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There was a time in the not too distant past where it was sufficient to post your brochure on the web and call it a day. Poof – we have a website. This made sense. Why spend money on an unproven communication channel? “Our members are not users” was a common defense supporting this strategy. “We’ll wait and see,” was another.
Times have certainly changed. A mere twelve years have passed since the Internet first came into mainstream existence. As with most everything, it has evolved from the “take this brochure and make a website” approach to the transactional phase where the reality that money could be made became apparent, to the transformational phase where internet-based technologies are actually changing how we value and conduct business.
Sadly, the vast majority of credit unions have not kept pace. If you do a random survey of credit union websites you’ll see exactly what I mean. Most are still stuck in the static, simple brochure-like phase, a truly dangerous place to be in today’s world.
Aggressive and committed adoption of the Internet channel is proving to be a major differentiator between those of us that will survive and grow, and those of us who might just fade away.
Look at the competitive landscape. You’re not only competing with banks and credit unions, you’re also increasingly competing with online players who are tapped into your membership better than you are. Looking at financial services category leaders like Etrade.com, Ditech.com, Lendingtree.com, Geico.com, ERA.com, it’s easy to conclude where some of your business might be going.
If you analyze these and other sites, you’ll see that they’re not leading from the traditional “brand” vantage point. They’re certainly not the prettiest, nor are they offering the best-priced products. They have all figured out how the web channel actually works. They’re all leading the pack by providing insightful, interactive-enabled convenience. It’s all about convenience. Visitors to these leading sites are presented with every imaginable tool necessary to research a service or product coupled with the ability to painlessly and immediately purchase said item.
You have to realize these sites are impacting how your members view the Internet. These sites subliminally establish what your members expect the Internet to do for them. These sites are tangibly defining the Internet’s promise and establishing the minimal standards that we all must play by.
Here’s the point: you’re not competing with other credit unions, nor should you base what you do with your website based upon what other credit unions are doing with theirs. Performance standards and expectations are being set elsewhere. Your members are being conditioned by their experiences with other web leaders like eBay, amazon.com, and eTrade. You need to get to where these leaders are, and you need to get there fast.
We all basically sell the same things so we can’t really compete on product selection. We all purchase services from the same vendor pool, at similar price points, so we’re really not competing on price either. We used to think that service was our special differentiator. I argue that this is a dangerous misperception, with quality service being the most diluted differentiator of all on the web. We all promise “the best service” but this is a difficult standard to migrate from your facility to the web.
Your membership and their utility of your website substantiate your “service excellence” claim based upon their interaction behavior. The ability of your website to deliver this critical service element is becoming the key to online success, and it is one of the most difficult challenges. We’re competing through transaction-enabled convenience. This is the equivalent to superior customer service.
Luckily, the cost associated with meeting this challenge has become affordable. There is no excuse for any credit union of any asset size to be fielding an old, stale website. Not in today’s competitive atmosphere, especially with what’s just around the corner. Remember, the Internet is definitely evolving. You need to keep reasonable pace.
We not only have to compete for our daily survival, we also have to be cognizant of present and future requirements related to how we best communicate with our staff and service our membership should we be confronted with situations that challenge our traditional business model.
The recent NCUA request for credit unions to prepare an Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Policy has certainly sparked a lot of discussion. One obvious conclusion is that, of course, we’ll continue to conduct business primarily through electronic channels. By this, we’re of course talking about the Internet.
The problem that currently exists for the vast majority of us is that we currently cannot fulfill this goal through our existing infrastructures. In order for services to continue and for us to retain our membership, let alone grow, we must activate a program that will allow for a seamless transition from today’s interactions to tomorrow’s reality, whatever that may be.
Remember the operative word: convenience. If your members are inconvenienced, or limited in any way by what you cannot do to service their immediate need, you lose. In order to prepare for this uncertain world you need to act now and act with dedicated commitment.
Your website must be able to service your current membership by providing them every possible way to stay in contact with your employees. The ability to actually transact with your organization and conduct the majority of their business electronically would be best. For many of us, this may remain elusive for some period of time. For most of us, this means a serious re-visitation of our current website strategy and commitment.
The discussion and training for this transition needs to begin now. Further, you need a way for your employees to work from remote locations, actually allowing them to communicate with one another and with your members in meaningful ways. Inside your building this would be serviced by your intranet. It’s necessary to empower your intranet with the functionality necessary to allow your employees to work from home, communicate as required, and support your member’s needs. You still need to protect your internal network so you’ll need to prioritize who has what level of access and establish your safety protocols, and of course work out the kinks now rather than later.
The world is changing at a fast clip. The Internet remains a major participant in this accelerating rate of change. The only thing that is evolving faster than technology itself is human’s acceptance and expectations of what this technology can do for them.
As you can see, your website needs to be much more that just an online brochure. It needs to be your primary communication channel; the place you can conduct real business and service your member’s evolving needs. Your website needs to be playing at par in a highly competitive environment. What’s acceptable in this channel is being determined outside of our marketplace. We need to pay close attention to how Internet leaders play the game, and we need to rapidly adopt what works. We all need to create an atmosphere within our walls that recognizes the importance of the Internet channel, and set policy that supports this commitment.
L9.com is an award-winning web services technology CUSO providing custom application design and development services exclusively to credit unions. These services include: Safe2Login – winner of the CUNA Tech Council 2005 Future Forum “Best of Show” award - a Banking Login Mutual Authentication solution that conforms with the recent NCUA and FFIEC agencies issued guidance; knowledge management products and services; multi-language website support; advanced content management solutions; third-party integration services; and L9.com’s Behavior-Based Promotion Manager that provides online targeted marketing solutions which support campaign management with cross-selling intelligence
This sponsored content article is provided to the credit union community for shared insights and knowledge from a recognized solutions provider in the industry. Please note that the views and opinions offered here do not reflect those of Callahan & Associates, and Callahan does not endorse vendors or the solutions they offer.
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June 5, 2006
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