Waging War on the Wait

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Life online is changing, and credit unions are trying to keep up.

A decade after the first credit union launched a website, this year for the first time more than half of U.S. credit unions have websites, according to Callahan & Associates.

But the launch is just the beginning of life online. Once a credit union has a website, managers must confront the never-ending process of redesigning the site.

Scads of credit unions are apparently going for a new look and feel this year -more than half of credit unions surveyed about their IT spending in 2004 said they plan to redesign their websites, according to a Callahan and Associates report.

Website redesign is no simple task - overhauls often take years. Last month, Raleigh, N.C.-based Coastal Federal Credit Union put up a revamped in-house online banking module that is interfaced with its core processing system and features new electronic services, according to Carlton Howard, vice president, E-Business Services for the CU.

The $1.3 billion CU started the project in 1999, Howard said.

Altura Credit Union's newest site- the fourth overhaul since the Riverside, Calif.-based CU went online in 1998-was in the works for two years, according to Stephanie Redmond, e-marketing specialist at the $610-million CU.

During that time, Redmond said she surveyed members and reviewed products with senior staff. She tested site templates, tested the site against various browsers and tested the final template two weeks before launch in October.

The result is a hybrid that blends the qualities of past sites. "Our new site marries the great high-tech features we had from our second site in 2000 with great navigation on the site launched in October," Redmond explained.

Forrester Research is of the opinion that logical navigation is the bare minimum for banking websites. In fact, banking websites should sell, sell and sell, using innovations like those at E*Trade's banking site, a recent Forrester report said.

For Redmond, better navigation was first on the list. Members simply couldn't find Altura's products and services, she said.

"Pop-up surveys gave us convincing numbers that said we needed to improve our navigation-we have so much online banking functionality that members didn't know we had," she said.

Altura was sure to move the online banking log-in from a separate page to the home page, for example. Previously, members bookmarked the online banking page, bypassing all the marketing and educational information on Altura's home page, Redmond said.

Now, online banking and web billpay is better integrated with the rest of the site, she said.

As a result, billpay enrollment shot up 120% in the first month after the site redesign, continued Redmond. "Now it's much easier to navigate our site and discover our products and services."

Altura, with about 98,000 members, has some 20,000 active online banking users, Redmond said. Nearly 10% of those members use the CU's free bill pay service as well.

In addition, the homebanking page displays rotating promotional banners that feature products available other pages. Members can also click to a secure chat from online banking -or from any other page on Altura's site.

Altura's employees also have an easy time making authorized changes to the site, Redmond continued. A content management tool allows Altura to edit pages with a browser-based interface-without having to mess with HTML, JavaScript and the like.

"We're able to have the site grow," she said. "For example, we just started offering small business services, and we want to easily add- and remove-products."

CUJ Resources

For more info on this story:

* Altura CU at www.alturacu.com

* Coastal FCU at www.coastalfcu.org

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