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AI Writing Tools: The Coolest…Until They Aren’t

Originally published on CUInsight.

Can you feel it? We’re in a bubble, and it is expanding rapidly. What makes up this enveloping sphere?

AI writing tools. ChatGPT-powered chatbots.

Incredible technology, right? It’s sci-fi, made real! Finally, we have the Enterprise’s computer or HAL…hmm, bad example.

These are impressive tools. But it’s important to recognize what they are…and what they aren’t. Despite seeming incredibly smart at times, these large language models (LLMs) are exceedingly dumb. They’re not AI by any means (it’s a pop term which has now lost most of its previous meaning).

At their core, they are advanced autocorrect and autofill platforms. Yet that can still be useful. I’ll get to how this impacts credit unions and your members, but first, we have to understand what these systems really are. Lots of hype, not enough data.

Sidenote: I am not going into the image generation models here. They exist, they probably have more downsides than benefits, and I make fun little graphics for blog posts with them. I’m also not including their enormous energy needs, which isn’t great.

Better. Good enough?

Keyboard Autocomplete

Take out your phone (if you’re not already using it now). Start writing an email. Notice how it suggests the next word above your keyboard? If you keep tapping an option, you’ll eventually get a run-on sentence that might, or might not, be total gibberish. (iOS 17 will improve that dramatically)

This is how ChatGPT, Bard, or anything based on them works, too. It predicts the next word based on what has already been output. “But Joe, not only did you have a whole interview with ChatGPT, it can do all sorts of complicated things!”

You’re right. And there’s absolutely a place for this technology. We just need to recognize where it does and does not fit.

What makes sense for a ChatGPT-type platform:

  • Organizing tasks
  • Laying out a social media or blogging schedule
  • Adopting a certain tone in a piece
  • Helping write a first draft of code, formulas, or other content
  • Creating frameworks for replicated processes
  • Diving into a topic you’re already familiar
  • Member interactions that are a step above the 1st generation chatbots, but worse than a person

Here’s what you should not rely on these systems to do:

  • Replace copywriters (or anyone, really)
  • Copy/paste content from it for use in any context not explicitly presented as “ChatGPT-generated”
  • Give you answers without having other sources available
  • Get medical advice
  • Use in legal arguments (unless you want to forever be known as the lawyer who presented made-up cases in front of a judge)

Hallucinations: On being wrong

AI Hallucinations
“Trippy” for computers can mean “make stuff up”

My greatest concern with these platforms is that they’re extremely convincing and certain. I’ve had conversations where it assures me the answer is correct…even when I know it is wrong. Gaslighting to the extreme. This ranged from math questions to factual challenges.

In the legal arguments referenced above, ChatGPT convincingly made up cases which never happened. Why? How?

Remember what it is: An autofill system.

The platform recognized how case records look, how they’re formatted, even trends in how they are resolved. Then, it made up its own to fit that mold. They seemed convincing, because to even trained eyes, they looked like how real case citations should appear.

There’s no motivation towards being “right” or “wrong” with a LLM. The goal of the system is to generate the next word, not fact-check itself. Thus, the tech industry came up with a harmless-sounding term for it: Hallucinations.

In other words, when your chatbot hallucinates, it’s creating new “facts” to fit the response. Lying, you could say, but that infers intent. Once again, a chatbot has no “desire” to be factual or not, only provide a response that seems appropriate.

Sidenote: Interestingly, “hallucinate” was originally a good thing, showing how the chatbot could “imagine” itself as a programming language or other platform. The original definition had nothing to do with making stuff up.

Bias

Bias Scales
Facts aren’t always facts here.

There’s also a danger of bias. While questions about Stalin mention the massive loss of life and human rights violations, it does not for current world leaders. Once again, it’s because the responses are created from content accessible online.

If certain people, policies, or ideas are associated with a lot of disinformation or propaganda, you can bet it will be reflected in answers. Without context or note. What exists, persists.

The Growing Bubble

Expanding Bubbles

Ok, with some background, we can now go back to the bubble. You have noticed just how fast ChatGPT became, well, everywhere. And every tech company (besides Apple) has thrown their shirt into the LLM game as well.

Microsoft has shoved ChatGPT (they invested billions) into Bing search. Google has Bard and is also testing “Search Generative Experience”. Nearly every smaller tech company I know is launching an “AI feature” of some kind, be it Canva, ActiveCampaign, Spark, Adobe, Zoom, and many more.

When a single product concept expands this quickly, across that many industries, I see a bubble. Eventually, interest will stagnate, people will tire of the “convenience”, and these generative chat systems will settle into a more permanent, and subtle, part of our tech world.

I hope.

Of course, the companies profiting from them want this bubble to grow forever.

Google wants to replace web links, keeping you on their sites (and seeing their ads, if you’re not using an adblocker). Nvidia, the graphics card maker powering many of these systems, is keen for it to grow, as they get to sell more units, following the crypto crash (using their cards).

Little players don’t want to seem laggards, so they launch things as well. They’re typically generators for writing or content layout. If these help your overworked marketing team, awesome.

The rush to fake “AI” is a bubble, and running too fast has consequences. Take care with anything you read, see, or hear. You can be sure unscrupulous actors will be using these tools to further drive their agendas and create the illusion of fact or reality.

Your Credit Union

Person and Robot Doing Work at Desk
Work together to unleash your creativity!

We’re here, as promised.

Even after all these cautions, for any credit union not yet using these LLM platforms, I’d still ask, “why not?” Their use cases are substantial, so long as you do not share your member or internal information with them (most systems add that data to the model).

To me, it’s the mundane, repetitive tasks where these systems shine. Need to figure out Excel formulas for some data calculation? Ask (then check to make sure they really do what it says). Want a marketing strategy for a promotion with a rock ‘n roll flair? Describe it.

If you have a blog that suffers from a lack of content, and you have no desire to create quality human-generated material for it, guess what? Your neighborhood LLM can help. Plan out a post schedule, get topic suggestions, and then draft out ideas.

My recommendation would be to create better, human-written, more relevant, and impactful articles, but if that’s not an option, ChatGPT is there.

Human or ChatGPT?

I read a lot of content in our industry. Not all pieces are stellar. Sometimes, on the particularly terrible ones (that I know were written by a human), I create a short prompt for ChatGPT to replicate. Then, I send both results to a friend to play our game: Human or ChatGPT?

Over half the time, we agree the GPT one was a much better article, even if we could recognize some of the LLM traits.

For any institution using staff resources to write these posts, I ask: When a free chat system can do better, why would your members care?

Here’s what you should do

Zooming in On AI Computer
Watch for progress!

Keep a close eye on ChatGPT and other LLMs. Watch the field to see progress, as well as challenges. Understand the benefits and downsides. Talk to your staff to learn if and how they are using them in their own life.

Through your day, make a point of asking one of these writing tools to compose what you have to do next. Get better at clarifying your request to the system (Side-effect: You get better at explaining what you want!). Compare what it creates to what you made.

If it’s as good or better, with no concern of “hallucinations”, use it moving forward!

I’ve commented on LinkedIn how we will eventually get to a point where so much content is generated that the new trendy thing will be to have a human make it! Bubbles and cycles.

Remember, like every other new technology, LLM chatbots are tools. A hammer can be used to bang in a nail or hit someone over the head. It’s up to the owner to decide the use-case. Take the same approach with these. Also please do not hit anyone over the head.

And to send us off, here’s a ditty from ChatGPT:

In the realm of finance’s digital tide,

Credit unions embrace tech as their guide.

With ChatGPT’s aid, they forge a new way,

Empowering members, trust paving the day.

Together they thrive, on innovation they ride.

ChatGPT

3 Reasons Why Your Credit Union Website Doesn’t Matter*

Originally published on CUInsight.

If members are using your credit union website, have you already missed an opportunity?

Make your website great at attracting new members. Your online banking and mobile apps should serve member needs, or provide an easy path to the solution. In other words, your credit union website doesn’t matter (*for members).

After such a statement, you might expect all the site design firms to prepare “why your credit union website is essential for members” articles. Hey, if I have that kind of influence, wow! They would still be misguided.

Here’s 3 reasons why your site doesn’t matter (to your members):

  1. Many websites are trying to do 2 things, educate members and attract new ones.
  2. Automatic pre-approval systems can display personalized loan product offers.
  3. SEO can be optimized to attract new visitors (and create new members).

In research after drafting this piece, I found a fitting resource from CU industry site design firm BloomCU. Written in 2016, it helps credit union staff ask the right questions when setting up their site. Though dated, they got this close to realizing my position.

1. “Attract” & “Educate” Work Poorly Together

Browser with Site Thumbnails
It’s easy to just be another tab.

Ok, let’s say we agreed your site isn’t for existing members; that doesn’t mean BloomCU’s guidance is wrong. Just recognize that your vision and goals for the site might be slightly different. What is it trying to accomplish?

  • Help a member find resources or take action towards some goal?
  • Convince the visitor to become a member of your credit union?

Most sites look to achieve the first goal. That makes the latter more difficult.

Connect with visitors by illuminating the pains they currently have, then explain how your credit union can solve them. Show, don’t tell, by featuring applications and other processes that are surprisingly fast, easy, and attuned to their needs.

Too many sites try to achieve both goals. A single page may promote the benefits of membership, but also guide members to taking action towards some task. Unlike those musical mashups on Glee, they struggle to accomplish either.

A Shining Example

One of our clients actually achieved this step on their own! Take a look at Wellby Financial‘s new design, language, and overall site. It’s focused on attracting members by highlighting their specialities.

Conveniently, if existing members arrive, it gives them information they may also want to know, while not compromising the primary message.

And the Other Direction

Sometimes, credit union websites end up becoming, “hey, let’s just put this somewhere” repositories. One large client has an unformatted sidebar list of over 20 links. They are unrelated, unsorted, and have no connection to the page you are currently on.

Your mobile app and online banking systems are 100% for serving members. Let your site be at its best attracting new ones. Eager to show me how your site has a strong member focus? That it clearly integrates into your app to address questions and guide towards new products?

Nice work. Two questions:

  1. If your site is tailored so well towards your members, where are you selling people on the credit union?
  2. What drives new membership growth?

Make Your Website “Community Central”

People Looking at Wall of Photos
Not literally, but representation is important!

Leave your website to present how your credit union serves members, the community, and what you can provide to make the visitor’s life better (financially and otherwise, by addressing their pains). Then provide real-world examples. (Another time to “show, not tell”.)

Definitely include interviews with members (in text and video), featuring their actual photos. I may use stock imagery, but you shouldn’t! (Speaking of…) Humanize your credit union!

On this note, I love when credit unions use imagery from the communities they serve. Even better when the photographer is a member (always include a credit with their home city and “member since”).

Sidenote: This is where your social media engagement comes into play. It’s a fun circle. Your site portrays the credit union as a welcoming community featuring content by your own members (because it’s owned by them, of course!). Social media solicits that content from members, helping foster the welcoming community.

2. Automatic Pre-Approval Systems > Generic Loan Info Pages

Website on Computer
Booorrriinng.

What’s more engaging for a member? To learn about your loan offerings on a series of webpages, or get proactively notified of the loans they can get right now in the app? With a tap (or click, if they’re computer people), they can see rates for all products in one place.

To take advantage, all they need to do is press Apply. Since the pre-approvals are already done, they don’t have to go through lengthy applications. You may have heard of CuneXus. It’s a great system that grows lending. It can also be really expensive for your credit union.

My own company can help you get similar proactive approvals on your lending products. So far, we’ve been blown away by the capability and ease-of-use. And that it’s integrated into other valuable services means costs are more manageable.

Sure, I’d love to chat to see if this system is a fit for your credit union, but I’m a terrible salesperson. I’ll just encourage you to improve personalization and engagement, even if it means using a competitor’s (great, but definitely more expensive) product.

Some of our clients talk about adding personalization features in their websites. That’s cool, I guess. Isn’t that why your mobile app exists? It already knows everything about the member, while also being linked into your core & LOS to let them take immediate action.

Personalized websites are a neat tech feature, but I feel like, for this purpose, they’re the right answer done the wrong way. If your mobile app doesn’t seem up to the task, and your online banking provider wants bags of cash to add features, it’s time to look towards partners.

Get fintech and “big bank” capabilities without needing venture capital or billion-dollar valuations. Unless you want to just keep appealing only to an aging membership (now exceeding 51 on average, according to CUNA).

Combine that age-old (get it?) challenge with over-the-top financial services companies and you’re putting your institution into the “dumb bank” path I first wrote about in 2015.

3. SEO With One Goal

Site Statistics
Design for your goal.

“No PR is bad PR”

Sarah Cooke, former editor-in-Chief, Credit Union Times

If you’re not focusing on your SEO and online presence, then when people search for your credit union, they’ll find predominantly bad news: Robberies, bad reviews, and more. That’s not who you are. Set your own narrative.

Earning your place at the top of (or even in) search results is a science and an art. There’s an industry that exists solely to boost your ranking, highlighting its importance in modern marketing.

Already a challenge; why make SEO more difficult by muddying the site message?

You aren’t trying to convince members to join. And you aren’t showing guests the intricacies of your lending products.

The terminology of a site that’s selling and a site that’s informing is totally different. In my company blog, we’ve covered how SEO can grow your credit union, and also shared the essential guide to SEO performance. Let’s make it bring on new members:

  • Embrace brevity
  • Use keywords (including long-tail, ie. the long phrases people use)
  • Keep an updated blog answering questions people have

Keep it Short

Embrace brevity. I know, even seeing myself write that brings a tear to my eye. Me, the one who excitedly composes 3,000 word articles on a topic. Oh, I’m sorry. I’m being told that’s actually a “short story”. But you read it all, right? Right?

Even this article is probably (definitely) longer than it should be. Luckily, I have wonderful readers like you who get so engrossed, they stick around for the incredible insights.

All seriousness now…get in, make your point, then get out. It’s hard, but it delivers.

Keywords

Use a competitive keyword analysis tool to see the terms people use to find financial solutions. Integrate these terms into your content, from home page to products to blog.

Mention them a maximum of 3 or four times in a page. Too many and you get punished for “keyword stuffing”. Unlike the delicious Thanksgiving stuff, this one is bad and can cause your site to get pushed down in search results.

Long-tail keywords are where your efforts will shine. These are phrases like “where to get a cheap car loan near me”. They’re specific, and also will have less competition, meaning, they’re easier to get in top results (and cheaper for Google Ads).

Blog

Blog SEO Social Media Connected
It’s all connected.

If you’re reading this, then you just answered the why. People look for answers to their questions. Unbiased articles are great ways to address these concerns, then sometimes refer to your products (and membership). Search engines love this kind of content. So do people.

Your Site Matters, From a Different Point of View

When online banking had few features, it made good sense to have a website around providing all the information you might need. Now, your mobile app (which is the primary channel for members to engage the credit union) does tons more.

Build this up so a member can grab their phone and do almost anything in just a few taps. New features (which you can partner with fintechs to get…no need to change your core or LOS) make static info pages obsolete. Personalized options drive action.

My dad (and business partner) wrote way back in 2014: “It’s Not a Website. It’s Another Branch”. At the time, cool fintech stuff didn’t yet exist. Today, though, I wonder if the title would change. “It’s Not a Website. It’s Your Best Member Acquisition Tool.”

Of course, who am I to say? I’m just a geek.

It’s Not You. It’s My Line Width.

Originally published on CUInsight.com

Far be it for me to dictate your relationship with your favorite word processor. Go on, keep your margins at the safe 1 inch.

It’s not as if you’re putting text there anyway. Leave line spacing at double. Since you always seem to need the room.

Ignore the footer field, like you always do! Content at the bottom has feelings, too!

Reading Without Tiring

Well, that got out of hand. On the upside, when was the last time page formatting related to relationships?

Woman Reading on Phone at Coffee Shop

Have you ever read content (online or print) and felt tired by the end? It’s because you need to start exercising. Exercising your use of ideal line widths.

The premise of reading, from a biological perspective, is fascinating. Our brains see each character as a picture, which it associates with those surrounding it (left to right or right to left, depending on your heritage), then interprets that as a word/number/sentence. Incredible!

I don’t need to tell you how quickly this process occurs, since you’re reading without thinking about the shape of every letter.

Doing so is tiring. Your eyes and brain need a break, even if it is shorter than your last “vacation day” (you call that a day off?). The pauses come as you change lines. Think of the last exhausting thing you read. I’d bet the lines were quite long.

Holding Open Book

Researchers at the Baymard Institute learned our focus is best when you write within an ideal line width. The golden range? Between 50-75 characters, including spaces, on each line. They found your “subconscious is energized when jumping to the next line.”

In plain English: You get bored, tired, and otherwise distracted if you cannot be entertained by the mundane process of…WOW, A NEW LINE!

Line Width For Entertainment & All Possible Devices

Man on Tablet with Coffee

With readers viewing your content on any number of screen shapes and sizes, adopting a design which adapts is key. If you find the width cannot be reduced, there is another option: Line spacing.

Remember in school how you double-spaced that paper to hit the 2-page requirement? Turns out, you were right all along. This blog uses approximately a 1.5 line spacing setting to enhance readability coupled with a large font.

It’s your writing. Get it read! Pride aside, ask your marketing team how well a campaign runs if what you produce isn’t perused?

Note: Reading from credituniongeek.com, line width is less than 80 characters.

For further reference: http://baymard.com/blog/line-length-readability

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