One CU's Experience In Allowing Consumers To Join Via The Website

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T&C Federal Credit Union is using cutting-edge technology to offer memberships online.

In seven steps and about seven minutes, potential members can find out whether they qualify and what products and services are immediately available to them.

"Basically, potential members would go to our website and click on the initial link," said Jackie Buchanan, VP of Information Systems at TCFCU. "They first enter their name and address so our (in-house) Census tracking data can determine if they fall within our field of membership."

The CU, chartered in 1936 for General Motor's Truck & Coach division, now serves 62,000 Oakland County and parts of Ypsilanti. It has $485 million in assets and seven branch locations.

Buchanan said the online application process is possible only through the assistance of five different entities with separate programs that verify identities, determine credit scores, accept deposits via debit or credit cards and decide which products are best suited to a particular applicant.

"We have an e-business committee whose main mission is to do anything online that you can do in-house," she said. "This was a huge stumbling block."

While the credit union hasn't even started its media campaign to announce the online account process, Buchanan said limited e-mail marketing has piqued some interest.

Applicants & Scores

In its first month, 92 people have visited the site. Some made it through the entire process while others were kicked out during the identity authentication process or after credit scoring, she said. "If they have low credit scores, we won't offer them membership," she said, adding that the specific products and services they do get are also determined by that score.

She said that once the applicant agrees to both identity and credit report checks, their information gets bundled into a specialized product created by Equifax that runs it through "30 to 40 public and private data bases."

It comes back with a list of four questions that only the applicant would know. Once the program is satisfied with the identity of the applicant, the applicant is offered a list of products and services based on their particular score.

"Once they pick, they are taken to a page where they can use a credit or debit card to make a first deposit," Buchanan said.

Or, if they prefer, they can send a check in with the hard copy application they must download, sign and mail to the main branch.

"We still need that physical signature," Buchanan said, "but we've made it so they don't have to come into the branch at all."

Once the process is completed, she said, the CU follows up with emails and phone calls to answer specific questions pertaining to the products and services they've selected.

Buchanan expects that there will be a few bugs that need smoothing out along the way.

"We hope to take notes and refine the process," she said, adding that she already sees one stumbling block that she hopes to find a way around.

"Right now, you can't add a joint owner online," she said. "We're hoping that with a little more programming, we'll be able to authenticate the first person then allow the second person to punch in their information."

A media blitz for the new service is planned for the next several months. Buchanan said it would include emails to current members asking that they pass the word, newsletter articles and newspaper advertisements.

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