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Arizona Credit Union Hopes New Tech Will Attract Small Businesses

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While the ability of credit unions to lure disaffected consumers away from large banks is debatable, Desert Schools Federal Credit Union believes it can use technology to lure small businesses away from the banks they use for transaction processing.

"How many of our members own their own business? And how many of them might do their business banking with us, but instead take their business accounts to the bank down the street?" says Kevin Lewis, division executive of the credit union's business and commercial services. "A lot of people stereotype the credit union as being for individuals only, with banks doing the commercial financial services."

The numbers bear that out in Desert's case — only 8,500 of its 300,000 members are businesses. To reach a broader range of business clients, the Phoenix-area credit union is planning to implement a web based, centralized payment processing system and broader financial services portal that provides access to payment processing services via any web-connected device. It will also offer a web-based reporting system that provides access to financial and business reports.

The credit union, which has its roots as a teachers' credit union but is now open to all members, is partnering with processing firm TransFirst to supply the portal. It's not a full white-label arrangement, as TransFirst's name appears on the credit union's site as the provider pretty prominently. The portal lets members download tech services such as payments processing from the credit union's website. TransFirst provides service and help for members on how to use the technology.

For both banks and credit unions, there's an IT gap that's particularly acute when it comes to how much businesses know about new technology and what's available to them. "Technology has changed from dial up processes to IP processing, along with a need for mobile and wireless technology, as well as websites," says Marla Knutson, president, financial institutions for TransFirst.

In the case of cash management technology, there is some truth to the notion that the credit union's members have had to go to banks for some cash management and payments services.

"If we're going to market to businesses, we want to have services that banks offer, and merchant processing is one of those services," Lewis says. "So while we don't have our own, we can go out and offer it with TransFirst."

The credit union is also hiring business bankers away from local banks for financial services expertise, and the web portal is designed to place the credit union on equal transactional footing with banks. "The new bankers are going out first hand and attacking the business market," Lewis says.

One of the added capabilities from the partnership will be an iPhone app that lets merchants execute contactless payments via smartphones. That's not cutting edge technology for larger retailers, but it's still beyond the capabilities of the home-based and individual businesses that the credit union is targeting. "It could be a person who creates and sells wedding invitations. A bride and groom in that person's living room can make a selection, and the customers could pay for the invitations by waving their cards in front of the business owner's phone," Lewis says.

Credit unions are increasingly using web-enabled processing and mobility to lure clients away from banks, on both the business and consumer side. BECU, for example, is using mobile alerts and web-enabled onboarding to make it easier for customers to jump from banks to the credit union.

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