Strategic Business Use of the Internet: Part 3 – Closing the Gap

While the Internet has made it easier to access financial information and resources, some people still need help understanding “what” and “why” they’re even accessing at all.


This is the third article in a three-part series on strategic business use of online capabilities.  In Part 1 , we examined the characteristics of companies that have demonstrated a keen understanding of their customers’ online needs.  In Part 2, we explored the the differences between on-line and in-person customer service.

In the behavior-savvy world of doing business online, we are forever reevaluating the messages conveyed by people’s actions.  We respond by building better interfaces.  It turns out that good web design involving “interactivity” and “usability” is rooted in well-established principles of education, communication studies, and psychology.  Recognizing this broad foundation, we have defined the components of an integrated, behaviorally responsive interactive information system for credit unions and their members.

Too Many Questions
Where do you go to get answers when you need them?  Who is authoritative?  How many opinions are enough?  What constitutes due diligence any more?

People have become accustomed to comparison shopping for just about everything.  The Internet has made it easy, very cost-effective, educational, and even enjoyable.  But how do people apply that new conditioning to their finances?

Credit unions have an information problem that needs to be solved:  understanding what practical working knowledge their members have about financial products and financial matters in general.

You want them to buy your products, but do they really know enough to discriminate between one and another?  Is price the deciding factor?  If not, what are the deciding factors?  Are they having trouble deciding if it’s the right time for them to engage at all?  Are they experiencing angst from procrastination, or indecision simply because of insufficient knowledge?

There are other barriers to overcome. People feel they should already possess a basic financial literacy and tend to be embarrassed about the gaps in their knowledge.  They’re afraid to ask questions because they fear looking dumb.  There is an unreasonable sense that everyne but them is in on the secrets of how to get ahead in life, even though everyone else feels the same way too.  The problem is systemic, chronic, and quite harmful.  But there is a cure.  Part of the answer is education.  We refer to the more complete solution as “closing the gap.”

Informed Decisions + Resources = Wealth Preservation
What’s the “gap”?  The answer is easier to express by what it would be like if there were no “gap”.  If there were no gap: (1) everybody would be informed enough to make responsible financial decisions; (2) everybody would have access to the tools and resources necessary to accomplish the tasks at hand; and (3) everybody would understand how to develop and preserve wealth.

But where can basic financial literacy come from and how can the web serve to position credit unionss as a resource for acquiring this knowledge?

Ordinarily education is something that one obtains in school.  Unfortunately, our schools are notoriously weak at preparing young people for financial planning or even handling their personal finances responsibly.  Credit unions have an opportunity here to serve a general need.

Half of the problem is that people really do know more than they think they know.  The other half of the problem is that they don’t. 

In order to address aspects of financial life that people already understand, one must provide all the necessary tools and resources so they can get the job done conveniently and quickly.  To help those who are truly in the dark, one must present financial education in a more organized academic format.  Complementing that are blocks of related information packaged and presented in a contextualized format, such as in a “Life Events” framework, that members can readily grasp.

The “magic formula” is to provide all of this together in an integrated 1

whole -- in an individual-empowering environment that sells products more profitably, in a community and customer-service-oriented online financial business center that is acceptable to the general public as well-suited to the credit union brand identity.

An Integrated Whole - Closing the Gap

  • Literacy – “Financial Education 101”
  • Glossary of Financial Terminology
  • Graphic Calculators – Analyzers – Scenario Testers
  • “Life Events” clusters
    • Substantial addition of financial education information beyond “101”
    • Alternative structuring/packaging of financial information from various sources that provide a context of meaning for individuals and families to assimilate/review facts pertaining to their immediate or impending circumstances  
    • Integrates essentially with behavior-based response features
  • Knowledge Management & Frequently “Answered” Questions
  • Learning Seminars – Tracking – Follow-up
  • Behavior-Based  -- Guidance -- Promotions and Sales Support

In the next series of mini-articles we will continue with “Closing the Gap.” We’ll discuss alternatives for how it may become real to members through the user interface.  We’ll also describe the various means by which essential information may be managed in the background.  Finally, we will discuss how to build behavioral responses into “gap-closing systems” that may be used to promote the sale of financial products at the same time as they enhance member knowledge.

1Integrated here means real integration. All key elements should be integrated into all other key elements so that they are a seamless whole.