What 1 Small Credit Union Sees As Its Technology Strength

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Large CUs may have the bucks, but small CUs are nimble-they can implement relevant technology faster than their nine- and 10-figure counterparts, according to Shari Duff, manager at $22-million Clermont County Teachers' Federal Credit Union.

Duff's experience as a one-branch CU manager, and formerly as an employee at multiple-branch financial institutions, tells her that small CUs sometimes have the advantage over large CUs.

"We're not dealing with what bigger credit unions have to contend with," she said.

Furthermore, implementation is more likely to be driven by the CU's membership, Duff continued, instead of industry hype.

Educators Educate

And with a membership of 3,400 educators, Duff is often pushed to implement best-of-breed technology. "Our members are very technology-driven. They insist on having access, they want the latest-and-greatest. They ask, 'When are you going to get wireless?'"

But how does Duff know when to act? "I learn from the bigger financial institutions' use of technology and ride on their coat tails," she said.

When Duff decides a technology is ripe, she doesn't have to twiddle her thumbs. "Our management team and board move faster on technology because they don't have to research it to death. Sometimes things can get bogged down very quickly in a larger financial institution. Smaller credit unions don't necessarily have the capital to finance technology. But when they decide they can, they move more quickly."

Indeed, effective technology use is a ticket for small CU survival, because it streamlines operations, according to a Madison, Wis.-based Filene Research Institute survey released in March examining small CU data processors. In turn, member service is enhanced.

Duff agrees. "Technology has given us accessibility to our membership." She cites online banking, electronic bill payment, 24-hour teller and audio teller, as well as loans online in particular.

Clermont County Teachers' FCU is looking as "healthy-or unhealthy as the case may be" as other CUs across the nation, Duff said. Assets rose 18% in 2001, and are on target for a 13% increase in 2002. Membership will grow by 6% this year, and net income per employee is $17,000 annually.

The technology buoy is also a matter of education. "I read a lot, primarily printed material, from technical journals to the Ohio Credit Union System's Interest magazine, to Business Week and The CU Journal. Anything I can get my hands on.

"However, I find that the best source of information is through networking with other credit unions."

Another distinct advantage to being small is that the CU's core processing system is housed within its sole branch, instead of disbanded throughout a multi-branch network or held by an ASP. That means when Duff wants to generate a new report, for example, all she has to do is press a couple buttons. Four years ago, previous set-ups had her waiting two or three days for reports.

'All In One Place'

"We're one branch, so everything is here and that is good for us. I prefer having all of our check processing in a single location. We don't have duplicate services that decrease cost effectiveness."

Clermont County Teachers' CU's upcoming technology foray, though not an electronic service, is geared at connecting members to electronic services. "Our big thing will be having a PC at every teller station, with accessibility to membership and for the purpose of training members in using homebanking or electronic bill payment."

Of course, Clermont County Teachers' FCU may be a special case. "I have a very, very open-minded board," Duff explained. "They see the bigger picture and look beyond what their needs are to the vitality of the credit union."

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