'Every Possible Way To Automate' Is PCU's Focus

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It's a sign of the times that Patelco Credit Union is using member safety to introduce its enhanced electronic financial services program.

After the collective shock to America from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and crippling of the U.S. Postal Service by the anthrax scare, Patelco spotted a chasm in financial services that it believed needed to be bridged.

The first step was an above-market share certificate for members who wanted somewhere secure to put their assets.

"We thought we had an obligation to our members to provide a safe haven vehicle in which they could put money in," said Anita Macias, senior vice president of marketing at the $2-billion, 200,000-member credit union. "That's how it got started."

But the program barely got started when it was shut down. Projected to reach its $50 million goal in three months, it actually took less than two weeks. The response jolted the credit union to look at other ways to serve members in the post-Sept 11. world. Then the anthrax scare hit.

"We took a look at everything we are doing with the mail service," Macias explained to The Credit Union Journal. "We were shocked, because we pride ourselves on being an electronic credit union, at the amount of manual processes that we still have that require somebody filling out an envelope and sending something to the membership."

The result is a new service it calls eAccess Freedom Trail, which allows for electronic delivery of anything that is normally handled by the postal service. "We are looking at every possible way to automate every system or at least make an automation option for the members and then encouraging those who haven't yet made that leap to do so," Macias said.

Billed as convenient and safe, eAccess Freedom Trail offers 24-hour online banking and telephone account access, online statements and loan applications, bill payer and presentment, Yodlee account aggregation, and direct deposit.

By first identifying impediments to electronic access, Patelco designed specific solutions like working with a local Internet Service Provider for co-branded web access and offering deals on computers through a vendor partnership. Patelco also offers a 6.9% APR PC loan and seminars on how to buy and use them.

The member education department conducts the seminars and demonstration computers are being set up in every branch where managers will provide training to members by appointment. In addition, a web committee of marketing and information technology staff tracks electronic trends to ensure the credit union continues in the right direction

Currently, 40% of Patelco's members use Internet banking but a 1999 member survey on PC penetration showed that 80% of those who replied had access to the web or regularly use a PC. Of the 20% who didn't use computers, 40% of those said they planned to in the next few months, leaving 60%, or about 22,000 members, without computers.

"Now with the (Sept. 11) events they are probably more motivated to move in this direction," Macias observed. "So here's an opportunity for them and for us to be their trusted advisor on how to do this."

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