If You Build It, Will They Bank?

The right mix of development and communication strategies ensures members will use online delivery channels.


In the process of growing from a single location without an external sign into an $832 million player in the Portland, OR, community, Unitus Community Credit Union has learned to prioritize its goals.

Several projects had to be put on the back burner during the toughest years of the recession, says CEO Patricia Smith, but the credit union also realized some investments, such as building a foundation for a solid online financial suite, were too important to pass up.

Over the years, the credit union has established a formidable gamut of online delivery channels. The credit union is unveiling several online advances this month, further extending its service reach far beyond its physical branches. Some of its more notable accomplishments include:

  • Unitus' online banking penetration has increased from 24% three years ago to 36% today. The credit union optimizes its website for mobile devices to increase its web traffic.
  • Currently, 551 members use Total Finance, the credit union's Geezeo-based PFM service. The service is garnering as many as 10 new enrollees every day.
  • Unitus' overall online transactions and electronic bill payment activity is growing at roughly 20% per year. Members can move funds between Unitus and other institutions though the uTransfer feature.
  • The credit union rolled out a mobile banking platform for the iPhone in December. Blackberry and Droid versions are following in January.

“With each online offering, we first developed a needs assessment for what we believed our members were looking for on the front-end as well as well as what Unitus would need on the back-end,” says Laurie Kresl, vice president of planning and busi-ess development.

Online delivery channels have plenty of benefits. They reduce costs, lower in-branch and phone transactions, and create loyal relationships with members. These benefits are only realized, however, if members adopt the online services. To achieve adoption rates similar to its own, Unitus offers several best practices.

Increase Member Convenience
Potential members can go online to join Unitus or apply for loans and mortgages. Now with digital signature capabilities rolling out next quarter, members can open new accounts and deposits without ever coming into the branch unless they choose to, Kresl says.

Create Additional Value 
In partnership with Equifax, the credit union offers free credit scores through its online suite to members whose relationship with the credit union includes a credit product," Kresl says. Member usage of e-statements and home banking helps offset the cost of the credit score service. Unitus online banking also allows members to easily redeem rewards from their Visa cards to shop for merchandise, pay down their principal, or donate their rewards points to charity.

Action Speaks Louder than Words
We’ve increased understanding and usage of our online systems using in-branch training sessions, conducted as classes for members,” says Kresl. The credit union either displays online services on a large plasma screen in the branch or demonstrates on iPads in the field. “We find that once people see these services (whether its bill pay, online banking, or total finance), they will use them," Kresl says.