The Bigger Question: How Many 'Switched' Away?

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Two weeks ago in all the excitement leading up to Bank Transfer Day a Credit Union Journal reporter was speaking with a CEO about the CU's switch kit as part of the extensive special report we produced in the Oct. 31 issue.

The CEO was enthused about all the potential new members and the groundwork the credit union had laid to make it easy to join.

"Go take a look at our website," the CEO urged the reporter during the interview, "and click on our switch kit."

The reporter put down his pen, typed in the CU's web address and, voila, no switch kit. "Where is it," the reporter asked.

In response, the CEO brought up the site, too, and after a pause finally responded, "OK, it's not there immediately," and offered directions on where to click to go to another page and find the switch kit.

If you're a credit union with a similar online design for member sign-ups-and you're not a CEO or you don't work for one who wishes to provide step-by-step tech support-you've got a problem, the core of which is an inside-out view of the site that is too often dictated by the IT department. Prospective members don't care how many internal meetings you've had or how much new coding is needed to redesign the site to make it easier to join; they only know what they see and what they experience (which is your "brand").

Enjoy Being Frustrated?

Thinking as a consumer rather than a credit union exec, can you think of a website at which you regularly do any browsing or purchasing even though it's confusing and requires a master's in computer engineering? And that's precisely how you must view your own site, from the outside in.

Why are the simple things so complex? We've come to live in a world where "a click away" might as well be "a mile away." It's basic Web Retailing 101 stuff, yet so many still can't seem to get it right. A similar situation is how few credit unions actually explain online in simple terms just what a CU is.

Coincidentally, at about the same time the CEO was being interviewed by the Journal reporter, David Pogue, the New York Times technology reporter, was speaking to the California/Nevada leagues' annual meeting in San Diego. Pogue had numerous observations about the online channel, but several were quite relevant to the situation described above. "Good design is hard," said Pogue. "It's not knowing what features to put in, it's knowing what features to leave out."

That point echoed an observation made during a Credit Union Journal Grow Show a few years back in which one credit union CEO said that 75% of the space on any CU's website should be sales oriented, noting that nearly all members who come to a credit union's site do so to link to the online banking service. For everyone else, the site should be one big advertisement on the benefits of credit union membership and the ease of joining.

"Simplicity sells," said Pogue. "The iPod became the 800-pound gorilla because it's simple and it's easy to work. Google has a rule that no more than 21 words can appear on its home page; that's left over from the dial-up days, but it's a lesson that still works. Simplicity is beautiful and sensational. The Flip camcorder has no features other than a big red button on the back: start and stop. Who would buy it? Everybody." (Incredibly, noted Pogue, Cisco bought the company that created the Flip camcorder for $590 million in 2009; in 2011, it shut it down.)

The Joy of Simplicity

"If we try something for the first time and we're good at it, we fall in love with it. That's why simplicity equals joy," Pogue said.

If all the hype of the past few weeks is even half true, a lot of consumers and non-members did some tire kicking with local credit unions, and most of that would have been done online. The question you have to ask yourself is whether or not those prospects came away from your CU's site with joy?

Remember, you may think it's easy to switch to you, but it's even easier to switch to another site.

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at

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