Getting New Members Quickly on Board

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BECU is finding a simple online onboarding process is helping customers transfer over from traditional banks.

Howie Wu
Vice president of virtual banking
Online account opening

The battle between credit unions and big banks burned as hot as ever in the fall, sparked by reports of consumer anger over new fees for debit cards and other purchases. BECU was one of the brightest lights, using its web account opening capabilities to help drive a quick boost in new members.

But when it comes to actually capturing new business and keeping consumers satisfied with their web experience, there's a lot more than press coverage of bank fees involved, as vice president of virtual banking Howie Wu can attest.

"When you look at what you need to become a customer or a member of a credit union, it's a cumbersome process in terms of the data you need, items such as pay stubs, personal information, addresses, etc." says Wu, who helped drive account opening tech and onboarding to ease new members' entry into the CU.

The credit union, which partners with Harland to drive its online account enrollment, enjoyed a double digit growth in the pace of new account openings after the controversy over bank debit fees erupted. Soon after Bank of America announced it would charge $5 per month for debit card use, a decision that sparked protests from consumers and marketing pitches from community banks and credit unions, Wu gave a highly attended talk at a BAI conference panel in Chicago in October about how web expertise can helping attract and sign up new members.

BofA eventually withdrew the fees and the marketwide success of credit unions in attracting consumers was mixed, but the issue of how credit unions can use digital channels and their existing local ties as consumer recruitment tools remained.

In BECU's case, there's little choice when it comes to channels. The credit union has little physical presence, only a couple dozen locations for more than 750,000 members, so it would be lost without solid digital service.

To register new members and execute onboarding, the credit union built an online engine that helps people through the various processes involved with becoming a new member of a credit union. The online process is tied to analytics, which allows the credit union to track user experience. "We can take people through the process of becoming new members, and we can see where people are running into trouble in terms of signing up, or what takes a lot of time, and we can make corrections," says Wu, a graduate of Washington State University who has been with BECU, the former Boeing Employees Credit Union, since 2003.

Wu's focus on the member's web experience also extends to services beyond the initially account sign up - the credit union has developed a welcome package that's includes membership conformation, onboarding and information on how various services at the credit union can be accessed electronically through a web interface that's also integrated to the credit union's core banking network and enables digital signatures to avoid paper, if the member chooses an online-only interaction. "Members can go through the entre process online, without any human intervention or having to mail anything in," Wu says.

Brad Strothkamp, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, says onboarding is becoming increasingly important as a means to ensure funding and other transactions tied to a new account happen correctly. "This is an aspect where the web can play a role if the account hasn't been opened through the internet," he says. "The web can play a vital role in getting the customer activated."

Mobile is also big in Wu's plans for the credit union. BECU has worked with Clairmail in the past year to develop a series of options, such as account transfers to cover overdrafts or mobile remote deposit capture, that can be directly linked from account alerts. BECU also considers person-to-person payments to be a consumer adhesive, and is extending CashEdge's PopMoney to mobile handsets. Wu says web person-to-person payments have gained traction among the credit union's user base, which includes demographic groups that he says are predisposed to person-to-person's most common use cases.


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