Put on your tin foil hats

I think that John Anderton and Winston Smith must have visited me in a dream a few months back because I’ve been brewing up an idea that could revolutionize member service or scare the bejesus out of any Libertarian.  Half Minority Report, half Nineteen Eighty-Four; I call it CUcard.

CUcard utilizes existing RFID technology that has been integrated into credit and debit cards.  Small, powerful sensors, similar to those used in automated toll booth systems, will be placed in door frames and in the floor of all credit union branches using the CUcard.  Upon entering a branch, a member will pass through the sensors in the entry doors and the CUcard software will read the information from their RFID-enabled credit union card and log it into the system.

The information will then be relayed to the teller/MSR/FSR computer systems where a screen can pop-up and display the member’s information, their scanned driver’s license from the imaging system (with their picture), a timestamp of when they entered a branch, and any other actionable information a credit union deems necessary from any of their systems.  Such information may include the most likely transaction the member will complete that day, based on information data-mined from the core processor using day of the month, date of the month, transaction amounts, and other variables.

The CUcard system will replace the traditional queuing system in a credit union lobby.  No more take-a-number systems or filling out a sign in sheet.  Once the member enters a branch, all of their information is logged and they are placed into a queue.  The next available representative will walk to the lobby to retreive the next member waiting, enabled with both a picture of the member and their first name.  Imagine this following scenario:

Joe Johnson walks into a credit union branch.  A screen pops up on all of the teller computer screens and displays Joe’s full name, his driver’s license and his top 5 most frequent branch transactions.  Joe walks up to the line and waits to be called.   “Good morning Joe, come on up here.  How was Starbucks this morning?  Are you here to deposit your social security check today and transfer 20% to your savings account or just taking out $100 in cash?”  Joe says, “It’s the fifth today.  Here’s my social security check.”  The employee then clicks on “Complete transaction” on their computer screen, at which point the CUcard software initiates a transaction, matching the last 43, removing the additional labor of having to manually enter in all of his information again.  By recognizing the date of the transaction (the 5th of every month), the amount of the transaction (~$1200), the frequency of the transaction (every month for the last 43 months), and any corresponding transactions (the transfer immediately following the deposit), the teller is able to provide outlandish member service that would never have been able to occur in the past.

Leveraging the CUcard system, credit unions will be able measure new statistics never before available without immense time and effort.  With sensors placed at the teller windows, the credit union will be able to break down the member’s visit into how long they waited in line or in the lobby, how long the actual transaction took (time at the teller window), and the total length of their visit.  This will enable the credit union to streamline the operations to gain the greatest efficiency and shortest time possible in the branch, or inversely, measure member dwell time, potentially reinforcing a credit union’s brand.  Putting in free WiFI in branches, for example, should increase member dwell time, while an in-store branch in a high traffic retail environment or airport should focus on the shortest transaction time possible.

If a credit union wishes to take CUcard to the next level and get the most of of the system, they will also enable to Share of Wallet module.  Using the exact same technology, the CUcard system, in addition to scanning the RFID for the CUcard, can scan for other RFID’s in the member’s wallet or purse.  No more focus groups, surveys, or ethnographic research.  Once the member enters a credit union branch, any card emitting an RFID signal will be read and identified.  Credit unions and their front line staff will immediately know that Joe Johnson, the member who just walked in the front door, not only has a CUcard from your credit union, but also has a Wells Fargo debit card and a Chase Rewards credit card.  Armed with this new information, credit unions will be able to launch new direct marketing campaigns tailored so exactly that response rates will spike.  Pair this new share of wallet information with existing data from the core processor, such as the destination outgoing ACH’s, bill payments, and debit card transactions, and the credit union will be able to market and cross-sell their products with incredibly unique campaigns and un-heard-of accuracy.

So which is it?  Revolutionize member service or securely affix your tinfoil hat?

Don’t get lost in error messages

Problems are bound to happen with any software application or website.  Count it.  Hopefully the vendor of said software or your internal staff has the mechanisms in place to catch any and all errors that may occur, log them, and notify the appropriate people to take action.  Occasionally, system maintenance of some variety will also take down a system for whatever reason.

Garmin, the GPS manufacturer, clearly has this figured out and has realized the importance of providing meaningful messages to their customers when something goes awry.  I use one of those fancy GPS watches to run and cycle with and recently when I went to upload my training info to their website, I received the messages below.  Every time you visited the site while it was undergoing maintenance, you would receive one of these messages.    Additionally, you’ll notice each message is tailor to their specific industry with captions and images that are meaningful to their customers.  If a bank or credit union had error messages like this for their website or online banking, I’d probably switch immediately because it demonstrates their commitment and thoroughness to customer satisfaction.

The real use for Twitter in CU’s (and Banks)

Screw banks and CU’s using Twitter.  It is over rated and doesn’t give you any ROI.  I don’t care if you are having a seminar on credit reports or a shred day.  Pilcher’s Twitter directory is fine and dandy and it does a great job demonstrating that nobody is using Twitter except to regurgigate tired marketing messages.  Twitter could be a real communication tool for your members if it is a medium they are currently using.  You’ve surveyed your members and done your market research so you know what percentage of your membership is on Twitter, right?

Why the hell don’t we actually make Twitter a useful communication tool?  Think about how text banking works.  I text bal to MYCUBAL or whatever and 10 or 20 seconds goes by and my balance comes back.  Whoo hoo.  Why don’t we do the same thing with Twitter?  Log into online banking and link your Twitter username to your online banking account.  Tweet a direct message to your credit union with a command like bal or last 5.  The CU’s application grabs the direct message, looks up the Twitter username in online banking and pulls the balance out of the OFX server or directly from the core.  Then the application direct messages the CU member back.

Duh.  Seems like a no brainer to me.  Let’s get off the marketing band wagon with Twitter and figure out how to actually make it a useful tool for our membership.

Update:  I was just catching up on my feeds and noticed the post at The Financial Brand about the How To: Twitter for FI’s guide.  Look at the bullet points:

  • Promote new products and offers
  • Share personal finance tips
  • Express their brand and reveal their personalities
  • Build community outreach programs
  • Provide information about community events and activities
  • Increase exposure for their charitable and philanthropic efforts

Pick one of those that isn’t marketing and show me one useful thing that a member could use any of that for.  Oh wait, you can’t.

Batch Mode

Batch mode is for baking cookies. Not financial transactions. In today’s modern computer era, so many vital functions are still run behind the scenes on mainframe computers passing files around on the back end trying to make things work.  What is the big hold up with getting with the times?  Are core processor’s and credit/debit card providers afraid of interoperability?  Is there anything us lowly credit unions can do to encourage a little better behavior?

Credit unions need their head in the clouds

Cloud computing is the wave of the future for all things data related.  Amazon started it with EC2 and S3.  Microsoft is in it.  Salesforce is doing it too.  Credit unions are just starting to realize the benefits of virtualization and as more CU’s struggle with income generation, expense control, and capital expenditures, virtualization is going to take off.  But why use your members’ capital to acquire VMWare or Citrix servers, additional bandwidth, etc when you can “outsource” the hardware and infrastructure to providers that are much more efficient at it than the CU could ever be and do it cheaper?

Credit unions love to have control of their infrastructure and data, many IT departments love new projects and new technologies.  And they are pretty much required to.  Just look at the NCUA’s guide for doing third-party due diligence.  They don’t make it very easy to use new technology or unproven (read: new and innovative) vendors or products. Cloud computing is where we’re moving but how can credit unions make that jump while satisfying the NCUA’s security and vendor requirements?

RSS me my balances!

We’re working on an RSS mechanism to distribute balances and transactions to members. We are currently building it and beta testing it with employees but we’re kinda stuck on exactly how the balances should be delivered.  

Option 1: A feed for each account.  The title of the feed is “Checking – Balance”, thus every time the balance changes it’ll show up new in the feed reader.  The content of the feed would contain the last X transactions with Y days.  Algebra, I know.  For example the most recent 10 transaction in the last 30 days.

Option 2: One feed for transactions with each addtional transaction becoming a new entry and a second feed that displays balance.

Which would you rather see, #1 or #2?  Are we missing a whole other way to do it that could be better?

More on OpenID

I was just reading an article in Information Week talking more about OpenID and how it has been starting to catch on and is being implemented on mainstream sites, like MySpace.  As quickly as they praise it, it rapidly turns around into how many sites enable the use of their OpenID, but they don’t accept ID’s issued by other providers because of “inherent risks”.  This sentence got my brain thinking:

“Since no OpenID provider makes public its practices around vetting and protecting identities, there’s effectively no way of assessing liability for faulty initial identification.”

Who is bound by law to verify ID’s stringently?  Oh, that’s right.  Financial institutions.  So why don’t banks and credit unions jump on board and offer OpenID?  (I’d love to see a start-up virtual credit union do this.)

One potential issue I see with this is there will still need to be a verificaiton step involved to verify that the OpenID was really issued by a bank or CU.  I could go get robbiewrightbank.com, issue “verified” OpenID’s that could be used to log into sites requiring stricter control over the content they are offering on their site.  So the question becomes how can you create a secure OpenID that is provided by numerous companies?  I think the answer may lay in an uber-secure TLD for banks and credit unions. Literally, have .bank or .creditunion or the like.  The registrar for the TLD would verify that the FI buying the domain is legit, using government verified documents like call reports.  This concept has been kicked around before but many it just doesn’t have any legs.

So what do you think?  Is there a need for a secure TLD for only financial institutions?  Do banks or CU’s really need to offer an OpenID service?