Break the Brick and Mortar Barrier

As an early adopter, Workers' Credit Union builds on more than 10 years of successful online services.


Online services are in demand. Members want more options and more convenience when it comes to how they interact with their credit union. For the credit unions themselves, e-services are no longer a matter of member satisfaction. The growth opportunities and cost savings that come with a thorough electronic platform make it a matter of necessity.

Workers Credit Union ($799M, Fitchburg, MA) saw the potential in online services and was an early adopter. For the past 10 years, the credit union has offered members the option of applying for a loan online, and last December it began closing loans online as well. The credit union is pleased with the volume ─ nearly 18% of consumer loans come through the Internet ─ and says it was member feedback that drove the evolution of the service. Now, it’s a mechanism the credit union uses to set itself apart.

“We’ve actively started pushing to close loans through nontraditional channels because members wanted it and we could offer it, so we did,” says Gordon Wetmore, senior vice president of marketing at Workers’ Credit Union.

The process poses little additional risk, as the credit union spends adequate time reviewing the online loan applications. To close the loans, the credit union says scanned emails or a fax machine does the job.

The internet loan program is just one in an array of online services Workers’ offers its members. For credit unions trying to reach the all-elusive Gen X and Gen Y member, e-services are a must have. But they also appeal to tech savvy, traveling baby boomers and members who are accustomed to using the web for all their needs, including financial. It’s an outlet credit unions cannot afford to ignore, and one Workers’ has embraced.

Workers’ is a state chartered credit union. Because anyone who lives or works in Massachusetts can join, Workers’ has a broad membership base. Making branches easily accessible by building them within a three-to five-mile radius of all potential members is not a cost effective strategy. Offering enticing online products is one way to open up the market without requiring the major investment of building multiple branches.

The cuSave product is a high-yield savings account available only online, however, the credit union still allows old-fashioned depositing within the walls of a physical branch. The credit union decided to launch the savings account as one of its initial eServices because it was an easy product to develop and market, and it was an easy concept for members to understand. The account is completely electronic. Members access it online, open it online and can move money in and out, including from and to other institutions, online. Currently, members have $8 million deposited into cuSave, and Workers’ is using it as a way to introduce members to other accounts. The account has a low closure rate, indicating members are happy with the rate and happy with the ease.

“We have had a lot of positive feedback,” says Christopher Saari, assistant vice president of Internet banking at Workers’. “Members might open a cuSave account with a small deposit, and a couple of months later we will see a large deposit from other financial institutions.”

“Once they see how easy it is to open and use the account, they come back for a checking account or an auto loan,” Saari says. “Especially because we already have their information and they are already a member.”

When it comes to tying account incentives with e-initiatives such as paperless statements, direct deposits and debit card usage, members who use the online products such as cuSave gravitate toward those behaviors.

For example, Workers’ offers an extreme checking account with high rates for high balances. Many of the members who take advantage of that account also use cuSave. Although the extreme checking is not strictly an eProduct, the members are treating it that way. They are linking direct deposits and bill pay to the account as well as using its debit card for transactions.

Although the somewhat recent availability of services such as remote deposit reinforces the possibilities of the Internet, online products are not a new consideration for Workers’. They are all essential elements in an environment where loosing business is a simple mouse click away.