First Tech Federal Credit Union ($6.2B, Mountain View, CA) — the product of a 2011 merger between Oregon’s First Tech Credit Union and California’s Addison Avenue Federal Credit Union — is by all measures a large institution. Yet it is also a surprisingly nimble one.
First Tech’s midyear efficiency ratio, 54.9%, was significantly lower than the 72.4% average for cooperatives with more than $1 billion in assets. The institution can run lean with minimal drag partly because of its commitment to self-service technology such as mobile banking, says senior director of digital channels Ali Shafai.
Its newest tech offering is a native mobile app for Windows Phone. The full-service app, which complements the Android and iOS options First Tech released in 2012 and includes both bill pay and mobile deposit, is a first for the credit union industry. First Tech developed the app in-house with help from a web development company called Trabian and released it to members earlier this year.
Download rates for the Windows option have been on par with the credit union’s other mobile apps, but Shafai predicts it has the potential to overtake Android in terms of member adoption.
“Windows Phone users are less common than iPhone or Android users, so those who choose this platform are especially passionate about it,” Shafai says. “They get excited at the idea of having an app tailored to them.”
The credit union has promoted its Windows app at various Microsoft campuses, including the main location in Redmond, WA, and has also sponsored a number of public awareness campaigns to highlight all three mobile options. Microsoft Marketplace also featured the new app in a weekly spotlight for five consecutive weeks after its release. Despite the success the credit union has achieved for its Windows Phone and other apps, the credit union knows its mobile strategy wouldn’t necessarily be a fit for everyone.
“A mobile presence is an absolute necessity, but in regard to which route you should take or how many different platforms you want to serve, there’s no one right answer,” Shafai says.
Many times, piloting the right course requires railing against conventional wisdom or widely accepted notions. Below are four of the biggest mobile misconceptions that can cause institutions to fall short of their potential in the mobile space.
Misconception: You Have To Cover All The Bases
Reality: With Some Exceptions, You Want To Play The Odds
As Shafai is quick to point out, Windows apps probably aren’t be the biggest priority for many cooperative institutions, particularly those with more limited technology budgets. This isn’t a reflection on the platform, which Shafai says is just as easy to develop for and use as others, but on the mobile marketplace itself.
Nationally, only slightly more than 3% of smartphones sold run on the Windows platform; Android and Apple dominate the majority. These two big players are the safest bet, but there might also be opportunities for credit unions to incorporate other mobile options for localized pockets of membership and certain communities.
“Microsoft is one of our SEGs, and these members are a prominent part of the credit union,” Shafai says. “They saw what we did with our other apps and liked it, but they really wanted to be able to do business with us on their own platform. When you have tens of thousands of members asking for something, then it makes sense to assist them with that.”
Misconception: Technology Gets In The Way Of Member Relationships
Reality: Technology Is An Important Way To Build Member Relationships
Remote channels are a necessity from an efficiency and member service perspective. But credit unions can take things one step further and use these offerings to enhance or grow new connections with members, area employers, and the general community.
For example, First Tech has a history of supporting new products developed by its SEG groups, essentially helping to springboard these offerings to a more prominent place in the market.
In the past, the credit union has partnered with Hewlett-Packard (HP) to highlight this company’s advanced printing capabilities. And the additional investment by First Tech to help the Windows Phone catch up to dominant players is a huge differentiating factor in the eyes of Microsoft.
Plus, the benefits of these relationships go both ways.
The credit union’s initial three-person online/mobile development team, which has since grown by two more individuals, spearheaded a majority of the Windows app project. In addition to tapping a third party for some front-end design elements, the credit union also leveraged several individuals from Microsoft’s design, technical, and review teams to minimize roadblocks and ensure a stronger product.
“We co-developed our Windows Phone app alongside the team at Microsoft who created the platform and this helped us bridge some of our knowledge gaps,” Shafai says. “This partnership with Microsoft gave us a greater sense of confidence when it came time to submit our app to the marketplace.”
Misconception: There’s No Such Thing As Too Many Options
Reality: Simplicity And Consistency Sometimes Matter More Than Choice
Using the same in-house development team for both online and mobile products helps First Tech create a uniform experience in all its remote services, but there are still differences among the multiple app platforms the credit union must anticipate and manage.
“We’ve found that iOS and the Windows platform are easier to develop for from a user interface perspective,” Shafai says. “It all goes back to having a more formulaic update progression. Without that, you can have a wide variety of hardware and operating systems in use that can cause the user experience to vary more.
First Tech also hones in on the distinct strengths of the mobile channel and shapes its offerings accordingly. For example, no mobile app is an exact port of the credit union’s online home banking site.
“There’s some functionality in online banking that doesn’t make sense on a mobile platform, and there is some functionality that makes the most sense on a mobile platform,” Shafai says. “We don’t try to translate everything to every channel, but we want to be mindful that the experience is pleasing and intuitive no matter what platform a member chooses."
The credit union even extends its attention to consistency to mobile security and authentication methods, as forcing members to go through dramatically different processes than those used online can discourage use of the channel altogether.
Misconception: Tablets Are Just An Extension Of Mobile
Reality: Tablets Are Their Own Channel And They Deserve Their Own Strategy
By 2014, First Tech is also looking to release apps specific to both Apple and Android tablet products.
“Our employees already use tablets in the branches,” Shafai says. “This technology has brought a new level of mobility, as well as new service and lending scenarios, to the organization. Now we can do the same thing in regards to how members use these devices at home.”
The larger screens on tablets make a wider array of activities, such as loan applications, plausible. However, credit unions need to rethink their processes from a design and user experience perspective to unlock the full potential of this channel.
“Consumer loan applications already work fairly well on a tablet device, but if you try a larger or more complex activity such as a mortgage loan application in its typical form, the result would be disastrous,” Shafai says. “The key to success is to design a simple and intuitive app and collect just enough information to provide a preliminary pre-approval. Credit unions must also streamline their back-end processes to provide for a more effortless experience.”
This article originally appeared on CreditUnions.com on October 21, 2013.