Top Tech Trends and Annoyances

Whatever technology you invest in, it needs to work.

December 1, 2010

It’s a bellwether time for tech innovations. Some of them bring obvious improvements. Others are a little annoying. Consider:

• Mobile banking: It’s the cell phone, darn it. That little gem of electronics with the unintelligible contract is fast becoming the No. 1 way members connect with their credit unions. Need to check a balance? Send a text. Want to deposit a check? Click the camera.

• Super ATMs: ATMs are, well, only ATMs. We’ve all seen the new ATM-on-steroids. It takes cash, checks, coins, DNA samples and, finally, your dignity. Add a small camera and you have what some organizations call their “ATM of the future.” But ATMs are all about convenience, not showing what $40,000 and a soldering iron can make. Is it reliable and easy to use? Don’t forget the little stuff.

• Personal finance manager (PFM): While only 5% of members will use it, you still need to offer it. The market is stuffed with free, aggregating PFMs that all promise to allow consumers to get a handle on their spending, control expenses, and lead a happier life. While few will use it continually, not having it insinuates you don’t care about your members’ well-being.

• Social media presence: Remember, social media isn’t free advertising. The folks I follow on Twitter are generally those who provide useful information (such as our state department of transportation which tells me, in real time, how inept our traffic is) or special offers (like Dell Outlet, which has some very good offers…although they’re gone faster than a teenager’s paycheck). I don’t follow tweeters who inundate me with ads, brags, and other useless stuff.

• Real-time systems: Our core vendor throws a big, annual party and invites credit unions to show what they’ve developed internally for their members. At this year’s show, one credit union demonstrated a nifty system: When a member’s debit card is declined at a gas station due to insufficient funds—and that member hasn’t signed up for overdraft protection—the system immediately sends the member a text explaining the reason and suggesting enrollment in overdraft protection. All I could say was “Wow.”

• Member-driven content: If you have nothing to say, listen. Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace are all forms of two-way communication. While legacy marketing says you “tell them, tell them again, and then tell them what you told them,” today’s advice is “listen, analyze, tell, and then listen again.”

• Nontraditional alliances: USAA, for example, partnered with the UPS Store to take deposits at the store’s 1,700 locations. Not bad for a bank that has a worldwide membership but only a handful of physical branches.

• Vendor security: The economy has been hard on vendors, too. So what happens if they replace that expensive information technolo­gy security group with some kid named “Dwayne” who likes to tinker with computers between long sessions of Halo on Xbox?

• Regulation automation: Our No. 1 issue right now is regulation. It seems 2010 was the year regulation writers decided to quit taking coffee breaks and worked some serious overtime. The problem is, compliance costs skyrocketed…and so did staff time in dealing with the changes.

• Reliability: Whatever technology you invest in, it needs to work. The megabank JPMorgan Chase found this out the hard way when its entire home banking site failed for two full days. Of course, it was astute enough to post “This site is down for maintenance” after the first 30 hours or so.

JAMES COLLINS is chief financial officer at O Bee CU, Tumwater, Wash. Contact him at 360-943-0740 or at