While browsing through the articles and reading the interesting items, I found myself wondering how many of these ‘headshot’ photos of the people associated with the articles are up to date? I also made a mental note to refresh mine because it is definitely a few years old now!
It could have been the quiet time away from the computer/tablet/smartphone … or it could have been whatever addictive ingredient is placed in the coffee … but my mind started to open up and some new thoughts and ideas and questions began to form. It was in that moment that I realized that I needed to do this more often.
In today’s world so much of what we see and read happens in little tiny snippets. Blogs, email newsletters (you probably just read the headlines, don’t you?), twitter, you-name-it … and we jump from topic to topic as a new email or phone call or meeting happens. The one thing that is missing, at least for me, is some dedicated time to just sit and think.
One of the questions that comes up is ‘how do you find time to just sit and think?’ Obviously I hadn’t been able to conquer that challenge for quite some time otherwise I would have had a shorter stack of magazines and no revelation as it happened. My guess is that many of you are in the same boat. In the interest of helping, here is the formula that I’m attempting to follow …
I know what you are thinking right about now. Something along the lines of “there is no way that I can get away with carving out 10% of a work week. This guy must be a nutjob.” Well, I’m going to give it a go … I’ll let you know what happens.
di·lem·ma [dih-lem-uh] –noun
1. a situation requiring a choice between equally undesirable alternatives.
2. any difficult or perplexing situation or problem.
Several weeks ago a couple of statistics crossed my radar screen. At the time I didn’t really put them together in my own mind … but as we were working with a $60 million credit union at the time to see if our ACCOUNTworks solution could work for them I began to realize that smallish CUs are facing a real dilemma over the next few short years.
The first piece of data was from a technology survey published by Callahan & Associates about the online delivery channels employed by credit unions. The report ran through a number of technologies from account aggregation to online loan applications and reported the portion of credit unions who currently employ these technologies.
The information was stratified by asset size. As you might guess, the ‘bigs’ utilize nearly all of them at participation levels of 80 or 90 percent while smaller institutions make use of these technologies on a lesser scale.
I am generally interested in what online technologies are being used … and really interested in a few of these like online member enrollment and online account opening because that’s what we do. From this survey I learned that as of mid-2010 fewer than 50% of all CUs under $250 million in assets offer online member enrollment – and even fewer offer members the ability to open a new share account online. The numbers (no real surprise here) drop like a rock as the institutions get smaller.
The second piece of data was from Javelin Strategy & Research and published by BAI Bank Strategies. This industry analysis is predicting that 50% of all accounts will be opened online in 2015. Again, the underlying demographics are not so surprising: Baby Boomers are moderate tech users, Gen X use tech solutions a bit more often and the Gen Y crowd is really pushing the envelope. As we go through the next few years my guess is that Baby Boomers are going to open fewer accounts and the Gen Y gang will be driving the new account numbers.
Putting this information together, the ground currently occupied by the average $250-million-and-under CU lies between these two opposing concepts. In the trench-warfare era of World War I this was called ‘no man’s land’. Not a very good place to be with very dire ramifications if you can’t find your way out.
Why then do you suppose that’s where most of them are? The biggest driver has to be economics. Technology solutions for member enrollment and account opening are pretty salty investments for the larger CU and even more so for their smaller counterparts. I’d bet that lots of these organizations would like to offer this capability – they just can’t find a way to swing it.
With that said, the prospects on the other side are not very appealing either as these organizations must find a way to offer these delivery channels in order to compete for future business and survive.
There is a way out – and that is to be creative and realistic about how to deploy online account opening in a structure that feeds the consumer’s appetite while being economically feasible for the credit union. We found a way to work through that discussion with the $60 million organization I mentioned earlier. It required both sides – fiVISION and the credit union – to adjust their normal business patterns. The result is that in the next few weeks another $250-million-and-under CU will offer online member enrollment and account opening in their marketplace. And that’s a good thing.]]>
In the few years that I’ve been involved in fiVISION we have been interested in helping our credit union clients get better at cross selling. We even have some products that address this goal specifically … but, I have to say that there are some really different philosophical approaches to selling out there. Most of these discussions rotate around having staff – who are traditionally service oriented – become super sellers. Does it work?
The prevailing wisdom in the industry is that we need to provide sales training … to foster a sales culture … to position staff to be able to engage customers in a conversation that results in a sale of a new account or an expanded service. In other words, teaching staff to sell … because as we all know, sellers sell, right?
OK, I’ll admit that in some situations sales do occur because the seller was truly relentless and convinced someone to purchase a new product or service. With that acknowledgment, I’d propose to you that the poor buyer in most of these situations left the visit with ‘buyer’s remorse’. Not really one of those top-of-the-morning feelings. After all, they were not really buying something, they got sold.
About 10 years ago I participated in a networking group of CEOs and presidents of local businesses. Each month we met, discussed issues of the month and listened to an outside speaker on a topic of interest. One month that person was a fellow by the name of Jim Cecil. Jim espoused an approach called ‘drip marketing’ that involved staying in touch with clients and prospects on a routine ongoing basis and never truly pushing the sale … but always letting your target know what you could do and being available should the need arise. The essential recommendation Jim made is that when your prospect is ready to buy, you want to be top of mind.
This particular presentation formed much of my personal – and our corporate – philosophy about selling. That is: Sellers don’t sell … buyers buy.
The practical result of this influences how fiVISION addresses the topic of cross selling in our products. We believe that it is difficult (maybe I should have said impossible?) to turn great service reps and call center agents into trained sales killers. But it is entirely possible to equip them with tools and information that helps staff talk with members and prospects about products and services that would be helpful to them.
After the sale both parties in the transaction will evaluate the deal … the buyer will probably do so at an emotional, subconscious level. When this evaluation happens in the mind of your member (who just got a couple of new accounts and signed up for a review with a financial advisor) what feeling do you want them to have? If they ‘got sold’ that advisor meeting will probably never happen and the accounts might get closed within a few months. But if they ‘bought’ because what you provided helped them … then you’ve built some trust and may be on the way to establishing a long term member relationship.
When in doubt, remember … ‘Buyers Buy’]]>
Last Saturday I got the chance to wander the pits during qualifications for this year’s Indy 500 and I couldn’t help but notice that what they call real-time is a lot more real than our real-time. You see, at Indy there are systems that track each car around the 2.5 mile race course at all times – including when sitting in the pits or on entrance and exit lanes to the track.
For those of us who think fractions-of-a-second response time is quick, let’s do a little math. Each car at Indy carries a transponder that passes over a timing loop laid in the track … the width of the timing loop looks to be about 18 inches. The transponder causes a voltage spike each time it crosses the loop and you can calculate the speed of the car by measuring the time delay between spikes.
This year the front runners are averaging about 225 mph around the track and quite a bit faster on the long straights. That means Helio Castroneves crosses the timing loop at the start/finish line at an average speed of 330 feet per second. In other words he crosses that foot and a half stretch and the system interpolates his speed in about 4.5 milliseconds. That’s pretty quick.
OK, now that you’ve got the concept of speed down, let’s extrapolate this into the system implications under race conditions. There are 15 timing loops around the track each measuring Helio’s current speed which is then wirelessly transmitted up and down the pits to display to all race teams just where he is on the track. On race day there will be Helio and 32 of competitors hurtling around the Speedway crossing those timing loops at irregular and overlapping times. Since each car’s transponder has a unique signature they can be kept separate … but just imagine the processing going on to keep the timing and scoring accurate.
Now that’s real-time.]]>
As a side note, I’m not quite sure why I rely on these old phrases except that I do find them generally to be pretty darn accurate. Usually offered up by
older wiser, more experienced folks in various life situations, they tend to be based on a collective body of experience that is truthful, honest and sometimes all too direct.
For example, while writing this article another vision about a similar adage (it involves cake too) comes to mind. I can still see my grandmother saying while sternly looking over her glasses and down her nose at me: “Michael, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.” I really have no idea what that means … guess I’ll need to investigate it a bit further.
But let’s get back to the icing on the cake … or rather … the question of having your icing without the cake.
Much of what is discussed in today’s credit union industry news is about cross selling, new product opportunities, whiz-bang marketing approaches and building a world-class sales culture. Not many people seem to be talking about providing better service. Why? Probably because it is not as sexy as that other stuff.
It is understandable that selling more product and service to members becomes a viable and important goal in the practices of most credit unions. But for me, a sale of new products or services to members is the icing. In other words, ‘An additional benefit to something that is already good’.
At fiVISION, we’ve always been big believers that members buy product and service based on a combination of factors that includes some part logic and some part emotion. The logical calculation being a question like: Is this a good rate? Does this service save me money? These are usually pretty easy questions to pose and analyze because the answers are pretty clean and easy to compare.
The emotional calculation processed by your member is just as important but a lot fuzzier. The questions here all boil down to trust: Does this credit union help me? Do they watch out for me? Do I get good service? Is this recommendation convenient for me?
Believe it or not, in today’s world you can still differentiate on service. It may be ‘old fashioned’, but by consistently helping members with the issues that come up during their relationship with you, a level of trust and loyalty is either being created or diminished. If you do a good job you create loyalty – which leads to ‘top of mind’ awareness, openness to your suggestions and maybe, just maybe – they’ll even tell others about you.
To increase member loyalty through service takes time – but it is something you can start on today! It involves setting up an environment where everyone knows you want to ‘do the right thing’ for the member; staff are empowered to make decisions; and they have the right tools to do the job.
Most credit unions already are doing the first two – they are truly interested in helping members and staff is trusted to do the right thing. The area of opportunity is whether your team has the right tools to do the job in an easy manner.
The idea is to share organizational knowledge about your relationship with the member – and I’m not talking just about the accounts and services they have with you – but more importantly, the ‘soft’ interactions that come up in a relationship. Some examples? A question about an unusual charge on a credit card, a problem with a bill pay item, wanting to send a wire transfer or even just a simple question about one of their accounts.
This stuff is the ‘cake’. And believe me, the icing will be easy to apply and the whole experience will taste a lot better if you do a good job on the cake. Just remember, adages are usually based in wisdom … and pretty darn accurate.
‘An additional benefit to something that is already good’.]]>
Most everyone I know likes nice things. We like to see them, have them, use them. Anybody who doesn’t like nice things we sometimes label as ‘out there’ or ‘different’.
Even so, there are a lot of nice things that … well … just are not really necessary. Or even useful. C’mon, think about it. You bought that fancy stereo system last year. Before doing so you really dug into the research to make sure that the one you bought was the absolute best there is, right?
Not even close. You bought the one that makes most sense for you. (OK, you really bought the next one up!). During your research you learned there are two parameters about ‘nice things’. Along one scale there is genuine quality. Some products are just made better, they have higher quality components, they offer better performance, they cost more to manufacture and they carry a higher price tag.
The other ‘nice things’ scale is all about features. The more gee-gaws the better, right? Well, in most everything you purchase – from cars to stereos – you pay a higher price for the item that offers more features. Even if it has less quality.
After your exhausting stereo system research you went through some kind of ‘mind meld’ and bought the unit with the best quality and the most features you could (almost) afford.
But here’s the rub. Have you really USED all of the features you so painstakingly agonized over during your stereo research and purchase? Or – like me and a lot of other folks in the world – did you put the main items to work and there are still a lot of unused features just sitting there? I’m betting on the latter.
This, my friends, is the difference between Musts and Wants. And I know for a fact that I’d have better quality stuff or a fatter wallet if I had known this my entire adult life. The bottom line is that many times I have bought more than I could use, only to let some of my investment go to waste.
In my experience, technology for financial institutions falls into exactly the same model:
These phenomena even creeps into early price and estimate discussions – where the conversation usually goes something like this: Vendor: “What modules do you want to include?” Buyer: “Hey, let’s throw them all in! We really like that gee-gaw!” The result is that many conversations go no further than this point because the vendor just got asked to price the Cadillac, which happens to be way out of the client’s price range.
Our experience is that clients underutilize the capabilities of most solutions. Regardless of what they purchased, they leave a lot of stones unturned. Looking at it from a different perspective … there could have been some money saved somewhere, probably by both sides.
My advice is for both sides to think a little differently. For us vendors … focus on features that truly help our clients and sell the steak, not the sizzle. For our clients … think about what you will really put to use. What is the problem you are trying to solve and what capabilities do you really need to fix it. Then, look for a vendor who meets that need and offers you the flexibility to adapt and expand as your needs change.
If you only need a Chevy …]]>
But we were wrong. In January things started to rumble in credit union land – and by the end of the month news started to emerge about losses mounting in the corporate system. This led to unprecedented assessments by the NCUSIF to prop up the system and the rest is history. Practically everyone froze as a year or two of operating profits vanished from every credit union in the nation. From a vendor’s perspective everything immediately went on hold.
Given the dour outlook of our clients and prospects you might think that we all had a bad year. Not so! Here at fiVISION we had a very productive year. A couple of projects for major new clients went live, we actually signed a few new deals and we delivered two major new product modules – our Web Loan Application and Wire Transfer Automation products – to the marketplace. Beyond this, we incorporated countless enhancements to our existing memberWORKS and accountWORKS platforms and began to develop the next generation of our product family. All in all – a very good year – one that puts us in a better place to serve our expanding list of clients marching into 2010!
I am also encouraged by what I hear from credit union execs about how they are currently adjusting and their plans to further change things in their respective organizations going forward. The crises of the past year caused just about everyone to really evaluate just what they were doing and how they were doing it. The overall result is that credit unions seem to be focusing somewhat less on the latest-greatest trick to generate raw growth – and more about improving operational effectiveness, strengthening relationships with their existing members and pursuing appropriate growth.
To me, this shift is somewhat analogous to something that we humans should be paying a little attention to during this holiday time – the equivalent of laying off the sweets and eats and getting back to the gym to trim up a bit. Pretty hard to do but oh-so-important in the long run.
So in the final analysis was 2009 a good year or a bad one? It is probably too early to cleanly declare a win by either side … but in my book the good practices that were set into motion bode well for the future.
Merry Christmas everyone … and do count your blessings from this year!]]>
This really ought to be the universal tagline for technology. After all, why else would you ever invest in the development – or endure the pain of implementing – some kind of new technological wizardry? The world is full of countless stories where technology flops or is at best unfulfilling. But why then do we pursue technology like the Holy Grail?
Because it’s absolutely fantastic when it works! For some of us, life is a series of problems just waiting to be solved and processes to be made painless. I happen to be one of those guys – and so do all the members of our little technology company.
Recently we launched a new module to our memberWORKS Relationship Management platform designed to streamline the processing of wire transfer requests. As we got into this project we learned two amazing things: first, there are a heck of a lot of wire transfers requested by consumers and businesses every day, and second, checking to make sure a request is legit involves more and more (really tedious) investigation by credit union staff to verify the request. Because when a wire hits the fed line – the money moves and there is not a lot of room for errors and mistakes.
Seriously, the investigation requirements are unbelievable. First you have to start out with how you verified the identity of the requester. Next you have to check the OFAC list for just about every party that will touch the wire – including banks along the way. Then you need to check to see if there is enough money in the account to process the wire – and the fee. Then you need to think about fraud items like ‘how long has this money been in the account?’ and ‘have there been any recent address changes on this account?’.
Once all this checks out then you are ready to process the wire. But … is this a high value member and we waive some of their fees? or do we apply a fee to this? Then we have to move the money from the member’s account to the credit union’s settlement and fee accounts. It seems to go on and on …
But, oh the magic when it works well! This module was launched a few weeks ago and processes hundreds of requests a day for our first client – from their call center, from branches and directly from the consumer online. Many get automatically approved, leaving staff to worry about the ones that really need to be investigated – rather than investigating every one.
Initial reactions are that this is saving at least 15% of their time – my guess is it is actually more than that. Even better, we’re changing the job from one of running mindless checks to actually tracking down questionable items.
This is a win-win all the way around. Bingo bango bongo.]]>
Nowadays you can’t find a typewriter and most employees don’t even recognize White Out as anything other than some kind of blizzard condition while you are driving. People absolutely HATE filling out forms. Today, we truly have so much computing horsepower at our fingertips that we can’t possibly use but a percentage of what is actually there.
At fiVISION (and other predecessor companies along the way) we have always carefully crafted our technology to make sure data can be presented as information so that its usable by viewers. To us, this means that it has to be fast, has to be up-to-date and it has to support the business function it was intended to support.
Suffice to say that it is, therefore, frustrating to find my staff working with clients on perfecting the printability of some form or application that is resident in our systems. When I ask clients or prospects why they want to print the answer I usually get is something along the lines of “because we’ve always done it that way” (generally phrased differently, but still the same answer).
Here’s a suggestion. Let’s sit back and put that “Think before you print” logo into action. Yes, it does make sense to still be able to print things … just not as often as we do today. I’ll throw out three guidelines to help us get on the right path:
By just pausing to think a bit I believe we really can achieve some benefit from not printing so much. Yes, I’m a fan of being environmentally responsible … but I’m a much bigger fan of the notion that relying on the technology and databases we have – and not printing – can save enough time and energy in most businesses to have a noticeable impact on operational performance.]]>
I must admit though – that the current perspective of a good portion of these folks is somewhat surprising. In general, the response is something like “Mike, it’s been a tough year. We’ve closed a couple of branches, loan volume is down, collections are up and I’ve had to reduce staff to trim our expenses. We just are not going to be able to look at any of these projects until business picks back up.”
Since this is a blog – and can be an opinion – please let me float one opinion that I hold. Now is the perfect time to incorporate technology to streamline your operations and become more effective. Let me outline a few reasons why I believe so strongly this is the case:
There is an old business adage that is absolutely spot-on: “Make hay while the sun shines!” Obviously, the sun is not shining now and has not been for a few months. But it will again …
So, what do you think we head out to the machine shed and get the equipment all greased up and ready to go? At fiVISION, that’s exactly what we’re doing right now. Retooling our products and refining our processes to be even more efficient as the business climate returns. Together we can make more hay this time around if we are prepared and ready to roll at the first hint of sunlight.]]>