Sharon Credit Union is often able to deliver the latest technologies to its members, in many cases ahead of its larger local rivals, by participating as often as it can in the first pilot tests its vendors offer for new functionality.

For example, the Sharon, Mass.-based institution beat much bigger area banks to market with technology-driven services in February, when the credit union launched an iPad app for mobile banking. Sharon's iPad app includes drag-and-drop money transfers between eligible accounts and large calendaring functions, as well as features typical of the credit union's mobile phone applications, like account history lookup, ATM and branch locators, and bill pay.

Plans are for Sharon to begin testing this summer check deposit functionality for the iPad, powered by DeposZip from Burlington, Mass.-based EasCorp's Vertifi, which since June 2011 has enabled Sharon members to put money in their accounts by taking pictures of checks with their iPhones.

Mobile deposit was first launched at Sharon last summer as an upgrade within the credit union's iPhone mobile banking app. Sharon's mobile banking overall is powered by Intuit Financial Services, its longtime online banking provider.

After the credit union, a frequent vendor pilot-tester, received an upgrade to its Android-based app to include mobile deposit in October last year, the 29,000-member CU started work almost immediately with the financial services unit of Mountain View, Calif.-based Intuit on developing a mobile banking app for the iPad.

DeposZip, which the CU brands "VIP Deposit," is "tightly" integrated with the Intuit-powered home banking system, says Brian Arcand, senior information officer at Sharon Credit Union. "So to members it's a seamless click into the function."

VIP Deposit, which will also come as an upgrade within the credit union's existing iPad app, can be used later this year when it's launched with the new third-generation iPad, as well as with the iPad 2.

"I just got word we're going to take part in pilot-testing the remote deposit feature for the iPad app," Arcand says. "I'm always on Intuit's and all our technology vendors' case, saying 'Listen, we want this stuff, we want to help you out, we want to test for you.' The credit union has always been involved with these technology implementations. So even though we're a smaller shop compared to the big banks, like the BofAs, the Citizens and the TD Banks, which are all among our local competition, we can support just about anything they can support."

In May, Sharon Credit Union had 241 members log into its iPad app; up from 83 when the feature was first launched in February. The credit union also counted in May 1,189 unique logins for its iPhone app and 465 sign-ins for its Android-based solution.

The way it works: Intuit hosts the mobile banking system that connects to Sharon's core banking engine, Episys from Symitar of Jack Henry & Associates.

"So when customers use their mobile app, they're using Intuit's Web server that's branded to Sharon Credit Union, and Intuit's Web server is directly accessing our core system where all the members' data is," Arcand says. "We host that data using Symitar's software, but all the data's in Sharon, Mass. We just have a dedicated secure circuit connection to Intuit."

Besides benefiting from getting to the front of the queue in testing of new technology, Sharon offers itself as a reference to its technology providers as well, which further boosts its relationship with tech providers and sellers and helps it stay near the front of the line.

"Senior management obviously does a lot of risk assessments of these third-party vendors we use," Arcand says. "So with our use of EasCorp/Vertifi for the remote deposit solution, Symitar for the Episys core processing system and Intuit, there is a lot of work that goes into just managing these vendors, as well as obviously our data center. We push the vendors to create a secure, pleasant experience for our membership. We've been used by all of them as a reference site and a resource for new clients."

Sharon gained approximately 3,000 members after completing in August 2008 a merger with nearby North Attleboro Federal Credit Union, which had a single branch. About two months after the merger, Sharon converted core processing to Symitar from an old version of the cuStar system, which Open Solutions had acquired in July 2004 as part of its $20 million purchase of re:Member Data Systems (RDS).




BANK: Sharon Credit Union

PROBLEM: How to offer the latest technology to customers when new offerings are dependent on vendors' schedules?

SOLUTION: Be first to pilot-test new products and features.