Firm Aims To Answer The Tough Questions From Members

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One firm here is counting on the increasing sophistication of the product menu at credit unions to mean a similar increase in the questions members have about them. That's where it comes in.

Financial Finesse, which describes itself as a full-service financial education firm, believes it can provide answers to many of the questions America's 80-million credit union members have, and that it can answer those questions more knowledgeably and with less bias than most member service reps and call service agents.

In the process, the company said, it can not only lighten the load for overburdened MSRs and call centers, it can demonstrate the kind of service to members that leads to increased trust and deeper relationships. In doing so, says Financial Finesse's CEO, Liz Davidson, its service leads to a boost in member profitability, which offsets the fee the company charges to credit unions for member inquiries, which can be $35 or more per call. Credit unions have the option of absorbing a part of that fee, and other pricing options are also available.

"We can answer everything from debt-related questions to estate planning," said Davidson, who founded the company in 1999 after earlier founding Davidson-Andrade, a hedge fund investment company. It was at that firm, said Davidson, that she became aware of the billions of dollars being spent on advertising mutual funds and other investments, while little was being spent on helping consumers cope with all that information.

Financial Finesse delivers its education programs via several media, including live, over-the-phone conversations, online at www.financialfinesse.com, and via a financial planning kit. It employs nearly a half-dozen certified financial planners to provide assistance.

Online, Financial Finesse offers planning centers, calculators, FAQs and even live financial planning workshops. Those workshops include money basics, investment basics, retirement planning basics, asset allocation, home buying, and information on stock options and more.

"In the past we've worked with credit union employees," said Davidson, of situations where Financial Finesse was offered as a benefit. "Now we're seeing more interest in providing the service to members. There are a lot of people with inertia, but people trust their credit union and the information it provides."

Davidson stressed the service is about financial education, not advice, and that by maintaining the objectivity the service can be used as a member recruitment and retention tool. "A lot of the calls that come into the call center now are education related, and those are referred to us," said Davidson. "We feed them back to the credit union when they're ready to do the transaction."

Davidson said the company encourages credit unions to co-brand the service to members. "It allows the credit union to say, 'We partner with this entity,'" she explained.

Davidson anticipates member confusion will only grow, and that they are eagerly seeking a trusted partner who can provide some direction.

"I think credit unions are missing a lot of opportunities because members are not getting answers," she said. "This makes the member experience more positive and we are then able to refer them back to the credit union. We have lots of research on what it is that people are asking. People are under financial stress."

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