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Happy New Year: Stanford Federal Credit Union Offers Refi Auto Loans to Start the Year Right

By Jim Bruene on January 1, 2013 4:23 PM | Comments

image Besides losing weight and hitting the gym more often, financial matters dominate the New Year's resolution list. Spend less. Save more. And in general, just be smarter about your money. During this brief window of rational thinking, financial institutions would be wise to promote these smart products and services.

But in a fairly exhaustive search today (31 Dec 2012), looking at the 40 largest U.S. banks and at least that many credit unions (note 1), we found only  one New Year-themed promotion (note 2), a 1.49% auto-refi offer from Stanford Federal Credit Union (see below).

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Stanford FCU homepage (31 Dec 2012)

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Landing page for New Year promo

image

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Notes:
1. The first 40 to 50 credit unions listed in the Google results when searching "credit union" from a Seattle IP address.
2. Several credit unions posted well wishes and holiday hours on their homepages. Also, Fifth Third has a "celebrate 2013" message on its homepage as we reported last week.
3. Picture from New Year email and infographic by Finovate alum, Kiboo

Comments

Design: Pelican State Credit Union Reinforces Auto Loan Mailer with Homepage Notification

By Jim Bruene on December 18, 2012 1:31 PM | Comments

image Integrating offline marketing with online fulfillment is a promising way to improve ROI. Pelican State Credit Union grabs member attention with a temporary yellow bar across the top of the page (see screenshot below). It directs members that received an auto loan direct mailer to an online application.

I like this approach. It garners attention for the offer, but the narrow banner disappears permanently once users click the X in the upper-right corner. 

However, this extra attention can be a mixed blessing. It's great for those members that received the offer (and remembered they did). But for everyone else, they are left scratching their heads after clicking "more info." 

The landing page doesn't mention how to check whether you were one of the chosen recipients or how you might otherwise qualify for the deal. It also does nothing to reinforce the offer, which apparently was for an auto refinance. The slim copy simply points everyone to the generic online application. 

Bottom line: The yellow bar across the top is a great way to grab attention. But, you need to answer basic questions about the promo or you risk irritating members (see note.

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Off topic: The CU is nicely decked out for the holidays with three timely messages among its five rotating promos: 

  • Visa Gift Cards, which unfortunately, require a trip to the branch to purchase (see first screenshot)
  • Double rewards points for using its Visa card in December
  • General holiday greeting, which leads to a YouTube picture collage with music

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Pelican State Credit Union adds an Auto loan promo reminder at top of page (18 Dec 2012
Note: The CU also is nicely decked out for the holidays.

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Landing page for Auto Loan Refinance mailer
Note: Blank box on left makes the page look like something is broken.

image

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Note:
1. The CU has a prominent "chat now" button, so interested members could potentially get a quick answer there, assuming CSRs manning the chat are equipped to determine eligibility.

Comments

Oklahoma Employees Credit Union Posts Seven Specials for Black Friday and Cyber Monday

By Jim Bruene on November 21, 2012 11:37 AM | Comments

imageDuring the past few years we've reported on Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions at financial institutions (last year). ING Direct is the only large bank that has consistently used the post-Thanksgiving holiday in its marketing (see below) and we are glad to see it continue under Capital One ownership.

imageThis year we found another new entrant for our database of holiday offers, 42,000 member Oklahoma Employees Credit Union. It has a prominent black tag on its homepage announcing a "Black Friday Money $ale" (see first screenshot). 

And from the looks of it, the CU has created a pretty hot offer, leading with car loans as low as 1.49% with no payment due for 90 days (well after holiday spending subsides). But that's just one of the seven holiday offers (second screenshot). The CU is also offering:

From Black Friday to Cyber Monday (Nov 23 to 26)

  • 1.49% APR* on New or Used Auto Loans 
  • 1.00% APR^ Off Unsecured Loans
  • Surcharge Free Gift Cards***
Black Friday to the End of the Year (Nov 23 to Dec 31)
  • 90 days no pay**
  • $149 Mortgage Loan Origination Fee^^
  • $49 Credit*^ with New MasterCard
  • 0.49%tt Business Loan Origination Fee

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    Oklahoma Employees Credit Union homepage with Black Friday specials (Wed, 21 Nov 2012)

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    Black Friday landing page (link)

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    ING Direct homepage with Black Friday offers (21 Nov 2012)

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    ING Direct Black Friday teaser page (link)
    Note: The bank does not reveal the actual offers until midnight Thursday

    image

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    Fine print on Oklahoma Employees Credit Union offers:

      *Annual Percentage Rate. 640+ credit score. Max term 60 months; estimated payment $17.31 per $1,000 borrowed. Min amount $10,000. Existing OECU loan min advance $2,500. Requires automatic payments and eStatements. 
      ** Borrower may defer initial auto loan payment up to 90 days. Interest will accrue from date of advance. 
      ^ Annual Percentage Rate. Reduction from regular earned rate as determined by credit score. 
      *** Up to 5 cards
      ^^ Max 12 years up to $250,000 and 75% loan-to-value as determined by appraisal or AVM. 
      *^ Initial transaction must be made by 1/10/13. Credit to be issued by 2/10/13. 
      tt Owner occupied commercial real estate. Max loan $500,000. Additional closing costs may apply. Normal lending policies apply.

      Comments

      Links from My Presentation at the National Credit Union Directors' Convention

      By Jim Bruene on August 6, 2009 9:12 AM | Comments (2)

      image Thanks to everyone who attended my presentation: Ecommerce Opportunities for Credit Unions yesterday at the CU National Directors' Convention in Las Vegas. 

      Here are the links to the examples cited:

      Mobile banking

      Second-generation online banking (online banking 2.0)

      Connecting with people

      Comments (2)
      Categories: Conferences, Credit Unions

      Mobile Banking Launch at CFE Credit Union Includes "Live" Demo on Cellphone Emulator

      By Jim Bruene on July 24, 2008 10:11 AM | Comments (2)

      image While the launch of a mobile-optimized version of your online banking site is no longer news on the national level, it's still important for your customers. And the launch will generate many questions starting with "How much" then, "Is it secure" followed by, "How tricky is it to use."

      That's why I love Central Florida Educators' Federal Credit Union's landing page for its new mobile service (thanks to Brandon McGee for the link, see note 1). The CU makes it easy for users to get questions answered with three choices:

      • Video tour for the YouTube crowd, those willing to sit still for a few minutes while it downloads and plays
      • Live demo, where the DIY/ADD crowd can get right at it, plugging their username/password into the emulator and accessing their own account data
      • FAQs where the "manual readers" of the world can check out all the do's and don'ts before trying it

      The CU makes it clear the offering is FREE but overlooks a key member concern: security. It is question number three of the mobile FAQ, but for those of us who don't read manuals, a graphical security icon or link would be a good addition to the page.

      CFE Credit Union mobile banking landing page 9 July 2008

      Note:
      1. CFE's mobile service is available at <mobile.mycfe.com>.

      Comments (2)

      Beehive Credit Union Uses Blogging Platform to Create Custom Websites for Each Branch

      By Jim Bruene on July 1, 2008 7:10 PM | Comments (6)

      image Salt Lake City's Beehive Credit Union is launching eight microsites, one for each of its eight branches. The sites are based on a blogging template and are nearly identical.

      As you can see in the screenshot below, the only differences are:

      • Branch name and photo across the top
      • Branch name inserted into various headlines and copy throughout the site
      • Contact Us page lists only the specific branch

      URLs are based on the main site, with the branch/city name in place of the "www":


      What it means
      The Beehive sites illustrate two trends: 

      • Developing a full Web presence from a blogging template
      • Creating custom websites for geographic areas or individual branches

      While I like what Beehive is doing, I hope they take it to the next level and create a more customized experience by letting branch employees add content themselves or at least control some aspects of the microsites.

      The CU is working with Listpipe for content creation. Thanks to Jeffry Pilcher for the find.

      Beehive South Jordon site (1 July 2008)

      Beehive Credit Union South Jordan site

      Beehive Taylorsville site (1 July 2008)

      Beehive Credit Union Salt Lake City Taylorsville site July 2008

      Comments (6)

      Digital Federal Credit Union and Four Others Offer Consumer Remote Deposit Capture Through EasCorp

      By Jim Bruene on April 13, 2008 9:23 PM | Comments (4)

      VIP Deposit from Sharon Credit Union USAA is no longer the only financial institution offering consumers the ability to deposit paper checks from the comfort of home using standard home scanning technology (see previous coverage here).

      image Through DepoZip, a new offering from Massachusetts-based corporate credit union, EasCorp, five northeastern credit unions have recently begun offering remote deposit capture services for their members. In addition, Austin, TX-based Randolph-Brooks FCU is slated to launch it later this spring.

      According to its published prices, the cost is $15,000 to implement the program ($5,000 for the license and $10,000 for training), then $100/mo plus $0.40 per active user plus $0.01 per its plus applicable image processing fees which range from $0.03 to $0.14 per item. Compared to manually handling deposits at the teller window, that's a bargain. 

      The service was piloted beginning in August last year and launched in November at Sharon Credit Union (see inset image) and Hanscom Federal Credit Union. The latest to roll it out is 300,000 member Digital Federal Credit Union. 

      Company HQ Size Service Name Launch Date
      Sharon CU Sharon, MA $590 mil assets VIP Deposit (Virtual Item Processing) Nov 2007
      Hanscom FCU Bedford, MA $280 mil assets Easy Deposit Nov 2007 (pilot began Aug 2007)
      Service CU Portsmouth, N.H. $1 billion assets   Dec 2007
      Paragon FCU Montvale, NJ $390 mil assets
      62,000 members
      eDeposit Jan 2008
      Digital FCU Marlborough, MA 320,000 members; 150,000 banking online PC Deposit Feb 2008
      (2000 members enrolled in first 3 weeks; pilot began Aug 2007)
      Randolph-Brooks FCU San Antonio, TX $3 billion assets
      250,000 members
        coming in late spring
      Comments (4)

      Zopa Credit Union Partners Give it Top Billing

      By Jim Bruene on December 19, 2007 6:12 PM | Comments

      In researching our latest report on P2P lending, we visited the websites of Zopa's six credit union partners to see how they were promoting, and explaining, the relatively complicated new product. Overall, they gave Zopa surprising prominence. Five of the six mention it on their homepages, with three of those running large banners, usually in rotation with other offers (see list below as observed on Dec. 6). USA Federal Credit Union is the lone holdout, with no mention of Zopa on its website so far.

    • Addison Avenue FCU ==> Square ad on right side of hompage
    • Affinity Plus FCU ==> Banner on homepage 
    • First Tech CU ===> Two places on homepage, banner in the middle rotating with
          four offers and square box on right (see screenshot below)
    • FORUM CU ===> Small graphic and link on bottom of homepage
    • Provident CU ==> Banner on homepage rotating with four offers 
    • USA Federal CU ==> Not mentioned on website
    • Analysis
      I understand why the credit unions are featuring their Zopa relationship. It's new, it's different, it's exciting and the helping-others message fits right in with the holiday spirit. However, for the most part, the program is woefully under-explained when clicking through the banners. I have to believe the most common member reaction to seeing the Zopa product info is, "Huh?"

      It must lead to some interesting conversations on the phone and in the branch. Some of which may result in sales, so it's not all bad. But I don't think the ultimate purpose of partnering with Zopa is to confuse members to the extent that they call. There are easier ways to do that.

      Examples
      First Tech CU has two images on its homepage, both emphasizing Zopa's core message of helping. And the educational aspect is helpful (see screenshot below).

      Addison Avenue CU takes a light-hearted approach on its homepage ad, saying:

      Introducing Zopa (And no, it isn't a new energy drink)

      And Addison Avenue does the best job explaining the service, although I still think it raises more questions than it answers.  

      Comments

      How Zopa Operates Nationwide Through Just Six Credit Union Partners

      By Jim Bruene on December 7, 2007 9:40 AM | Comments (2)

      One of the first questions that arose when Zopa began facilitating loans and deposits for six U.S. credit unions earlier this week was, "What about (CU) field of membership requirements?" (see coverage here). It turns out that four of the six credit unions working with Zopa offer membership to anyone in the United States as long as the prospective member joins one of the supported organizations. And Zopa handles that hurdle during the signup process for its marketplace.

      For example, when I purchased a Zopa CD earlier this week, I was given the choice of joining either First Tech Credit Union, which offers membership to anyone in my state (Washington) or Addison Avenue Credit Union, which anyone can join provided they pay $5/yr to join the Financial Fitness Association. And to make the process simpler, Zopa covers the first year of association dues (see screenshot below).

      Bank Deals blog dug out the membership requirements of the six Zopa partner credit unions (here). Here are the four that offer membership through one or more organizations: 

      Comments (2)

      First Look: Zopa Opens in the United States with Depository Model

      By Jim Bruene on December 2, 2007 4:53 PM | Comments (3)

      Zopa US opened a private beta Saturday morning, emailing selected customers that had previously signed onto its mailing list. Both of our listed email addresses received invites.

      We'll look closer at the new service in our upcoming Online Banking Report on P2P lending, but what stands out is the business model: part P2P lender, part deposit-taking financial institutions, part charitable organization, part broker, and part lead-generation site. I'm not positive you can be all of those things at once, but it will be fascinating to see if Zopa and its partner credit unions can pull it off.

      How it works
      To understand how the Zopa US system works, you must first realize that all loans and all deposits are held at the six partner credit unions (see list below). So in that way, Zopa is a pure lead-generation play.

      Zopa "investors" put their money in fixed-rate, 1-year certificates of deposits held by a credit union partner. Borrowers take out 5-year fixed-rate personal loans, again from a credit union partner. This part is pure depository financial institution, with Zopa as a broker. 

      Finally, the P2P/social finance aspect comes into play with the requirement that all depositors must choose to "help" at least one borrower by reducing the borrower's loan payment. The depositor has the choice of accepting the highest rate of interest, currently 5.1%, and making a token donation, or sharply reducing the APY on the Zopa CD in order to provide more financial assistance to Zopa borrowers. Depositors select who they want to help from the listed loans. An obvious scenario would be a grandparent investing a substantial sum into low-interest Zopa CDs, so that a child/grandchild could take out a 5-year loan to help with a down payment on a house. But depositors may also help a stranger whose story they find appealing. 

      Our preliminary take
      Zopa has removed much of the uncertainty from the P2P lending process. But by eliminating the risk, they've also reduced available returns. Marketing Director Wade Lagrone, with whom I spoke Saturday afternoon (as Zopa engineers hammered away on the final tests), believes that U.S. investors overwhelmingly prefer low-risk, fixed-income investments and will prefer this P2P model.

      I'm not convinced yet. It seems like a somewhat convoluted path to buy a simple CD. First, you must set your deposit rate, choose one or more borrowers to help, and finally join one of the six credit unions. The website makes the process relatively straightforward, but it's not the same as simply dropping a few grand into an online bank. 

      On the other hand, the ability to donate all or part of your deposit's interest-yield could appeal to certain investors, especially the well-heeled looking to help family members obtain below-market-rate loans for defined purposes (home purchase, education, business expansion, etc). And eliminating lender risk removes the huge chore of keeping lenders happy and informed about their book of loans. 

      Another potential problem is lack of transparency for borrowers. To obtain a Zopa loan, prospective borrowers fill out a nonbinding "loan quote." Not until after this application is made, and a credit inquiry logged, do borrowers find out if they will receive the lowest rate of 8.75% or the highest of 16.99%. And borrowers have no idea whether they will receive "help" from investors to lower their payment, and effectively reduce the APR of the loan.

      Screenshot: Zopa CD setup (1 Dec 2007)
      Zopa investors (aka lenders) select the rate of return for their 1-year CD and then choose a borrower to help by offsetting a portion of their Zopa loan payment.

       
      Appendix: Credit Union Partners
      The six U.S. credit union partners of Zopa US:

      • Addison Avenue Federal Credit Union
      • Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union
      • FirstTech Credit Union
      • FORUM Credit Union
      • Provident Credit Union
      • USA Federal Credit Union

      Comments (3)

      Blog Sighting: Carolina Postal Credit Union's Irreverent "I Love My Hoopty"

      By Jim Bruene on November 20, 2007 9:32 AM | Comments (2)

      Finally, we have someone using a blog to have a little fun (note 1). Carolina Postal Credit Union's blog, I Love My Hoopty, is using humor and user-generated content to drum up car loan business. Through its website and blog, the CU asks users to write about and post pictures of their first cars, and the more rickety the better. I wasn't familiar with the term, but apparently in this context "hoopty" means an old rickety car. 

      The hoopty theme is also used on the CU's homepage to promote vehicle loans (see second screenshot below). 

      Analysis
      Since I'm twice the age of the target market here, it doesn't matter that the blog's content doesn't resonate with me. I LOVE the creativity and I'll bet the younger, Colbert-Report-watching crowd thinks it's pretty cool that a bank/credit union would do something this irreverent. 

      Unfortunately, the follow-through doesn't look nearly as good as the creative. I first noticed this blog a few months ago, and until last week, it hadn't been updated since July. It doesn't really make sense to have a blog that's only updated a few times per year. If the CU doesn't have the resources to add something at least once per month, it should pull the blog down and incorporate the content into its main website.

      Also, I question the prominence of the campaign on the CPCU homepage. Is that really the main message you want displayed to your members for several months? Even if does fit the overall brand strategy, the CU should change the banner ad's hyperlink. Currently, it goes to the hoopty blog (after a short detour to acknowledge that they are leaving the CU's website), which is not an effective landing page. The CU should first take users to a dedicated lending page that explains loan options and prices and invites members to apply.

      Carolina Postal Credit Union blog (20 Nov 2007

      I love my hoopty blog


      CPCU homepage
      (20 Nov 2007

      Note:

      1. UMB used a similar approach in its My Ugly Room contest a year ago. 

      Comments (2)

      High-Rate Savings for Kids, Patelco's "gr8 r8"

      By Jim Bruene on October 19, 2007 11:14 AM | Comments

      Earning interest is a great incentive for kids to save. Even a couple bucks in "free" money earned on their deposit is a great motivator. But with many savings rates below 1% annually, it doesn't add up fast enough for lower balance levels. At US Bank's 0.10% rate, my son's $1,700 in savings would only earn him $1.70 per year, or 14 cents a month. There is no incentive there.

      But at Patelco Credit Union, with its kid-friendly "gr8 r8" account (see note 1, 2), he would earn 8% on the first $1,000 and the going rate on the rest (1.51%). And the 8% is guaranteed through the end of 2008. So his annual return increases to $81, or almost $7 per month, 50x the US Bank return. Seven bucks extra a month is real money to a pre-teen, and gives him a good taste for the benefits of saving and investing for the long-term. Even more important, it positions the CU as family friendly, impressing the parents and maybe hooking the kids as future members as well.

      Granted, the business case is tricky. Does subsidizing junior to the tune of $5/mo really benefit the credit union and its members. If the CU had 20,000 of these accounts, that's an extra $1.2 million per year in interest expense. Might the credit union's other 220,000 members prefer an extra $5 in their accounts at the end of the year? I'm guessing most members would support efforts to instill savings discipline in today's youths. And the marketing and PR benefits are excellent. The CU even features the account on its homepage (see screenshot below).

      So, overall I r8 it gr8. Thanks Trey (see note 2).  

      Patelco CU homepage (19 Oct. 2007)

      Notes:

      1. Must be under 21 when account opened. No maximum account balance, but only the first $1,000 earns 8%. The special rate is good through the end of 2008, when the account reverts to a regular savings account.

      2. I just realized the account name, gr8 r8, is a double entendre, not only being SMS-speak for "great rate," but also with an eight-percent rate. [My family has to spell these things out for me.]  

      3. Thanks to Trabian's Trey Reeme for the tip (here). And I agree with him, gr8 r8 savings absolutely must have an SMS component, at minimum a message each month when the "free money" (interest) is added to the account.

      Comments

      Green (Hybrid) Auto Loans from Star One Credit Union

      By Jim Bruene on August 10, 2007 4:19 PM | Comments (2)

      In many ways, hybrid vehicles are the perfect antidote for guilt about our 21st century high-consumption lifestyle. Buy a Prius, and instantly feel better coasting around the city on self-generated battery power. Yet you still get to motor about in a relatively large, well-appointed and air-conditioned steel box (note 1).  

      That's why politicians have jumped on this bandwagon in droves. And why it makes a great marketing statement to support energy-saving and/or low-emission alternatives with loan discounts. Not only does it position you as caring about the larger environment, there is a very real environmental education benefit to the efforts.

      The most recent exampleStar One Credit Union <starone.org>, a $3 billion (assets), 71,000 member CU based in Sunnyvale, Californiahas a link on its homepage to its hybrid offer. Customers financing a new or used hybrid vehicle save 0.25% on their loan rate. On a $20,000 5-year loan, $139 is saved, enough to fill the tank three, maybe four times. The offer is spelled out here (screenshot below).  

      Other financial institutions offering hybrid car loans:

      • UCB Bank (Miami, FL): no payments for 3 months offer here
      • Deedham Savings (Deedham, MA): offer here
      • Sound Credit Union (Tacoma, WA): 0.50% discount offer here
      • Tech CU (San Jose, CA): 0.25% discount offer here
      • Vancity (Vancouver, BC, Canada): Prime rate for low-emission vehicles here

      Note:

      (1) I'm not trying to be cynical here. As a former engineer, I think hybrid technology is fantastic. Using waste energy to fuel the car is both elegant and efficient, and I look forward to driving one soon.

      Comments (2)

      The BarCampBank Takeaways

      By William Azaroff on July 25, 2007 8:53 PM | Comments (9)

      BarCampBankSeattleThis past weekend, NetBanker sponsored an event called BarCampBank in Seattle. It's an unusual name for an unusual event. The name derives from an international network of events, which Wikipedia defines as "open, participatory workshop-events, whose content is provided by participants." It usually refers to "early-stage Web applications, and related open-source technologies and social protocols." In this case it was a loose, collaborative unconference about "innovation in banking, credit unions, social lending, or finance." It attracted close to 40 peoplecredit unions, banking experts, consultants and suppliers across the United States and Canada. It was unfortunate that there was no representation from actual banks.

      The topics discussed included the use of social media, credit relief for third world countries, branching strategy, expectations of Gen Y and Millennials, mobile banking, and open-source core processors. Over the weekend, as discussions opened and progressed, the ideas were distilled down to a few themes.

      • Banks and credit unions don't really know what it means to be customer-centric.
      • The disintermediation that the industry has been seeing on the horizon for years seems to be occurring, and financial institutions had better get on board or lose market share.
      • Are social media (blogs, social networks, wikis) an effective way to market and promote banks?
      • What would a bank look like if one was built from scratch today?

      There was a lot of talk that banks and credit unions only look after their own needs and don't pay enough attention to serving their customers effectively. There is a lack of bravery and responsiveness to their customers' needs. To most consumers, banking is a chore like going to the grocery store or the post office (and in the worst examples, the dentist). People want easy access to their money and sound financial advice; in many cases, that is not what they receive.

      There were some very interesting and disruptive ideas. One big one that kept coming up was the banking equivalent of local number portability. You get an account number the first time you create a bank account, and you can move it from bank to bank to bank. An amazingly customer-centric idea. You neither have to change your bill-pay info, nor your direct deposit or pre-authorized payments. This is one of the main factors that keep people where they are, and would force the banks to differentiate based on service and product innovation. The pain of switching would be eliminated and people could change banks when they found a better option for them and not wait until they get so frustrated with their existing bank that they overcome their inertia.

      WesabeAnother theme that emerged, which will come as no surprise to NetBanker readers, is the brilliance of Wesabe.com's model. There is real passion in the way the founder and CEO Jason Knight describes the mission of his organization, which helps consumers make better decisions with their money. With a focus on showing consumers where their money can get them the most value, he doesn't see himself competing with banks at all, but offering a complimentary service. I wonder how many banks see the value Wesabe adds, and will work with it to give customers deeper insights into how they spend their money.

      The people in the room were keenly aware of the echo-chamber effect created by being surrounded by those who feel similarly about social media. We were mostly proponents of the relevant use of social media to further the goals of a financial institution. But adoption of blogging, social networking tools and Web 2.0 technology by financial institutions is slow at best, and the number of successful implementations of these tools is few and far between. That honesty was refreshing.

      There was an overwhelming feeling in the room that banking is ripe for a revolution. Interesting to come back from BarCampBank and see this insightful article on GonzoBanker about the demise of the banking industry as we know it. Many of these same themes were reflected in our dialogue. Money is too crucial in our lives to avoid big shifts ahead in the financial services sector. BarCampBank demonstrated that this is definitely an interesting time to be in banking.

      Comments (9)

      Amplify FCU's MoneyTracker Features Personal RSS Feeds

      By Jim Bruene on June 11, 2007 3:49 PM | Comments (2)

      When researching new mobile banking launches (see our earlier post here), we ran across one of the more innovative financial institutions in the country: Austin, TX-based Amplify Federal Credit Union <goamplify.com>, a $400 million asset institution with 40,000 members. The CU's tagline, Bank less. Live more. is right on target for the majority of financial consumers. 

      It's possible that Amplify uses more of the ideas we've featured in Online Banking Report and NetBanker than any financial institution we've come across. For example, cafe branches with free WiFi, mobile banking (WAP), Web 2.0 look and feel, high-yield checking (up to 5.1% APY), online chat, fee-based ($5.95/mo) value-add checking account (Amplified checking) loaded with online and mainstream features, and a host of other services from college planning to eBay bidding (see menu here). One surprising omission: no blog.  

      OBR Best of the Web
      Link to Online Banking Report But our favorite feature, and winner of our fourth OBR Best of the Web 2007,* is Amplify's new personal finance management program, MoneyTracker. MoneyTracker uses natural language search so members used to Googling there way through the day will feel right at home. Instead of using slower drop-down search, a customer wanting to review recent Costco purchases simply enters "costco this year" in the search box.

      The program was developed by Austin startup, Jwaala, which announced it in November. Amplify, which went live March 5 (press release here), is Jwaala's first installation.

      MoneyTracker also includes an account aggregation engine so accounts at any financial institution can be tracked. And like eBay, it allows users to turn any search into an automatic alert with the option of receiving the information via email, SMS, or an RSS feed (see inset). As far as we know, Amplify is the first financial institution in the U.S., if not the world, to institute personal RSS feeds for its customers, and it is the basis for the Best of the Web designation.

      Amplify posted a series of six videos (here) that do a great job explaining Money Tracker, an important part of gaining trial. The style, copywriting, on-screen talent, and staging, are among the best we've seen online.  

      Amplify's Main MoneyTracker page (link here):

      Amplify FCU landing page for Jwaala's MoneyTracker    

       -----

      *OBR Best of the Web awards are given out occasionally for features that raise the bar in online financial services. It is NOT necessarily and endorsement of the company or its full product.

      Comments (2)

      New CU Blogs: Midwest Financial, Old Hickory, and Secure One Credit Unions

      By Jim Bruene on May 21, 2007 10:44 AM | Comments (2)

      In our blogging report published last fall (here), we predicted there would be 300 U.S. financial institution blogs by the end of this year. Five months into the year, we are way behind on that projection, with about two dozen financial institutions blogging. That includes just two banks (Wells Fargo and Bank of Internet) and 20+ credit unions (see previous coverage here).

      We found three new credit union blogs this weekend, another 1% of the way towards that prediction, which looks high. But I still think there will be close to 200 by year-end. And I promise not to profile ALL of them here.

      My Credit Union Blog

      MidWest Financial Credit Union and its affiliate, University of Michigan Health System Financial, launched a joint blog on May 14. Although, these two financial institutions are part of the same company, joint blogging efforts across several credit unions in the same geographic area could make a lot of sense.

      My Credit Union Blog is attractively laid out and has five postings in its first week, several that are fairly long and fall into the "consumer education" category. It's fine to sprinkle those in over time, but don't overwhelm your readers with long lists of tips and tools. They can already read that stuff at just about any financial website.

      Your blog should primarily have short, interesting articles of local interest. Limit the educational pieces to one or two per month at most. Again, Piedmont CU is the best FI blog I've seen in terms of content (see previous post here).

      My Credit Union Blog from MidWest Financial CU and UMHS Financial

      Old Hickory Credit Union

      Old Hickory Credit Union's blog began last week with the obligatory welcome message and the first entry on going green with electronic statements, always a good blog subject. With just one entry, it's too early to comment on the content. But the layout is clean, it wisely uses it's own URL <blogohcu.org>, unique template, and covers the basics in the About section introducing the two bloggers behind the effort. Hopefully, over time the blog will be spruced up with more graphics and pictures.

      Old Hickory CU blog

      Secure One Credit Union

      Unlike the other two new blogs, Secure One Credit Union, should consider pulling its blog down until it has more resources to commit to the project. The blogger platform makes it look cheap (which it is), but the fatal flaw is lack of content. There are only two entries since its March 20 launch, and the last, which is more than a month old, simply lists CD rates, something that can easily be found on a regular website. Here's the link: <securefirstcu.blogspot.com>.

      You don't have to blog that often, but once or twice per week is a good rule of thumb, and at least some of the posts should be original content, not cut-and-paste jobs from your website.

      Secure One CU blog

      Comments (2)
      Categories: Blogs, Credit Unions

      Here's a Financial Institution Blogger that Does it Right

      By Jim Bruene on May 7, 2007 11:02 AM | Comments (2)

       

      Link to Piedmont CU homepage One of the biggest questions surrounding financial institution blogging, is whether anyone would actually want to read one. We are firmly in the camp that EVERY bank, credit union, and financial services company should have a blog (see our Online Banking Report on blogging here). But with so few actually doing it, it's hard to find examples that provide a good mix of community news, financial advice, along with that right "tone" that makes it readable and believable. 

      Here's one to watch. After just two months bloggin, Dan Veasey, Director of Marketing and Biz Dev at Piedmont Credit Union in Danville, VA, looks like he has what it takes. When I first looked at his blog (here), there were only a few entries, and its credibility was hampered by the limitations of the Blogger template. Well, Dan took the advice of several industry observers and moved it to a Wordpress template several weeks ago.  

      With the conversion behind him, Dan has been concentrating on the content, which is really what it's all about. For example, in the past week Dan had a great content mix with local news (Starbucks opening), humor (sponsoring a digit of the number pi), CU business (annual meeting invitation), and serious financial subjects (budgeting for a family). He uses a friendly tone that establishes his credit union as the kind of place you want to like. And he drops in a picture or two to break up the text. 

      Now, all this takes time, so he may need to bring in another author to keep up the pace; but so far, it's great work and a good example to follow.  

      Here are the previous five posts: 

      Piedmont CU blog posting

      Comments (2)
      Categories: Blogs, Credit Unions

      New Blog: Comala Connection from Comala Credit Union

      By Jim Bruene on April 25, 2007 6:50 PM | Comments (1)

      Comala Credit Union: <comalacreditunion.blogspot.com>

      comalacu_blog_home.jpg

      Overview:

      In our view, any blog is better than no blog; however, Comala Credit Union's new blog puts that hypothesis to a test. It's only been online for two weeks, so we'll cut them some slack, but they need to spruce it up a bit if they want members to trust it as a reliable resource.

      Thanks to Ron Shevlin for posting the first link to the blog (here).
      Update: Apparently, Morriss at Everthing CU had it first. Both posts were on the same day, but I doubt Ron posted his before the 12:19 AM entry at EverythingCU (here).

      Metrics:

      First post: 12 April 2007

      Number of posts in April (April 1 to 25): 3

      Comments in April: 3

      Comments related to blog content or CU: 1

      Traffic: not available

      Score: 7 out of 18 (Grade = C-)

      • CU branding: No (just a small picture of what must be headquarters)
      • About this blog area: No
      • Relevant content: Not enough info (just 3 posts)
      • Appropriate post frequency: Not enough info 
      • Acceptable blog "tone": Yes
      • Prominent link to main CU website: No (buried in link list on lower right)
      • Email address for author or CU: No
      • Author name: No
      • Author bio: No 
      • Posts dated: Yes
      • Categories: Yes
      • Blog search: Yes
      • Professional look and feel: No (standard free Blogger template)
      • Comments: Yes 
      • CU response to comments: Yes
      • RSS signup: No (small Atom link at very bottom does allow feed signup; but it is difficult to find)
      • Email signup: No
      • Links to other appropriate resources: No
      • Prominent mention on main CU homepage: Yes (big time...and it blinks!)
      • Supplements text with occasional pictures/graphics: No

      For more info on financial blogging:

      Comments (1)
      Categories: Blogs, Credit Unions

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