How 1 CU Is Using Instant Messaging

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Kids love it, but in the hands of adult employees, popular instant messaging (IM) downloads can threaten credit union network security.

And that's no idle threat. Abetted by financial institutions, IM will steal center stage from e-mail by 2005 as the primary e-communications tool, according to Stamford, Conn.-based industry analyst Gartner, Inc.

That's why 60,000-member First Community Credit Union (FCCU) uses an encrypted, proprietary pop-up messaging product-removing the temptation for employees to install risky public products such as AOL IM or MSN Messenger on their computers. The $300-million FCCU installed San Diego-based WiredRed Software's e/pop Basic two years ago as part of its new NT system and wide area network (WAN).

At about $20 per user upfront, IM allows 200 FCCU employees across eight branches to communicate by typing and sending messages in pop-up computer windows across their network.

The installation has legitimized IM at FCCU, thus transforming it from the realm of virus- and hacker-prone kids' toy-to professional, integrated collaborative tool. "The pop-up is secure because it doesn't pass through the Internet at all, said Rito Garza, director of network operations at FCCU. "So that makes you feel good."

IM security is no small matter. Subject to SEC Rule 17a-3 and NASD Rule 3010, the same regulations governing e- mail, IM should be monitored and archived by compliance officers. Unlike IM freeware, e/pop archives employee messages.

In addition, presence detection allows other employees to see which users are online, occupied or even out to lunch. e/pop IM promises increased productivity, collaboration and enhanced member service, Garza said. Sales staff can do some serious multi-tasking.

"Our FSRs can be booking a loan with a member at the desk," Garza explained, "and can pop-up the loan officer at a different branch and get the loan status or see how long it's going to take. This capability helps make the member more comfortable."

Phone communication just doesn't cut it - it's more disruptive, Garza added. "If staff has to interrupt a member to get on the phone, it's a bit unprofessional." Besides, IM makes phone tag obsolete.

And e-mail communication doesn't have real-time capability, he said, whereas "the pop-up appears immediately on the screen no matter what the employee is doing." IM can include attachments and graphics, just like email.

Garza said e/pop is expandable, which could allow FCCU to consolidate other applications, such as remote computer access.

Though the primary purpose of e/pop is to allow unobtrusive, real-time collaboration between employees, IM isn't "all work no play" at FCCU.

Employees also pop-up "What are you doing for lunch?" Garza said.

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