Free Spanish Version Of Website Seals Deal For Newly Online CU

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Many large credit unions don't yet offer it-but $36-million Norristown Bell CU (NBCU) has been running a full-featured Spanish version of its homebanking site for more than a month.

"I think it's going to be a real winner," said Helen Edwards, CEO at Norristown Bell. "We've received so many complimentary e-mails from members."

That from a credit union not particularly known for its Internet presence. "We're a late-bloomer in the web domain, having just put up our website in April," Edwards added.

Like many a credit union, however, Norristown Bell is keen to improve service to its Spanish-speaking members, Edwards said. CUNA recently reported that the U.S. Hispanic community has an annual purchasing power of $630 billion; at the same time, more than half of the community is without financial services.

And, like many a credit union, Norristown Bell, with a merged membership of postal service and telephone company employees and members of the American Baptist Mission, serves a significant number of Spanish-speaking members.

About 10% of the 6,700-member CU's members live in countries where Spanish is the primary language, and "there are probably plenty of our members living in the United States who prefer to speak Spanish," Edwards said.

NBCU's Spanish-language homebanking site came free of charge as part of the English version of HomeCU homebanking software, provided since October by Database Management Services, Inc. (DMS) of Boise, Idaho.

Making Cents

The Spanish version would have been a long time coming had it not been provided free of charge, acknowledged Edwards. "It's all a matter of dollars and cents, and I don't know if I could have launched the Spanish version as quickly if it hadn't been free. Getting the Spanish capabilities was one of our determining factors in picking HomeCU."

DMS expects at least 50% of its more than 200 CU clients will offer the Spanish version to members.

NBCU's Spanish version of HomeCU includes menus, instructions, and alerts in Spanish. The CU can also take advantage of bilingual marketing messages and member surveys. Members access Spanish features by clicking the En Espa?ol link at the homebanking login.

Homebanking in Spanish is just the first of many "baby steps" in NBCU's efforts towards Spanish speakers, said Edwards. Within the next year, for example, she hopes to offer e-statements in Spanish.

"And I would like to have an exact replica in Spanish of our English language homepage, but again, we have to take baby steps," Edwards continued. When the CU does undertake a Spanish language homepage, Edwards figures she'll need a bilingual Spanish-English speaker to translate the page word for word.

Although member penetration of the Spanish version of the homebanking site has been slow, Edwards is encouraged by the strong response to the CU's first website. In the six months since the website's launch, 11% of the CU's membership are active users.

NBCU's move to the Internet was instigated primarily by an interest in the cost-savings and convenience of e-statements, Edwards said.

In mid-November, the two-branch CU started a telemarketing campaign to increase awareness of both e-statements and the Spanish version of homebanking.

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