Small CU, Big E-Push

Register now

Peoples Credit Union can't afford to soft-sell electronic services.

"I don't ask new members to sign up for online banking, I tell them!" said Jeff Miller, CEO at Peoples.

Whereas many credit unions offer their electronic channels as "just another way to serve the member," Peoples has to take more of a hard-line. The 17,000-member CU has only three branches and $55 million in assets. And with a staff of 41, People's just doesn't have the headcount to properly service its relatively large membership, Miller explained.

In fact, Peoples has twice as many members as other credit unions in the same asset class, he said.

Thus, member service was at an all-time low when Miller took the reins in 1999, he said. "The lobbies were so packed that it was chaotic. When we opened the doors every morning, the line would be out the door."

In late 2000, Peoples turned to AFTECH's homebanking and bill pay product, aftech@net, to provide a channel from which members could perform many of their own transactions - and thus free up the teller lines. "From the time we offered online banking, it really took off," Miller added.

Now, nearly 30% of Peoples' members actively use aftech net, said Miller. Many credit unions consider themselves successful if 25% of their members banking online.

What's more, Peoples' electronic services junkies are part of a field of membership made up largely of immigrants, Miller said. Peoples' members wouldn't seem to be part of a demographic likely to glom onto e-statements, online banking, or email alerts, he continued.

A demographic analysis revealed otherwise. "We found that our membership had a high propensity to use electronic services," said Miller. "I ran the analysis for three six-month periods in a row because I just couldn't believe it."

Peoples extended the crusade to open up the electronic channel in December 2003 by offering e-statements and NSF notices via email. More than 500 members have signed up for e-statements and email notices in lieu of paper, said Miller, and the CU signs up an average of 90 more members per month.

E-statements and email NSF notices save on "big postage costs" for Peoples, Miller said. The CU sees a lot of bounced checks, he added.

E-statements alone cuts $200 per month in postage, said Miller. "Our monthly depreciation on the initial cost of the e-statements product and the recurring costs have now been surpassed by the amount of savings in postage we're generating."

Three months ago, Peoples began to attach marketing materials to e-statement emails, and will soon embed an e-mail link to the materials directly at Peoples' website.

"For example, members can click on a link to our home equity program, 'HELOC is Here,' and go to a full-color electronic brochure hosted at our website that's identical to the hard copy brochure." Miller explained.

Soon, Miller plans to email certificate maturity notices and delinquency statements to members. In addition, Peoples' will alert members via email regarding branch closings due to hurricanes.

Looking back, Miller sees that wired members have freed up more time for staff to give good member service.

"Now there's time for staff to sit down and really address members' concerns. And members don't have to wait hours to be serviced anymore."

Peoples uses AFTECH's Advantage Email system in addition to aftech net.

CUJ Resources

For additional information on this story:

Peoples CU at www.peopcu.org

AFTECH at www.aftech.com

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
MORE FROM AMERICAN BANKER