Movie star and fitness legend Bruce Lee is often attributed with the following quote, “If you want to learn to swim, jump into the water. On dry land no frame of mind is ever going to help you.” It makes sense, then, that credit unions that want to explore online and mobile services learn from credit unions already swimming in the virtual channel.
To better serve members of the National Association of Realtors, Realtors Federal Credit Union ($89.7M, Rockville, MD) employs a 100% virtual branching model. “We never close,” says Jesse Boyer, COO.
“We considered physical branch structures, but as NAR is not limited to one geographic location, virtual branches were a better fit. We’re looking forward to where the most interest will lie in the industry's future.”
As a virtual credit union, Realtors offers products and services online as well as through non web-based contact points such as call centers and a shared branching ATM network (Realtors is a participant, not an acquirer). The credit union is also positioning itself to better use mobile technologies in the future.
This approach allows the credit union to be more nimble in terms of products and promotions. “We’re not hung up waiting on new flyers, updated branch signs, or other physical promotions,” Boyer says.
“I don’t think this credit union could have been staffed efficiently a few years ago because a lot of our core offerings didn’t exist a few years ago,” Boyer says. For example, before the credit union opened, many questioned how members would deposit checks. Modern technology offered a number of solutions. Realtors joined a network of credit union-based ATMs that accept checks and it offers online remote deposit. The credit union also allows members to mail in checks to avoid isolating those not comfortable with high-tech options.
Realtors demonstrates the effectiveness of virtual channels in day-to-day business, as such, an all-virtual industry is not unimaginable, Boyer says. “Particularly for youth, who are not as dependent on branch structure.”
If a member complains in the online forest, does anyone hear? America First Credit Union ($5.0B, Ogden, UT) incorporated products ratings and reviews as a way to answer that question. It collects and uses feedback to give a voice to its membership.
The reviews increase search engine optimization for the credit union's web pages and provide low-cost, effective marketing avenues, says Mike Salerno, manager of eServices. “We can run print ads that say ‘Members rate this product 4.8 out of 5 stars.’” In many ways, online channel development doesn't just increase member access, it also strengthens and streamlines other portions of the credit union's core activities.
Fast Company ranks Apple among its top "most innovative companies" primarily because Apple consistently surprises. According to the March 2011 issue: "Most impressive ... is how Apple’s platforms have enabled an ecosystem of creativity, from gaming to finance to chipmaking.”
The lesson? Never underestimate the WOW factor of virtual channels; financial institutions CAN bring something new to the technology table.
Now known as First Tech Federal Credit Union ($2.4B, Palo Alto, CA), Addison Avenue FCU developed an augmented reality application for mobile phones that guides users to the nearest ATM and tells them if there is a fee for using it. By looking through the virtual window of the phone screen, viewers seen real life superimposed with icons and images that guide them to their destination.
Wherever your online investment priorities lie, make it useful first, but never forget to make it fun.