Impressions From Pre-Internet Days To What Lies Ahead For CUs (And the World) Tomorrow

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Soon after the Mosaic Web browser came out, I attended a seminar about it. At the end, about half the attendees said, "They must be crazy. There is no practical use for this thing." How wrong they were.

The Internet allowed exchange of data long before the web browser was born-as a professor at West Point, I used Arpanet, one of the Internet's first incarnations, to communicate with other professors. But the browser made the Internet available to the masses and opened a number of new functions, such as online shopping and research. We now have unfettered access to data at our fingertips. Homework help for my two young sons has been revolutionized!

Think of all the banking functions available on the Internet now. Home banking. Bill pay. Live chat with members. Online loan applications. E-statements and e-newsletters. The Internet has made these possible and they have improved member communication and service. Credit unions have been leaders in the financial services industry with the implementation of home banking and online lending. And credit union execs have been eager to embrace the web in their own work, as evidenced by their eagerness to use online CUES offerings.

CUES was an early Internet adopter. In late 1995, CUES unveiled its first website. (If you want to see what it looked like then, or over the years, go to www.archives.org and type www.cues.org into the "Wayback Machine.") Our first site offered links to information about conferences, products and publications. In 1996, CUES began Member Forums, a section on the site where members could discuss credit union hot topics or post questions. But driving traffic to the site to use the forums proved difficult. In July 1996, CUES Net was born. Our popular listserve took off, and hasn't stopped since. Today we have about 1,440 credit union executives signed on to receive the e-mails. And we have since added listserves for board members and technology executives.

CUES offered members another valuable tool with our Members Share section. When executives sent out inquiries over e-mail ("Does anyone have a balancing/collection/telecommuting policy?"), CUES saw an opportunity to collect all these policies and keep them in a central location on our site that members could access. The result: a depository of policies and procedures numbering about 350 that members can download and adapt to their purposes. Writing a policy, something that once took hours of work, is now complete in minutes. Some members have said that CUES' Members Share is like having another staff member.

The success of these two programs led to more online offerings, such as CUES Executive Compensation Survey, long one of CUES' most popular products. When we made this an online survey, credit union CEOs responded enthusiastically. They enjoy completing the easy online survey and like receiving up-to-date compensation data-and setting up their own custom-made reports- all year long, not just when the printed version is new.

One of the things I am proudest of is that CUES has been selling online for years. Many CUES products are readily available to download via the web. And our members have embraced e-commerce, buying products and registering for conferences through our website early on. We broke $1-million in sales in 2000.

The key for credit unions, and associations like CUES, is to engage the audience: members, potential members, or random Web surfers. Get them involved before they walk, or click, away.

CUES has been an online innovator, but not a bleeder. Because a lot of money is involved, we carefully study new technology before jumping on to the "next big thing." As leaders, we need to educate ourselves, and our employees, so that we'll all be ready to adapt when that next big thing does arrive.

Fred Johnson is CEO of Credit Union Executives Society (CUES), Madison, Wis.

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