Credit Union Geek

Marketing, Strategy, and The Force by Joe Winn

Big Tech Firms Have A Plan…Do You?

Originally published on CUInsight.com

This post exceeds normal length expectations.  Estimated reading time is 5-7 minutes.  It’s worth it.

The future of banking looks bright!  New possibilities, new technologies, all while serving an ever-expanding portion of the population!

Oh, you’re from a credit union.  That introduction wasn’t meant for you.  I was talking to the big tech firms, the front-runners in creating banking solutions of tomorrow.  What?  Are you saying Jeff Bezos isn’t one of my readers?  Psh, you don’t know that.

Credit unions aren’t paving the way.  Nor are they pioneering the ability to serve the underbanked.  Seriously.  Many are doing great things, that’s for sure, yet the fundamental change is originating from tech firms.  And they’re not doing it alone (more on that later).

Let’s take a look at a super-simplified cross-section of society, with a focus on traditional banking options.  Where does the credit union industry fit?

  • For the lowest-income and credit challenged (or no credit), they have few choices.  A lack of financial knowledge and many other variables leads them predominantly to payday lenders (see post on that topic) or check-cashing stores.  This situation, frankly, sucks.  People are paying hundreds of percent (or more) in interest (or substantial fees) for access to their money.  It’s really expensive to be poor.  When I deposit a check, I get every penny.  Is that really fair?
  • Individuals with sufficient credit to open an account can (and do) go to banks, but many choose a credit union, due to their lower fee structure.  Those who choose a credit union tend to carry a higher credit card balance, with more cards and higher total debt. However, and this may be due to lower interest rates, more individualized (and thus forgiving) relationships, or some other factor, they are less likely to become delinquent in their debts.
  • Higher-income individuals and businesses are more likely to be with the large banks.

So big tech firms are looking for the path of least resistance into the banking world.  It starts at the economic bottom, by offering necessities at far lower rates than the existing solutions.  Then, they offer better programs than those that people have today, focusing on convenience.  Finally, the companies want to become the lenders of choice for a wide range of needs.  By already having successful business strategies, all this can be done at much lower margins than a dedicated banking institution could possibly reach.  For example, Amazon barely makes any money on their Kindle or Echo devices (they might even sell at a loss), because they know users will purchase far more once they have them.

The following is a discussion of selected large tech firms changing the banking landscape.  Each are planting their own flag in the financial world of tomorrow.  Will all be successful?  Only time will tell.  For aesthetics and readability, each company’s actions are accessible by clicking the name.

Where are the greatest opportunities?  And how can a business decision help people the most?

PayPal

PayPal believes the answer to both those questions lies in that first economic category.  As a pseudo-banking institution already, they have held money in online accounts for use on purchases for many years.  This money could not be withdrawn at an ATM, nor used at a physical POS.  Until now.  PayPal now offers a debit card that includes many of the same features your credit union cards have.  Want to pay for dinner?  No problem.  Withdraw money at an ATM?  Sure.  Deposit physical checks?  Grab your phone and take a picture.  All with no monthly fee, no minimum balance requirement, and a ~1% fee for deposited checks.  PayPal is making it clear this account is not for everyone.  It’s mainly for those who you would call “unbanked”.  In fact, their COO even said that if you already have a banking relationship, “this isn’t an account for you.”  They believe as the digital economy continues to grow, the largest opportunity is in those who aren’t currently “banked”.

So PayPal is positioning themselves for enormous growth, while engaging an underserved portion of society, and minimizing economically stressed people’s reliance on high-fee payday lending.  Sounds like the credit union mission, doesn’t it? It should, and not in the least because their CEO keeps saying this at CU conferences.

Other tech firms are taking a different route.

Amazon

Take Amazon.  They want your checking accounts (allegedlyprobablylikely).

Why would your members want to switch to Amazon for their checking?  It’s not like it would be any different.  Except it could (according to surveys) be a fee-based account ($5-10 per month) that provided a series of perks.  Perks like ID Theft Protection.  Or Cell Phone Damage Coverage.  Perhaps it would be integrated into Prime membership.  We don’t know.  But 66% of people surveyed said they would consider paying or definitely sign up for that account, if it existed.

If only your credit union could do something like that today (Disclosure: That’s my company)…  But I digress.

It’s not like Amazon is inexperienced in banking concepts.  In 2011, they began small business lending to sellers on their site.  They are now lending more than $1 Billion per year.  And it’s invite only.

Recently, Amazon has also expressed interest in serving the “unbanked” of the US and abroad.  Look at them, taking on the jellies!  Ok, PayPal.  They’re taking on PayPal.

Venmo

“So you owe me $14.53 for dinner.  Cool?  Just Venmo me the money when you get a chance.”

Venmo grew so quickly that you can be forgiven if you are still recovering from the windblown hair as it blew past.  Think of it as a peer to peer payment platform.  It began as a way to send money through text messages, but quickly changed into its own cross-platform app.  Users link existing debit cards/bank accounts and send or receive money through the service.  In the time it took you to read this paragraph, you could have gotten reimbursed for gas, sent your portion for drinks last weekend, and gotten the money from another friend for the tickets to that awesome concert.  They handled nearly $7 Billion in transactions in Q1 2017 alone.  Oh, and PayPal bought them in 2013.  So giving them their own section is almost cheating.

Besides, there’s a newer service that aims to do the same thing, but with a twist…

Apple

Your credit union probably supports Apple Pay.  By that I mean your debit and credit cards can be added to Apple Pay on members’ iPhones, iPads, Watches, and Macs.  It’s a brilliant payment system that I use regularly (there’s nothing like paying for groceries with your watch…except not paying for groceries).  I love the simplicity and security of the process.  I don’t love how slowly merchants are adopting the new payment terminals (and then enabling the NFC tech in them to support it).  Ugh, different discussion.

Last year, Apple Pay got an upgrade.  With Cash.  Previously, Apple Pay only worked where a normal debit/credit card could…POS, ie. paying at a merchant.  It was useless for P2P payments like Venmo supported (and PopMoney, to speak CU service lingo).  Apple Pay Cash links a debit or credit card to a digital stash of cash (you like that?) that you use to send/receive money right through iMessage.  Yes, recipients have to be fellow Apple users, but, sheesh, it’s easy.  Heck, it works with Siri.  No data is available on usage, but given it’s built in to hundreds of millions of devices, I’d say it’s only bound to grow.

To establish these potential checking and/or savings accounts, fund these digital wallets, or receive deposited checks, none of these companies are making themselves a bank.  Instead, these companies partner with an established bank, or multiple banks.  Why?  Think of your preparations when the NCUA examiner is inbound.  Enough said.

For example, for PayPal’s new debit card, they use a bank from Delaware for debit cards, another out of Georgia for check scanning, and a few banks in Utah for lending.  Note these are all small banks…is opportunity calling for your credit union?

Amazon is in talks with JP Morgan Chase and Capital One for their checking program.  Venmo uses your existing banking relationships.  Apple Pay Cash uses a Discover debit card powered by Green Dot Bank, a fin-tech which also provides their own reloadable debit card with no minimum balance, no overdraft fees, and no credit check, while still offering things like bill pay.

I feel like I’ve talked about partnering to enhance your strengths while addressing your weaknesses.  Ah, well, no worries.  We’re all here now.

So the big tech firms all have a strategy to attract the banking customer of today and for years to come.  What’s your plan?

PS – You may notice I excluded Zelle, the P2P platform of choice for American banks.  It was developed by Early Warning Services out of Scottsdale, AZ, a company formed and owned by 7 banks, with 70 more in the process of joining.  It’s their answer to Venmo, and is built in to all their mobile apps.  It connects more than 50% of checking accounts in the country and growing.  So why didn’t I mention such a large disruptor?  Because they’re not a disruptor; they’re a service of the existing banking industry, responding to the popularity of the other platforms.  You still have to pay attention to them, though.  Competition is competition.  So I ask again…what’s your plan?

“I am Groot. I am Groot…I AM GROOT!”

Originally published on CUInsight.com

By now, every tree, raccoon, and 80s-mixtape loving space traveler has seen the newest Guardians of the Galaxy. And, if by some chance, you missed that ship as it soared past, explosions trailing in its wake, then I’ll lay off the spoilers. They’re fun movies. Go watch.

One character became everyone’s favorite: Groot. But that might be our human weakness for puppy trees. Or baby stalks? Saplings? Yeah, that’s it.

So Groot is interesting. What does he say? And what else? That’s all? Yes, here is a character which has now gotten through three films (and years of comic books) with a three word vocabulary: “I. Am. Groot.” But you can always tell what he means.

There’s a science to his communication. You might have heard of a study which showed 93% of communication is non-verbal. Wax washing Dumbledore patio furniture sounds pen computer! Yeah, that’s ridiculous. Dumbledore would never use a computer. So words still matter. Like most science, it was more complex than reported, unless, apparently, you’re Groot. It’s possible they excluded talking trees from their research.

Here’s the reality: What you say is important. But how you say it means the difference between ending the conversation right there or continuing onward.

It’s the difference between someone who cares about talking and one who can’t wait to get away. You see it at networking events, in stores, and on some phone customer service lines. The person who is expressing with animation garners more interest. Seems pretty obvious. If you don’t care about what you’re saying, why should I? Likewise, if you cannot contain your excitement about a new CU initiative, the smile becomes contagious.

Staff who express themselves in this manner create excited members. Excited members are engaged members. Staff who feel obligated to mention products or services do so…in…a…monotonous…and…disinterested…style. The member thinks, “if they don’t care about it, why should I?”

Don’t be teenage angst Groot. Be saving the galaxy for the second (third?) time GROOT!

immersion18: Empowering CUs of Tomorrow, Today

Be sure to read my on-site roundup of conference happenings as a prelude to this article. Additionally, look back to May 10 on my Twitter feed to see live contributions.

“They have hammocks on the beach?” asked one attendee, as another gleefully nodded. They made it to future sessions, worry not.

With the blue-green Atlantic waters as backdrop, the Trellance Immersion18 conference enjoyed a productive debut. Despite the team having hosted an annual event for nearly 30 years, this one was different. It was the first following a name, mission, and organizational change. Remember CSCU? They’re no more. In their place, Trellance, a not-for-profit credit union service organization, or CUSO. As credit unions’ unbiased advocate, their new focus was a perfect fit for the event.

Trellance CEO Tom Davis opened the first morning session surrounded by a technologically-infused dance number, complete with spinning displays and more. Despite being before many attendees’ coffee addictions were satiated, the audience sounded their approval. Then it got exciting. Davis introduced Trellance, lauding its unbiased advocate role as well as its not-for-profit status, and passed the baton to Bill Lehman.  Lehman reviewed how Trellance evolved from CSCU, helping set credit union staff expectations for the days ahead. And if you thought it was thrilling already, the next speaker was downright explosive. David Lott, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, spoke of the newest “trend” to enter this country: Exploding ATMs.

After discussing strategies to diffuse the threat (there’s no one solution, which really should be the theme of the conference), Mollie Bell, CUNA’s Chief Engagement Officer, took the stage with fierce focus. On strategy, that is. CUNA did a great write-up on her talk, which essentially challenged attendees to define who they were and what that meant about their target audience. Then make a plan that rocks your socks off. Ok, she didn’t say that, but she did include a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” for aspiration.

You won’t need a bigger boat when this shark enters the room. Daymond John, founder of FUBU clothing, Shark Tank star, and more, joined us to share his 5 SHARK points (see picture). More in my other roundup.

A common theme in the conference was fraud and security, both for your institution and members. The latter has become a daunting challenge. Why? In the past, you secured a single path for financial data. Then, members could access it on their computer from home. Now, all financial information is expected to be available from any device (including voice assistants), any where (including that FreeWiFiConnectNowIWontStealYourStuffnetwork down the street), at any time. Many more places for information to be compromised.

A conference-favorite was the Dark Web session. The team from Q6 Cyber hooked up their secured connection, loaded up their Tor browser, and went shopping. For your members’ financial data. Or a hit man. Or an ATM skimmer. All available with Prime shipping! (I kid, but only slightly). Please do not try this at home.

Other criminals use far lower-tech solutions, including one called “friendly fraud”. CUBroadcast spoke with Trellance’s Lou Grilli about this technique, amongst other topics. TL;DR: Fraud comes in a lot of forms. Keeping current on how to detect and minimize them is essential. And you need a WISP (Written Information Security Policy). Embrace your WISP. Update your WISP. When, not if, (according to Michele Cohen) your system is compromised in some way, you’ll be happy there’s a plan. Because restoration will take 4-6x longer than your IT team expects. It’s not a diss, it’s just the reality. The more prepared you are, the sooner you can serve your members at 100%.

My personal favorite session of the conference was hosted by John Best of Best Innovation Group. It discussed that buzzword you keep hearing but just don’t quite understand: Blockchain. Attendees get it. You can, too. Just ask me, or go straight to the source. Everything you think it might be? It’s more. And less. Here’s an overly simplified explanation:

  • Have someone hand another person $1.
  • Observe them doing it.
  • You are the distributed ledger verifying that it happened.
  • Now, put that dollar in an envelope. Boom, it’s encrypted.

Combine this with a decentralized system (meaning, one source broadcasts the same data to many trusted destinations, which all save it independently) and you have the trappings of a revolution! There’s so much more to it, but let me leave you with a mind-blowing possibility blockchain could eventually offer: NO MORE PASSWORDS!

Unfortunately, I can only report on sessions I attended. With more than 20 breakouts, everyone had an opportunity to gain enormous insights. No doubt, there are great ideas being shared by attendees at their credit unions around the country.

You want more? How about the sweet rock music anthems for every speaker and gathering (thanks to Lou Grilli for the playlists)? Or that time when Davis became the pistil of a dance troupe’s flower? Perhaps the living statue who could make the fountain come out her fingers? Or the walking tree? Oh, I see, you want to know about the extra-tall LED-lighted robot dancers at the final party. Sorry, what happens at the after-party stays at the after-party.

I’d like to thank the entire team at Trellance as well as all speakers for producing a memorable event stuffed to the gills with useful take-home info.

About Trellance:
Born out of nearly 30 years of payments experience and a passion for the credit union movement, Trellance is committed to providing innovative yet simple solutions to help credit unions adapt and thrive in a complex and competitive landscape. Together we can build and implement strategies to seize the exciting future of our industry.

Learn more about us at Trellance.com, visit us at thepaymentsreview.com for industry insights and our perspective on the future, or follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter @Trellance.

Image description: Attendees receiving their Exceptional Member Initiative Awards. Credit: Me.

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