Making The Switch

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RALEIGH, N.C.-As credit unions vie for bank customers' checking business, what really attracts the accounts, according to one CU, is making switching checking accounts easy for members.

To that end, State Employees CU has introduced "Switch," a program that provides members and tellers with the tools and knowledge they need to make changing a checking account less difficult. Through its first six weeks, Switch reached out to more than 11,500 members, of which 827 have taken an SECU checking account.

Patty Munns, SVP corporate projects, acknowledged that while consumers may like your checking account, they often fail to take the plunge because they know they will have to change over direct deposit, automatic debit, bill pay, and more. "As we all know, many just don't take that next step because they don't want to mess with those things. Usually, the financial institution will offer some initial assistance, but then the member is given some brochures and maybe a link to a website and it's 'good luck.'"

Munns said Switch simplifies and speeds the changeover by having tellers partner with members, working closely with members to guide them through the process of moving a checking account from one financial institution to another. All of the forms needed to open the account are online and are completed with the member at a teller's PC. Other forms and information needed to switch direct deposit and other services, such as automatic debit, are online and ready as well.

Members also have the option to go online to SECU's website, access all of the Switch information, and complete the process on their own. Online the service is called the "Checking Account Switch Kit."

An important element of Switch, Munns pointed out, is a tracking system that allows any teller to quickly call up the member's new account and view the progress of the changeover. "They watch to see when direct deposit hits and the system logs when letters are sent off to another financial institution or government agency and when the letters have been responded to. Tellers can call up this information immediately and they stay on top of the account for the member until the first deposit hits."

Tellers were schooled on the basics of government direct payments, such as social security, so they know how to answer members' questions and direct them to resources, if needed.

Switch was designed with input from a focus group of SECU teller managers from across the state, which Munns led. "We talked about the tools tellers needed to make this process easier for members and for themselves, and that is how we came up with Switch," Munns said. "Those tellers went back to their branches, got all the other tellers on board, and Switch got out of the gate with a bang."

Outside of its website, SECU is not promoting the Switch through advertising, just letting members when know when they stop in that the credit union has a checking account that's a good deal. SECU's checking account charges a $1 monthly fee that can be directed to the SECU Foundation, and includes free checks, a debit card, and .25% APY interest.

"We don't like what's happening to our members as a result off all the fees and deceptive 'free' pricing of many bank checking accounts," Munns said. "We want to make members aware we have a checking account, let them know we can make the switch easy, and then let them decide."

Despite having 800,000 checking accounts, the 1.6-million-member SECU kept hearing members say they didn't know the credit union offered checking, which spurred the program. "We talk to members who do not have a checking account, but we don't badger them and we do not incentivize tellers for checking sales," Munns explained. "We note in the system when a member has been talked to so we don't bother them again."

State Employees Credit Union, however, does not talk about checking fees banks are adding. "It's not our job to bad mouth the banks, we don't do that," Munns said. "But we know that our members are in for some surprises if they have bank checking accounts. We know that the banks will do their own damage to themselves and send business our way. They don't need any encouragement from us."

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