Smaller CUs See Internet As The Great Equalizer With Larger Rivals

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Online, all credit unions are the same size.

Electronic services have leveled the playing field online, blurring the line between $50-million and $5-billion in assets, countless CUs have told The Credit Union Journal over the past five years.

"We are as full service online as any of the billion-dollar credit unions," asserted Vonda Burkhart, chief financial officer at $53-million Employees CU (ECU), whose site features inter-institution funds transfers, instant account opening and funding, loan applications, homebanking with account alerts, bill payment, e-statements and check images.

Toggle between ECU's website at ECUDallas.org and the $1.6-billion CUofTexas.org and it's evident that the two CUs, which in some ways are polar opposites, offer the same services online.

On the West Coast, President Leo Hooper draws parallels between the online capacity of his $25-million Pacific Bay CU of Oakland, Calif., and the $6-billion Golden 1 CU of Sacramento, Calif.

Anything They Can Do...

And Raymond Ward, CEO at $31-million Kent County CU in Grand Rapids, Mich., agreed: "There are very few electronic products and services that a big bank or credit union can provide that we don't already offer."

What's more, suggested Ward and Burkhart, is that the credit union Davids offer the personal service that the Goliaths can't touch, addressing members by name and directly answering the telephone after one ring.

A small CU must feel personable offline, yet look big online, in order to keep up with the fierce competition, said many small CUs. "My competition is everybody and their brother and their mother-and their father," Burkhart said. Dallas boasts more than 50 credit unions and hundreds of banks.

Apparently, ECU is keeping up with the Joneses. Online services and new lending programs are fueling ECU's growth, spiking assets by 15% since January, said Burkhart.

"We consider electronic deployment to be one of the key factors in our growth, because we're so easy to access," she said.

"One of the beauties of our growth is that we've done it without adding any additional staff," Burkhart continued. "Online applications with our custom loan-decisioning do so much of the legwork for us."

The small CU's remaining online services are also sophisticated. For example, ECU has a "simple but comprehensive method of ensuring security and preventing phishing," said Burkhart.

Members create an online security key in the form of a secret phrase or word. The key is displayed on each Internet banking page after the member logs-in, assuring members that they have not logged into a phisher's fraudulent site.

The online security key is a feature provided by Cavion Plus of Mounds View, Minn.

Third-party providers that specialize in electronic services are conscientious-and offer more affordable solutions than core system providers, Burkhart added. "ECU's third party relationships are the joy of my life."

Inter-institution funds transfers and membership and loan applications are provided by Parsam Technologies' uMonitor solutions in Memphis, Tenn. Electronic bill payment is provided by Southwest Corporate FCU of Plano, Texas. Cavion Plus provides the remainder of ECU's electronic services solutions.

CUJ Resources

For info on this story:

* Employees CU at www.ecudallas.org

* Cavion Plus at www.cavionplus.com

* Parsam Technologies at www.umonitor.com

* Southwest Corporate FCU at www.swcorp.org

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