B.C. CU Turns Around 'Slack Growth' With MRM App

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Credit unions struggling to profit from member relationship management (MRM) software could learn a thing or two from (U.S.) $635 million North Shore CU (NSCU).

Fueled by agile use of Value.Net, an MRM solution developed in-house, the CU bounced back in 2001 "after years of slack growth" and saw assets grow 21% over 2000, said Chris Catliff, CEO.

NSCU's sudden spurt earned it the national Award of Excellence in the "Customer Care" category for service software innovation at the Canadian Information Productivity Awards (CIPA) in Toronto in November.

MRM software creates a single profile that seeks to accurately record members' needs and preferences for financial services. CUs then have accurate, accessible member information to match products with individual financial plans and build long-term relationships.

NSCU's bullet-fast growth might leave many North American CUs scratching their heads. Service-oriented CUs seeking to implement MRM promptly discover that it's more than a technology-it's a sales culture that some say demands up to five years to realize. In less than a year after Value.Net's launch, 40,000-member NSCU has become fluent.

Realizing the sales culture means revamping the entire organization, said Catliff. "The MRM model is different than the administrative model. Everything's driven from the front-end. It's more of a horizontal than a vertical efficiency.

"A necessary precondition to making the most of the technology is that the staff has to feel proud and confident about the sales, service and pricing they're offering," Catliff explained. "Every part of our administration has to be immediately receptive to members' phone calls and service issues. If staff makes a referral it has to be dealt with quickly. You cannot have disconnect."

Developing staff expertise across the 11-branch CU is a collaborative effort, starting with some "power users," he said.

Susan Metcalf, MRM program manager, agreed. "The staff is really telling each other about the system. There's a peer-to-peer perspective from the front- to the back-end. Now, everyone's looking at opportunities."

Everyone's also literally looking at Value.Net itself. The system is a "desktop portal inextricably linked to MRM," Catliff said.

Staff now login to Value.Net on their desktops. "What staff members see are links to resources to do their jobs. They see high priority activities, outstanding leads, and links to information on the Intranet," explained Metcalf.

Staff cooperation wasn't always guaranteed- the sales-orientation was a hard pill to swallow for some at NSCU. "The huge debate at this CU was, 'Are we member-focused or sales-focused?'" said Catliff.

Catliff's stance? "I don't really see the member-focus and the sales-focus as being that different. Really, what MRM addresses is member needs. Now I ask you, 'Is that sales or is that service?'"

Or as Metcalf put it, "MRM is very intuitive to excellent member service."

Sales or service, technology is just part of the picture, according to Catliff. "Software is part of a whole strategy of member relationship, member focus and cross sales, but really what you need is the philosophy that everyone's moving fast to satisfy what's in that software."

Lending is one department that has seen a piece of the action, increasing loan retention to 92% from 76% in the past two years with the help of the analytics.

The heady pace has paid off. "We're using our MRM to sell more products at great prices and making it up on volume," Catliff said.

But a CU shouldn't always look to be the low-price leader, he said. "You can't beat the market all the time. With MRM, we've gotten more aggressive with pricing and that has fed into itself."

NSCU's next step is to incorporate MRM in its website, said Ron Cann, senior manager, eCommerce and Direct Services. "We want to wrap the value of MRM around our online transactional system and make the site more intelligent." The website will host ads tailored to each member and suggest additional services used by like members.

The CU's website has also experienced strong post-MRM growth, said Cann. Bill payment use has increased by 34% and the proportion of members who use bill payment at least once a month has risen to 6% from 5%.

NSCU's customized CRM software, developed with North Vancouver-based Pivotal Corporation, is also being marketed to other financial institutions across North America.

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