September 1, 2006
By Theresa Benavidez
When it comes to meeting member service expectations, technology is like the proverbial double-edged sword: it enables greater convenience, but raises the bar for service in the process. Technology's pervasiveness in consumers' lives forces credit unions to meet ever-intensifying demands for improved convenience.
And today, convenience isn't only a matter of being available whenever and wherever a member chooses. It also means service that is personalized and delivered securely.
One of the most promising examples of personalized, convenient service is electronic alerts, which members are beginning to embrace. Delivered via e-mail, alerts can be broadcast messages applicable to all members (i.e., a car loan promotion) or personalized to the individual member based on a specific request (i.e., "notify me when my share draft balance falls below $500").
The latter is extremely convenient, as it places the onus on the credit union to keep the member informed of account-specific events that the member deems important.
The individual's credit score and other factors determine how soon the funds are available.
The most creditworthy members usually receive at least some of the funds immediately. The member avoids a trip to the branch or automated teller machine while gaining access to deposited funds sooner. While e-deposit is still in the infancy stage, it's expected to take off dramatically and may eventually become another must-have, me-too commodity.
A third service that's being driven by the demand for greater convenience is account-to-account transfer: offering members the flexibility to electronically transfer funds between accounts at the credit union and other financial institutions. The member enjoys the ease of managing funds across multiple institutions without the cumbersome steps of writing checks or wiring funds.
With several methods available to authenticate the individual before allowing a transfer to occur, the member enjoys the peace-of-mind that the service is both convenient and secure.
Members' growing awareness of security threats is fueling the adoption of convenience services like secure messaging. Unlike e-mail, a secure messaging solution enables the member to communicate with the credit union electronically without the risk of a hacker obtaining personal information about the member or his/her account.
Because the communication occurs within the secure Internet banking site, after the member has logged in, it can not be compromised the way e-mail communication can. Members retain the convenience of communicating with the credit union online 24/7, while enjoying a much greater degree of security than e-mail allows.
As with all products and services, it's critical to understand your member demographics and members' needs before implementing a particular service--one that may or may not be perceived by your members as convenient or necessary.
Another common mistake is to add a new service and assume members will find out about it. Be sure that your rollout plans include aggressive marketing of the new conveniences you've added to drive adoption.
Looking ahead, credit unions should keep their eyes on e-commerce as the area where the newest and most promising convenience services will emerge. The Internet is likely to drive the greatest innovation in technologies that deliver what members demand: the flexibility, freedom, and security to manage their funds when and how they choose.
Theresa Benavidez is senior vice president/chief technology officer for USERS, Valley Forge, Pa. Contact her at 800-523-7282.