The Credit Union National Association is now offering for free the Web-site development software for which members had been paying up to $3,500 apiece.
The program will be free only to credit unions that sign up for Internet hosting services from CUNA's partner, Aquis IP Communications, at $100 to $150 a month.
Twenty-one credit unions, with assets of $20 million to $100 million, have used Build-A-Site since it was introduced in December, said Doug Benzine, the trade group's vice president of e-commerce.
The software provides six site design templates that allow users to insert text and logos into predesigned Web-ready pages.
Building a Web site from scratch using a private Web design firm can cost tens of thousands of dollars, plus fees for transactions. Build-A-Site templates ease the way for less technology-savvy credit unions or those that do not have pockets deep enough to hire a Web designer, Mr. Benzine said.
"It's a very user-friendly product," he said.
Roberta Macko, manager of CBI Federal Credit Union in Plainfield, Ill., agreed. She discovered the software when CBI decided to expand its Web site from a single-page format.
Using the new templates, it took her about three days to redesign the site, through which CBI members can access information and e-mail the credit union.
"I was a total novice at this, but it was very easy to do," Ms. Macko said.
Mark Condon, CUNA's senior vice president of association services, said it is important "in today's fast-moving e-commerce marketplace that credit unions establish an online presence with as little difficulty and expense as possible," said Mark Condon, senior vice president of association services for the credit union group.
The Build-A-Site offer "allows them to do that," he said.
Though Build-A-Site can be used to set up transactional functions, CBI decided not to offer online banking, though some members had asked for it, Ms. Macko said.
But home banking, along with online loan approval, online bill payment, and e-statements, will play a crucial role in Web development for many credit unions, a credit union consultant said.
"Credit unions are member-driven institutions," said Ray Springsteen, vice president for business affairs at Callahan & Associates in Washington. "The trend you're going to see is not just getting a Web site, but getting an interactive Web site."
Nearly 30% of the roughly 10,600 credit unions in the United States have Web sites, according to research by Callahan & Associates. The percentage varies by asset size. Almost 99% of those with $500 million or more are online, but only about half of those with $20 million to $50 million, CUNA reported in a survey published in December.