Best Practices in CU Websites

Your newest branch is virtual, and your website is the front door.

May 1, 2012

Building the newest version of a credit union branch requires no excavation or concrete. There’s no land, plumbing, or roof overhead.

It doesn’t have a street address, it has a URL.

It’s your credit union’s website, and it’s the gateway to all your remote service-delivery channels.

When members visit your credit union’s website, they expect the same experience they receive at your brick-and-mortar branches. They want websites that are convenient, safe, dependable, and easy to navigate.

Is that the impression your members get from your website? While building an inviting and functional website isn’t easy, some credit unions do better than others. Several CUNA Marketing and Business Development Council Diamond Award winners in the website marketing category offer tips.

Features and functionality


Start with airtight security. Then make sure your website is functional, informative, and relevant to members.
Simplify your home page and drive traffic to specific products and services.
Board focus: Make sure your CU’s website is as friendly and welcoming as its brick-and-mortar branches.

Functionality is the primary reason for most website redesigns, says David Rubini, senior project manager for Intuit Financial Services, a CUNA Strategic Services alliance provider. It drives most decisions and discussions about site redesign, he says. “It’s all about what members expect to be able to do.”

The percentage of consumers using online banking services increased from 27% to 38% between 2009 and 2011, according to Intuit’s Fourth Annual Financial Management Survey. More than 75% of those using online services say they visit brick-and-mortar branches less often because they’re able to conduct their financial business online. And one-third of those using online tools say they’d consider changing financial institutions if they could access better online functionality elsewhere.Those expectations keep expanding, as more members embrace online and mobile banking, he adds. “It’s the nature of the beast that things move pretty quickly—both in terms of technology and consumer expectations.”

Members expect online access to complete, current financial information and services. “We’re more than just their website for online banking now—we’re a full-service financial partner,” says Gerard McGeever, vice president of marketing for $557 million asset Freedom Credit Union, Warminster, Pa.

Members can apply for loans, access the credit union’s Balance Financial Fitness Program, and engage in live chats. Eligible members also have access to Instant Deposit, where they can make a deposit of up to $1,000 online and then send the credit union the check in the mail. This gives them instant access to their funds, says McGeever. “Our newest endeavor will be Card Create, which will allow members to personalize their Visa debit cards online with their favorite pictures.”

Many members still visit their credit unions’ websites for financial education and information. Members want the latest updates through “tickers” with daily loan rates and banners with promotions and specials. They want to know about upcoming events and holiday branch hours.

And they never want to see outdated information, says Rubini. That, he says, undermines everything else the credit union is doing to establish itself as a trusted financial partner.

“The danger of outdated information is the perception that you’re irrelevant—especially in the financial world,” he warns. “If I see ‘Come to the community car wash this weekend,’ and it’s from 2009, my confidence in the credit union’s ability to serve me is diminished.”

NEXT: Content management

Content management

Keeping a website current sounds fairly simple, but that wasn’t always the case. Content management systems (CMS) now allow credit unions to make moderate changes frequently without requiring an advanced skill set. Be-fore CMSs, website updates required code rewrites, which were expensive and cumbersome for credit unions without programmers on staff. That led to infrequent changes and relatively static websites.

That era is over. “I love the fact that our website is based on a CMS,” says Shannon Lynn, director of marketing at $730 million asset OSU Federal Credit Union, Corvallis, Ore. “Instead of focusing on code, we can focus on content. It allows us to make changes faster.”

Another benefit of a CMS, Rubini adds, is that credit unions don’t need complete website overhauls. “You can keep your site relevant without redesigning it,” he says. The CMS lets you update images and content as needed, so your website stays fresh, agrees Lynn.

A CMS helps small or midsize credit unions keep their websites as current and feature-rich as those of larger fi-nancial institutions. Darden Employees Federal Credit Union, Orlando, Fla., with $24 million in assets, has only one small branch in its sponsor’s (Darden Restaurants) headquarters, so it serves its members almost entirely online.

That hasn’t been a problem for the credit union, which doubled its assets and tripled its membership from 2009 to 2011. It proves that size doesn’t matter as much in the online world: Any credit union can compete and thrive online, says Brooke Rodriguez, assistant vice president of marketing.

“You can develop a good website on a shoestring budget,” she says. “If you plan to grow, your website is a vital element. And if you don’t have a website that features good functionality and design, you need to get one. It’s a necessity in today’s environment.”

Best CU Websites GraphAesthetics and navigation

Design alone seldom drives sweeping website facelifts, but aesthetics and navigation do.

OSU Federal’s Lynn learned this firsthand during the credit union’s 18-month website redesign process, which ended in 2010. Lynn consulted member focus groups and staff in every department and every branch. She conducted usability exercises to test portions of the redesigned site.
The new design is now consistent with the rest of the credit union’s branding. Members, not models, populate the site where possible. Navigation is more intuitive. And there are far fewer pages.

“We’d taken the approach previously that everything went on the website and everything went on the home page, because no one went to any other pages,” Lynn says. “Now we use that home page as a way to direct members to other information.

“We want to move them from the home page to the information they’re looking for,” she adds. “Our goal is not to have them stay at the home page.”

Avoiding clutter can be challenging. And limited space on home pages can lead to internal department conflict. The key is to prioritize information and base decisions on what’s relevant to members, says Sharon Cook, senior vice president of marketing and public relations at $3 billion asset Mountain America Credit Union, West Jordan, Utah.

“We have so many products and services,” she says, making it challenging to find website space to promote them all.

It comes down strategic decisions. And it’s critical for credit unions to pay close attention to navigation, says Rodriguez. Her credit union’s website uses “cookie crumb” navigation, which is a small amount of text that shows users how they arrived at a particular point on a site. And she tries to streamline access to products or services wherever possible.

“You should never make a user click more than three times to get where they want to go,” she says.

Remember a call to action—the phrase that instructs people what to do next, such as “Click here to apply for a loan” or “Open an account today,” adds Barry

Sloane, CEO of Newtek Business Services, a CUNA Strategic Services alliance provider.

It has to be the right call to action, emphasizes Rodriguez. She recently changed a home page box that said “join” to “open/apply.” she was concerned prospective members unfamiliar with credit union terminology might not understand “join.” While both are correct, the new call to action, she says, is less confusing and more successful.

NEXT: Security


Your website can look amazing, but members won’t go near it if they’re afraid their personal financial information could be compromised. And the credit union could suffer significant losses to hackers, phishers, and other scammers if security is weak.

A website without airtight security is like a plane without wings. It just won’t fly, says Cook. “Security is what matters; it governs everything we do,” she says. Mountain America maintains its own information technology (IT) functions, but partners with vendors for some aspects of security.

“There are many layers to our approach to security,” says Cook. “We partner with best-of-breed security firms and vendors to strengthen what we’re doing in-house, and we invest in continued security training of our staff.”

Freedom Credit Union also handles much of its own security, says McGeever. The credit union uses a variety of tools for online banking, including encryption and multifactor authentication. And secure certificates and security patches protect the entire website.

Security, McGeever says, is an ongoing process that requires constant education and vigilance. New threats emerge constantly, so the credit union incorporates security checks into routine maintenance. It monitors threat alerts and its own operations so the credit union is prepared to react to anything that might compromise members’ resources and personal information.

It can be overwhelming, but website security concerns or IT limitations shouldn’t overwhelm credit unions or prevent them from adding functionality or services, cautions Sloane.

While some credit unions have the staff and resources to build all their own online products, tools, and security features, he adds, many others rely on vendors to provide functionality to members. In those instances, the website is a portal to separate sites for individual services, such as online banking, bill-pay, or loan applications.

While the sites are connected, the actual credit union website isn’t employed in the login process. In other words, the credit union isn’t collecting username and password data from members to provide access to accounts; the vendor is. In these situations, while the credit union website ostensibly could be hacked, member information generally couldn’t be accessed via the website itself.

Darden Employees Federal is a good example of this model. The credit union uses a tethered login from its home page to online banking, but member information is accessed through the online banking application, where the bulk of the security lies. This doesn’t eliminate security concerns, but it shifts much of the risk to the vendor.

Web analytics

Credit unions don’t have to rely on hunches, anecdotes, or surveys to determine whether they’re communicating effectively. Web analytics—data drawn from website usage—allow them to answer all kinds of questions about Web use patterns. In addition to testing small language changes, Darden Employees Federal tracks visits, unique visits, click-throughs to pages, and amount of time spent on each page.

Analytics also support adding video and other rich media. “If you take a static site that doesn’t have any movement, and then post things with animation and track user behavior, it’s easy to tell,” says Cook. “The proof is there in the Web analytics.”

And search engine optimization—an algorithmic process that uses code, search engine operation patterns, social media penetration, and user data—can help improve a credit union’s online visibility. Ultimately, the goal is to make sure your credit union turns up near the top of the list when someone types “credit union” into a search engine.

“It used to be if you had a domain name and a website, people could find you,” Sloane says. “Now it’s not that easy.” Fortunately, credit unions don’t have to do it alone, says Rodriguez. They can reach out to her and other professionals at Diamond Award-winning credit unions.

And vendors, including Intuit and Newtek, can help credit unions make decisions, narrow options, optimize website investments, plan for the future, and avoid costly mistakes—such as building a beautiful new website and then learning that members can’t access it on their iPads.

Websites are tools to help you meet members’ needs, adds Cook. “It’s not about being edgy. It’s about being pro-gressive and relevant. It means you can offer technologies that are engaging and make offers to members that they’re interested in.”


2012-2013 Credit Union Environmental Scan
CUNA Marketing Council

♦ CUNA Strategic Services alliance providers:
Intuit Financial Services
Newtek Business Services Inc.