In an earlier post we took a cursory look at five critical areas where credit unions need to focus attention and energy to improve their performance. This post is the third in a five-part series where we take a deeper look at each of these areas and provide some simple action steps to get the conversation and the action underway.

Technology lies at the heart of the current and future success of the entire financial services industry, and credit unions are no exception. The game changing technologies that have made mobile phones ubiquitous are not the last innovations that we will see in this arena, and it is quite likely that technology will ultimately bring new players into the market who will reshape it with a completely new business model.

With such potentially radical changes on the horizon, there are three things credit unions must put on their technology agendas today:

1. Develop a True E-Branch. Offering online banking services is no longer optional, it hasn’t been for some time. Despite this, credit unions are often reluctant to make the major investments required to create ‘true’ e-branches…online branches that mirror the product and service offerings, complete with access to consultations and information, that are provided in physical branches. And while the relatively high costs and complexities involved may lie be the internal capacities of many small and medium sized credit unions, there are ways to improve performance in this area using strategic alliances, partnering, and outsourcing.

The point here is to ask some difficult questions about your current e-branch and use the responses to improve your online presence and increase its impact: How much different would your e-branch be if you made the same investment in developing it that you do in a physical branch? What products and services are not currently being offered online that members want? How well can your members get their questions answered via your online tools? Can they get support when it is convenient to them, or only during normal business hours? What stands in the way of taking your e-branch to the next level? How can you eliminate these obstacles?

2. Offer Options. Being a huge fan of mobile banking, I am always surprised at the level of pushback in credit union audiences when I speak about it. It seems that some are concerned that as the credit union moves more toward the use of technology tools that work for newer members, they will abandon the approaches that are more comfortable with long term members. And therein lays a key challenge—offering options that meet the needs of a diverse and ever-changing member base.

The reality is that the generations of members you serve all have different perspectives, experiences, and comfort levels when it comes to technology. In order to serve them all your credit union will need to create options that fit the general needs of each generational group, and incorporate one-to-one marketing approaches that make the experience feel customized for each individual within the different generations.

A useful and easy to observe example is Once you make a purchase from the site it begins to develop a profile based on the choice you have made…and uses that profile to extend offers to you that are likely to be of interest to you. It’s all based on comparing your purchasing behavior with the behavior of others, and tweaking your profile as you make additional purchases to try and anticipate your needs.

The challenge for credit unions…if an online store that doesn’t even know me can do this, then why can’t you, and if I want to opt out so you can’t do this for me, how can I do that. Simply put…it’s all about creating options that meet and anticipate the needs of all of your members and letting the technology deliver the options for you!

3. Utilize Web 2.0 (and beyond). The internet continues to evolve…with Web 2.0 rapidly becoming Web 3.0…while many of us are still struggling to understand how to use the tools that have emerged in recent years. But whatever the next innovation is, a few things are clear, including the fact that the Web 2.0 tools are here to stay…Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, and all of the other social media tools will continue to expand in the future, and if you are not using them you will be left out.

What does this mean to your credit union? First, it means that you need to have a presence in these new arenas that people are increasingly reliant upon for information. Second, it means that you need to learn to respect this new world where the opinions and ratings of others are key drivers of consumer behavior. Third, it means that you have to find ways to respond more quickly than in the past to deal with the incredible momentum, both positive and negative, that can be generated by these online communities.

The bottom line is that these new online forums can have tremendous value if used correctly. They afford quick, easy, and low-cost access to groups of people, i.e., your current and prospective members, who can essentially raise their cyber-hand and let you know they want you to talk to them. But if you speak only in sales terms and spend all of your time making offers that will require them to buy something, they will tune you out quickly. These folks want you to be real and join the conversation, sharing information they can use, building a trusting relationship and developing a personal connection…which will ultimately lead them to do business with you.

ACTION ADVICE: Review your technology efforts and take stock of where you are and where you need to be in the future. Consider asking members how satisfied they are with your e-branch and your overall online presence. Spend some time identifying the demographic profile of your members and reach out to each group to find out what they want so that you can tailor your technology tools to meet their needs. If you are not already active in the social media world, set up a blog for your credit union, create a fan page for your credit union on Facebook, and set up a Twitter account…watch for a while, then jump in and start using the tools of today that will establish your footprint for tomorrow!