credit Union here recently introduced a mobile banking solution allowing its members that are registered for the CU’s Internet banking service – called WebBranch – to conduction different types of transactions through any Web-enabled mobile device. Members can check rates, balances and history; make transfers; view, pay and cancel bills; and locate credit union branches, ATMs and shared service centers – all through their mobile decide. MShift – a provider of mobile banking solutions, based in California, is powering the 23,000-member CU’s mobile banking service.

“Plus we have added an enhancement to our mobile banking solution, and will be announcing the launch of our text-messaging service,” said Daniel Gontcharenko, director of marketing for the $328-million credit union.

“With this service, members registered in our Internet banking service can select one of three choices of information to send directly to their mobile device – account balances, last three transactions, both balances and last three transactions,” Gontcharenko explained.

John Reed, CEO of the 23,000-member Maine Savings Federal Credit Union in Hampden, Maine, said his CU has been very careful to stay on the forefront of providing high-tech electronic means to allow its members to utilize the credit union’s services in convenient and cost-effective ways for them.

“We provide a full-service home-banking option, which includes all types of transactions– deposit and loan–including bill pay,” Reed said. “Our members with mortgages can view their accounts online as well and view when their escrows are paid, and of course, make payments online. For those without Internet access, we provide automated phone banking.”

The $188-million CU has also increased its number of ATM locations, Reed noted.

“All of our branch locations have drive-through ATMs, but we also have installed ATMs at some of our large SEGs so that members can have access to cash and balance inquiries at their job sites,” Reed said.

Reed said that it’s obvious that members are taking advantage of its new technology, as its online home-banking is increasing at more than 20% per year, bill-pay accounts have doubled over the last year, and online statements are up almost 240%.

“We have positioned ourselves so that a member could set up direct deposit for their pay and transact almost all business via phone or Internet,” Reed said.

At the $502-million Purdue Employees Credit Union in West Lafayette, Ind., members are also being given more opportunities to bank from home.

“At PEFCU, our goal is to be our members’ financial partner for life and that includes consistently providing members with cost-effective, convenient ways to manage their money,” said Nicole Thompson, marketing specialist for the 56,000-member CU.

PEFCU has been providing its members with free online banking services, including electronic statements and alerts, and online bill pay and account aggregation for several years, Thompson said.

“Earlier this year, we launched PEFCU2go mobile banking service, which allows our members to access and manage their accounts for free anywhere, anytime, via their Web-enabled cell phones or other mobile devices,” Thompson said. “This service has been well-received by members, with nearly 350 unique users within one month after the launch.” Other CUs are also introducing new services or upgrading existing ones to help keep their members from spending money on gasoline to visit the branch.

“Knowing that members would rather not get into their cars unless they absolutely have to, we have continued to invest in electronic services that allow members to do just about everything from home that they can do in a branch,” said John Bissell, SVP for Greylock FCU in Pittsfield, Mass. In the past year, the $1-billion Greylock FCU has upgraded its online home-banking system to ensure it is faster and more secure, Bissell noted.

“We have also enhanced our bill-pay system and e-statement platform, and usage of all these services is way up,” he said.

The CU is also seeing strong volume in online consumer loan and mortgage applications.

Fuel prices are also a concern for small businesses, Bissell said, and later this year the 63,000-member CU will enable its business-banking members to deposit checks through remote image capture.

“That will allow a lot of retailers and service businesses to save on trips to a branch,” he said.

Greylock FCU has also offered its “Nice Touch” telephone teller service for many years, Bissell said, “which gives members the option to bank from anywhere by simply using their telephone.”

“We are evaluating mobile banking right now, which would speed home banking access via PDAs and cell phones, and determining how it fits in to the whole mix of e-services,” he added.

Baxter Credit Union in Vernon Hills, Ill., is currently focusing on improving its remote delivery strategy and capabilities to ensure its integrated sales and service approach will serve its members from wherever they choose, said Bob McKay, senior vice president/COO of the 135,000-member credit union.

“Our SEG strategy brings us membership from around the country, and even the globe, so we have been required to look beyond our branch network for some time,” McKay said.

Initiatives being addressed at the $1.4-billion Baxter CU at present include: a newly launched mobile-banking application, a redesigned website offering new functionality and improved navigation planned to roll out in the next 90 days, a new checking account targeting non-branch members, and a remote-deposit functionality that is expected to be rolled out later this year.

American First CU in La Habra, Calif., has also recently rolled out a remote-deposit capture program to help its members avoid driving to a branch. This product allows members to deposit a check from home for up to $1,500.

“We just ask the member to mail us the check,” said Ryan Zilker, vice president of marketing and planning of the $692-million CU.

When marketing this new service, the credit union tried to identify members most likely to use the product, such as those making ATM deposits–about 2,000 members.

“We’re marketing it in our member magazine, and statements,” he said. “The response rate has been about 30%. The members who have used it are enjoying it. They’re using it regularly. I think the gas prices definitely play a part, plus the convenience of not having to leave the house. Also, we have a lot of members who don’t live near a branch.

Right now 70,000-member American First CU is not using the service as a way to attract new members.

“It’s something that a lot of places are offering now so I don’t think it’s that unique,” he said.

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