Credit Unions May Gain Mobile Payments Edge with Shared Tech Platform

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CO-OP Financial Services hopes the model used in one of the oldest staples of credit union cooperation, the shared branch, can drive new digital commerce innovation such as person-to-person payments and mobile remote deposit capture.

The country's largest credit union service organization, with about 1,400 credit union participants in its shared branch program totaling about 4,400 branches, has extended components of the shared branching model to digital commerce, using centralized processing resources to allow credit union consumers to access mobile payments and other digital capabilities.

In this model, a consumer's account, routing and transit numbers can be used to accept and process transactions among the large network of credit unions, similar to the way a consumer who is a member of one credit union can walk into the branch of another credit union and perform banking transactions. Only in this case, the consumer is using mobile banking to transfer funds, execute a person-to-person payment, access digital banking at a branch, or make a deposit via a mobile remote deposit capture app that's downloaded from CO-OP's shared tech bench and processed via the centralized network.

"We've even simplified it to the point where a consumer doesn't have to put a routing or transfer number into the credit union's mobile device to execute a transaction. The member just has to pick a credit union name from the list of participants, put in the account number and we're off and running," says Jim Hanisch, executive vice president of network operations and corporate development for CO-OP.

CO-OP's electronic payments processing business has already been expanding. It established new annual, monthly and daily transaction volume records in 2012. It processed 2.5 billion transactions for the year, a 13.6% increase from 2011, including cardholder debit, credit, ATM and shared branch payments. It hopes that by offering a simple way to execute mobile transactions, that growth will increase further, as will its ability to offer cross-institutional transaction capabilities not available in banking.

"Shared branching is a stable, slow growth type of business. We're not only capturing the deposit items, but we've also got a couple of pilots going in person-to-person payments and have a huge effort in teller automation," says Hanisch.

The shared branch model has been used by CO-OP to centralize credit union and intra-credit union commerce for decades. Hanisch says that if you were "look under the covers," the CO-OP digital banking model operates similar to an electronic funds transfer switch, or a means to capture, authorize and route payment initiated by different payment modes. "The difference is that rather than being activated with a card and PIN, the member's routing number, transit and account number are used. That's something the banking industry doesn't have yet — a standardized way [across institutions] to electronically access an account in an online manner in real time using routing, transit and account numbers."

CO-OP, which is also accelerating its chip and PIN migration, uses mobile banking technology provided by mFoundry and handles its transaction processing in-house. Hanisch says that while mobile transactions are not a huge portion of CO-OP's processing business right now, CO-OP should be well-positioned to take advantage of growth in mobile commerce. He says that even though the transaction has been acquired in a nontraditional manner such as a mobile device, processing takes place though CO-OP's existing processing system. "Whether the transaction is acquired through a Square terminal or a dial up terminal, there's really no material processing difference from our perspective," he says.

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