July 11, 2008

Good Gadgets

By Ochalla, Bryan

When it comes to creating a top-notch Web site, "bells and whistles aren't everything," says Mike Bunner, AVP/electronic marketing at Broomall, Pa.-based Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union (www.fmfcu.org), which has $432 million in assets and approximately 51,000 members. He should know. He's been with the credit union for nearly nine years, and in that time has seen its Web site evolve from a simple, if a bit stuffed, page to one that is sufficiently slick yet still serviceable.

"We were limited to what we could do," Bunner says of the site that greeted him when he was hired in 1999. Because the site was handled by a vendor at the time, "we couldn't make any drastic changes," he adds, "just small ones."

When Franklin Mint FCU decided to switch vendors in 2006, "I saw it as the perfect opportunity to do what I had always wanted to do: Start over, get our own ISP (Internet service provider), create a new site from scratch and manage everything ourselves," Bunner says.

The former community banker-and self-taught coder-along with an assistant did just that, after getting the go-ahead from the powers that be at the credit union. The result of their hard work, launched early last year, is an appealing, easy-to-use site that helps members "find information as quickly and easily as possible."


Franklin Mint FCU's focus on information is sure to please Doug Williams, VP/production and finance at Trabian (www.trabian.com), an interactive design firm based in Fishers, Ind.

Earlier this year, Williams posted "Be Good, Not Catchy" to Trabian's OpenSource CU blog (www.opensourcecu.com), in which he suggested that credit union Web sites should be more informational, functional and operational. "[They] should be a resource for staff to solve problems, not just a marketing tool," he wrote.

Williams stands by those words today. "You want people to use your Web site. You want it to be a useful tool," he says. "You don't just want it to be a billboard for your credit union."

One way Williams suggests credit unions can make their Web sites more operational: Post procedural information that members and member service representatives alike may find useful.

"There are so many questions that are still asked of member service representatives that could be addressed on your Web site," he says. For example: How long will it take me to get a debit card? What is the process for replacing my debit card? What if I lose my checkbook?

Along the same lines, Williams suggests credit unions have their member service representatives use the Web site as their primary resource for the very same information. "I used to work at a credit union, and we had notebooks full of this kind of procedural information," he says. "When you changed a procedure, you had to go and change it in all the notebooks, too."

Putting that information on your Web site for everyone to see and use "creates operational efficiencies," Williams says. "It takes some trial and error to perfect this, but when you do you'll have people using your site to answer questions and find information. I don't think credit unions should get away from using intranets to communicate, but they should consider what they can put on their front-facing site that might be otherwise hidden on the intranet, provided it's within regulator guidelines."


None of the executives interviewed for this article went that far when they revamped their credit unions' Web sites in the last few years, though all acknowledged that members (and potential members) played a key role in the design process.

Bunner, for instance, says he poured over statistics gleaned from previous versions of Franklin Mint FCU's Web site before producing the iteration available today.

The process "was all about finding out what our members were coming to the site for, what they were looking for," he says, "and then providing that information right up front on the new site." Franklin Mint FCU's current site won a bronze medal as part of the Fifth Annual Services Industry Advertising Awards (www.siaawards.com}.

North Highlands, Calif.-based SAFE Credit Union (www.safecu.org), with $1.3 billion in assets and 127,000 members, and Olympia-based Washington State Employees Credit Union (www.wsecu.org), with $1.3 billion in assets and 151,000 members, also relied on statistics when they renovated their (now) well-received and award-winning Web sites.

For instance, Tarrah Palomino-Prim, manager of Web services at SAFE CU, says she's "constantly looking at Web trends and adapting ads or content or content placement based on what is working and what isn't working for us."

Palomino-Prim, who worked as a contractor with the University of California-San Diego before joining the credit union two years ago, says she has garnered similarly salient information from focus groups and a feedback tool on the CU's home page that members complete.

"We also pay attention to searches of our site that leave people empty-handed," she adds. "If someone comes to our Web site looking for a fee schedule, but nothing comes up when they search for it, we want to know that so we can make sure that content is available in the future." The CU's search tool has reporting capabilities that flag terms members are using that result in zero responses. "We take the 'zero results found' terms and ensure they are redirected to the appropriate page."

All of those methods "help us figure out what features members would like to see on our current site or on the next generation of our site," Palomino-Prim says, adding that she and her colleagues at SAFE CU always are on the lookout for ways they can make members' online experiences mirror their in-branch experiences.

"We want our Web site to feel friendly and warmwhich is how we want them to feel when they walk into one of our branches," she adds. Making sure members find the information they seek can help them feel this way, she notes.


Statistics are similarly important to Ben Morales, SVP/ chief information officer at Washington State ECU and a CUES member.

"It really helps to have analytics about your Web site," he says. "Although that information may help you see that your site is being used quite a bit and is providing people with useful content, it may help you see the opposite, too-that people are only visiting a few places on your site and the cost and effort and time you're putting into maintaining it could be redirected."

That kind of analysis prompted Morales, who has been with Washington State ECU for five years and has been in the credit union industry for 20, to ask his team of developers the following question last year: If they're not coming here, how can we go to them?

Their answer, according to Morales: "What if we offered our members more options? What if we had a standard Web site like we do now, but we also gadgetized the major components that are most important to our members and allowed them to plug those gadgets into their portal, take us where they go? Why do they have to come to us?"

As a result, Morales and his team are hard at work creating Google Gadgets (http://desktop.google.com/ plugins/)-applications that can be added to a Web site, Google Desktop or iGoogle home page- that will allow current and prospective members to view rates, find branches and run a variety of financial calculators without having to log on to the Washington State ECU Web site first. Morales' team is also working on applications that will allow members to perform those tasks through the popular social networking site, Facebook (www.facebook.com).

Although Morales is excited about both projects, they're still in the incubation stage. "We're still theorizing the effects of going down this road. What will it mean? How will it impact the credit union and our members?" he says, adding that he hopes to see some sort of release by the middle of the year.

"With these products, we want to connect with our members wherever they are," Morales adds. "The idea is to give them the information they need where and when they want it."


This isn't the first time Morales and his team have worked on Web- based products or projects that may seem a bit "out there" to traditionalists in the credit union industry. "We concept things all the time," Morales says. "Sometimes they work out-like the mobile banking product launched a few years ago-and sometimes they don't."

It's all part of the culture Morales has helped create at the credit union. "We spend one week a quarter concepting and piloting," he says. "We just bounce ideas off each other, asking, 'What if we tried this?' or 'What if we tried that?'"

Morales says he isn't interested in tinkering with new technology just for the sake of it, though. "I don't want to add another layer of technology to things if we don't have to-there's enough of that going on in the world. I'm interested in finding out how we can put some of these new technologies together and make them a part of what we do-how we can connect technologies and then extend their reach."


Credit unions don't have to come up with cutting-edge Facebook applications or Google Gadgets to create a best-of-breed Web site. A few technologies any credit union can invest in are live chat (the ability to dialog with members while they surf your Web site) and RSS feeds (subscribers to "really simple syndication" get updates to a particular site via their newsreader, such as www. bloglines. com). Both Bunner and Palomino-Prim consider live chat to be among the highlights of their credit unions' awardwinning Web sites. "It's been a huge help to our member service center by alleviating some of the volume they get from calls," Bunner says of the technology. "It's been a big hit for us."

Williams believes it could be a big hit for other credit unions as well. "I think it's so helpful because it's the way so many of us interact today," he says. "You're taking a kind of interaction people are comfortable with and implementing it into your credit union and your Web site."

He's also a big fan of RSS feeds "because they allow you to communicate with your members without having to go through e-mail, which has been tainted by spam. They're completely opt-in and impossible to spoof."

CDs cook up top-notch Web sites by combining analytics, technology and useful information.


Read Web-only bonus coverage from this article, "Members Get a Sneak Peek at CU's New Web Site,""Should You Bring Your Web Site in House?" and "Trying on New Technology" at cumanagement.org. Choose "May 2008" from the "Past Issues" pull-down menu.

Check out "Members Can see Web Site Their Way,""Driving Traffic to Your Site,""Seven Strategies for Web Site Success" and "What is RSS?" at cumanagement org. Choose "Article Archives" then "Marketing" and finally "Internet Marketing."

Also read "Greet Gen Y With Account Access on Facebook" on the CUES Nexus Connection blog. At cues.org/ nexusconnection/, search for "Facebook."

Bryan Ochalla a formerCredlt Union Management editor, is a free- lance writer based in Seattle.

Copyright Credit Union Executives Society May 2008

(c) 2008 Credit Union Management. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.