The Vanishing Credit Union Gets Bigger

By Robert McGarvey 

For Credit Union 2.0  

The April CUNA Mutual Trends Report drops a paradoxical bomb that leaves us confused: are credit unions getting bigger? Or are they vanishing? 

First the good news: more of us belong to credit unions, reported CUNA Mutual.  “Credit union membership growth was on a tear during the first two months of 2018, adding 850,000 new memberships versus the 650,000 reported in the first two months of 2017.” 

CUNA Mutual went on: “Credit unions should expect membership growth to exceed 3.5% in 2018. This will push the total number of credit union memberships to 117.6 million by year end, which is equal to 33% of the total U.S. population.” 

Roll back to 1960 and, per NCUA data, just 6 million of us belonged to federal credit unions.  A similar number belonged to state chartered institutions. That’s 12 million total, out of a US population of 180 million.  That’s about 6.7% of us, far below today’s one in three. 

Plainly, a lot more of us belong to credit unions now, probably because of expanding FOMs and also because many credit unions offer tempting deals – for used car loans, for instance, and in some markets home mortgages – that bring in members at least for those specific products. 

More credit unions also are working smarter and better at communicating that their membership is pretty much open to all. There remain some of us who believe they can’t join a credit union because they don’t belong to a union – but those numbers are shrinking. 

Member growth is good.  But do the CUNA Mutual data mean the credit union movement should pop open champagne and toast the good times? 

Maybe not. 

At least not just yet.  There’s more to digest in the CUNA Mutual data dump. 

Toward the end of the report, CUNA Mutual serves up these disturbing numbers: “As of February 2018, CUNA estimates 5,757 credit unions are in operation, down 240 from February 2017. The pace of consolidation in the credit union system is accelerating due to the following factors: retiring baby boomer CEOs, rising regulatory/compliance burdens, low net interest margins, rising concerns over scale and operating efficiency, rising competitive pressures, and members’ demand for ever more products, services and access channels. NCUA’s Insurance Report of Activity showed 9 mergers – 7 mergers were due to ‘expanded services,’ 1 for ‘poor[Text Wrapping Break]financial conditions,’ and one for ‘lack of growth’ – were approved in February with a merging credit union average asset size of $13 million. This is a fewer than the number of mergers reported in February 2016 with a merging credit union average asset size of $10 million. We are forecasting the number of credit unions will decline 250 in 2018.” 

Do the math. If the current rate of consolidation continues, by 2028 there will be a bit over 3000 credit unions. 

In 1960 there were about 10,000 federally chartered credit unions, per NCUA.   

As for the membership growth, CUNA Mutual sees it continuing, sort of.  “The membership gain was partly driven by the 502,000 new jobs created during January and February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and by the tremendous growth in credit union indirect auto lending. During the last few years credit union membership growth has been highly correlated with job creation with the seasonally adjusted annualized growth rate exceeding 4% over the last year. With job growth expected to slow slightly in 2018 to 2.2 million, we forecast credit unions to pick-up an additional 4.0 million members.”  (Emphasis added.) 

Many credit union executives, at least privately, of course grumble about indirect car loans because the “members” they bring in often limit their memberships to the car loan and they aren’t especially profitable. 

Add this up and what’s the meaning? Credit unions need to do a much better job of expanding their relationships with members.  It is great to have an expanding number of members, it is not so great not to be creating more solvent credit unions. 

The truly good news is that if one in three Americans belong to a credit union that is plenty of bulk to use to seek to grow the institutions organically.  For instance: get that indirect car loan borrower using a sharedraft account and a credit card and the credit union is onto something wonderful. 

The alternative is to join the thundering herd of dying credit unions, many of which are like wildebeest in the Tanzanian Great Migration, there essentially to be picked off by predators. 

Parse the CUNA Mutual data and just maybe the message is a double edged sword: grow membership, especially the right membership, and success may lie ahead. Or shrink into extinction. 

That is the stark choice in front of today’s credit union executives. 

Mobile Banking Rules – and Where You Still Stumble 

By Robert McGarvey 

For CU 2.0  

New research out of Javelin, sponsored by identity specialist Jumio, makes plain multiple facts and the central one is that digital banking rules and it does so across generations.  It’s not just a Millennial thing anymore. 

Another key takeaway: most financial institutions – eyes on you – stumble in many key places, particularly in deploying mobile banking. This is eroding member loyalty: they will sometimes simply flee to another institution. 

And security concerns continue to be a bother for many users, according to the Javelin research. Despite the fact that generally a mobile banking session over a cellular network is much more secure than one over an online network.  No matter. A lot of users remain very worried about safety and digital banking and the smart institutions are addressing these fears. 

What all this means is that mobile banking – increasingly the channel that matters in banking – is where credit unions have to double down on efforts to compete with the money center banks and the fintechs that continue to nibble at the user base of smaller, legacy institutions (talking about you, Amazon).   

Al Pascual, SVP, Research Director and Head of Fraud & Security at Javelin Research elaborated: “To capitalize on the growing demand for mobile banking as millennials grow in spending power, financial institutions must simplify user experience and address ongoing concerns around security and fraud.” 

Dive deeper into the report and the results can surprise.  For instance, although 76% of Millennials now regularly use digital banking, 77% of Boomers do – and, yep, that says Boomers have greater acceptance of the channel. 

But Millennials are way ahead with mobile banking. 62% use it monthly, compared to 34% of Boomers.  Also, claimed Jumio, “millennials report stronger satisfaction with nearly all aspects of mobile banking, compared to Generation X and Baby Boomers.”  

Millennials definitely have fewer gripes about mobile banking.  25% of them express concerns with the channel, compared to 33% of Gen X and 35% of Boomers. What kinds of concerns? 28% grumble about “hidden fees,” while 53% complain about ease of use. 

The study uncovered valuable findings when it focused on abandonment issues – why do we just close out when midway into a task in a digital banking session?  36% said they did so because “the process [was] taking too long.”  20% complained about authentication “being too time consuming.” 

Waste a consumer’s time – and the consumer is the judge of this, not a cautious credit union manager – and they will blow you off.  Just that fast. 

Here’s the kick in the head: “One-third of consumers respond negatively to their FI after abandoning a mobile banking activity,” reported Jumio. Understand: 7% decided to open an account at another financial institution.  And 13% shared their grumble about the experience with family and friends. 

That’s word of mouth you don’t need. 

In this regard, the Javelin research shows that account opening tools must cater to Millennials, mainly because they are the leading cohort when it comes to adding new accounts and services. Their chief complaint: it takes too long.  The antidote: speed it up. 

And make it easy to complete the tasks on a mobile device. That is becoming a crucial battleground. 

When it comes to authentication, Millennials in particular prefer biometrics, especially eye scans and facial recognition, according to the Javelin data.  Farther down the list are legacy modes such as QR codes.  Very probably institutions that want to stay on the cutting edge of Millennial acceptance need to roll out multiple biometric modalities. 

Another, key piece of advice from the research is: “Put security first (and make sure your customers know it).”   

“But… weave security into the customer experience in smooth, fast, intuitive ways.” 

Don’t make security into hurdles members have to jump – how many routinely forget passwords? – but do let members know that security protocols are always there, always protecting them. They want that reassurance even if they don’t want the hassles of dealing with in your face security challenges (what street did your father live on at age 6?).   

Sift through the Javelin findings and there is much to cheer credit union leaders. There is no way they can compete with money center banks in terms of branches – but they don’t need to.  What a credit union needs is top grade digital experiences, online and mobile, that include easy account opening and build in seamless security that will protect members. 

None of that is easy. 

But it all is doable at credit unions that embrace the digital mandate. 

MRDC 2.0 And Your Credit Union 

By Robert McGarvey 

 For CU2.0  

A new report from RemoteDepositCapture.com makes plain that mRDC now is a must for credit unions.  Declared the report: “mRDC is no longer a competitive differentiator, but instead a ‘must-have’ offering Financial Institutions need simply to remain competitive.” 

Without mRDC you just may not be competitive. That’s a stinging reality. 

This claim, incidentally, is underscored by a separate report, led by the Federal Reserve of Boston, that claimed 73% of the institutions it surveyed already offer mRDC and another 18% “plan to offer.”  Just 9% don’t have mRDC on their dance cards. 

Small credit unions are very much included among the adopters. Said the Fed: “ Even among the smallest respondents, 78 percent support or plan to support mRDC within two years “ It defined “smallest respondents” as < $100M in assets. And just 22% of them have no plans to offer mRDC. 

Big institutions are all aboard. Among institutions with assets >$1 billion, the Fed said 92% already offer mRDC and only 3% have no plans to follow. 

mRDC has become a must have.  That’s a key reality in today’s new reality where we have entered the era of mRDC 2.0. Now the focus is on new uses, more usage by members, and there also is a wholly new kind of thinking around mRDC fraud and how to combat it. 

A lot has happened to mRDC since 2009 when USAA debuted mRDC.  A handful more joined the chase in 2009-2010. But then the race was on at full speed inside most CUs to offer mRDC. 

Initially many credit unions grumbled about the fees associated with mRDC – fees charged by third party processors – but, by now, most larger institutions have simply decided to suck up the added costs, which incidentally usually are much, much lower than the costs associated with a paper check deposited at a branch. 

That’s a fact: mRDC saves a credit union money.  While expanding the convenience and utility of the account to members who now can make deposits while dressed in their PJs and sitting at the breakfast table.  That is cool and it ultimately is why mRDC usage will remain popular as long as paper checks circulate and these days about 17 billion of them get written in the US annually.  That number continues to slip down but it will be years before checks vanish (and aren’t we all waiting for the long predicted death of cash?). 

Face it: checks are hanging around and so will mRDC because it just is so much better than driving to a branch or to an ATM. 

John Leekley, CEO of RemoteDepositCapture.com, said many institutions have gotten increasingly more skilled at their mRDC offerings. 

A plus: Leekley pointed to data that shows a 35% year over year increase in mRDC transactions which means more checks are getting deposited this way. 

Are more fraudulent checks also getting deposited? Roll back the clock and that was a huge fear among many credit union execs, some of whom stalled when it came to rolling out mRDC.   

Today’s take is very different, said Leekley, who indicated that his survey found that “the vast majority (74%) of respondents indicated they had no losses directly attributable to mRDC.” 

That means zip. 

The big fear still revolves around duplicate deposits – depositing the same paper at multiple institutions – but the numbers don’t show there is a threat of any real magnitude. Leekley’s report goes on: “Exclusive to RemoteDepositCapture.com, the industry’s mRDC Duplicate Loss Rate in 2016 was just 0.035%, or 3.5 in every 10,000 items. To put this in perspective, according to the Federal Reserve, the industry’s overall return item rate was 0.4%, or approximately 40 out of every 10,000 checks deposit.” 

What’s next for mRDC? Most credit unions now appear to want to get more consumers depositing more items with mRDC. 

Leekley also indicated many institutions are giving a re-think to mRDC deposit limits. Traditionally, some institutions set very low limits, to manage exposure to fraud. But, said Leekley, more effective and more consumer friendly approaches involving smart use of big data are taking hold.   

Many institutions also are looking to increase business use of mRDC, added Leekley, who said this was a big frontier for many.  Exactly how will be a huge topic of discussion and exploration this year but know this: now is the time for you to begin to seek to push mRDC usage into new arenas. 

It’s a good tool, it works. Let its success fuel your institution’s.  

Rating the Mobile Banking Apps: How Do Credit Unions Fare? 

By Robert McGarvey 

For Credit Union 2.0  

 

The good news for credit unions in this year’s MagnifyMoney survey of mobile banking apps: Many do very, very well, even against money center bank competition. 

The bad news: Mobile banking apps, suggests MagnifyMoney, “have reached middle age.” That means, per MagnifyMoney, “overall, apps haven’t appreciably improved.” They have entered an era of complacency – and, listen up, that may well not be good enough. 

A point not in the MagnifyMoney survey is this: non banks keep buffing their apps, benchmarking themselves not against financial institutions but best in class apps such as Uber, Airbnb, Amazon, and Venmo.  Before patting yourself on the back with congratulations about the quality of your mobile banking app, ask yourself how you stack up against the really good consumer apps that many people spend hours daily using. 

Back to the MagnifyMoney data and the good news for credit unions: according to its survey, “in general, people still rate credit unions apps higher.  Probably unsurprising, as most CU users report a better experience in general. But traditional banks are catching up. 3 of the ten best overall apps are banks or direct banking apps. Last year all but 1 were CUs.” 

Not all is cheery news in the survey. Chew on this: of the 10 worst mobile banking apps, per MagnifyMoney, four are credit unions. On the dishonor roll are VyStar Credit Union, Patelco, Northwest Federal Credit Union, and Tinker Federal Credit Union. 

That means credit unions as a group can only get so giddy about their performance. Some appear to be in the same league as the worst banks. 

But credit unions do score high in the round up of most improved apps.  Among the top 10 are Teachers Federal Credit Union, CEFCU, America First Credit Union, Schoolsfirst, Alliant, and DFCU.  That’s six of ten. 

Among the top 10 most deteriorated apps are three credit unions: Desert Schools, Suncoast, and SECU of Maryland. 

As for the 10 best overall, credit unions on this honor roll include Eastman Credit Union, ESL, Redstone, SEFCU, Wright Patt, and Delta Community, Visions. 

The others in the top 10 are Discover, BBVA Compass, and Capital One. 

How reliable are these ratings? Probably not very but at least this is a start. The issue is that the MagnifyMoney ratings start by sorting out the 50 biggest banks and 50 biggest credit unions, then looking at user ratings for the apps in the two big apps stores (iOS and Android).  As far as that goes, it makes sense but let me ask: how many apps have you reviewed in the apps stores? 

Not many right. 

I scratch my head in trying to remember the last time I reviewed an app in an app store. And whatever it was it was because the app was just terrible.  Or I was angry for other reasons with the provider. 

So I’m unconvinced that app store ratings are the end-all when it comes to deciding the best and worst mobile banking apps. Nonetheless, my advice is to look hard at the top rated credit union apps – and by all means scroll through the actual user comments in the app stores. 

Do likewise for the worst rated. 

Now ask yourself the really hard question: what are we doing right now to keep our app fresh and relevant for a new generation of credit union members? 

What can we do? 

How can we press our vendors to really upgrade the app to help us better serve our membership? 

What do our members really want that they are not presently getting from the mobile app? Ask them if you don’t already know. 

There’s no rest for the weary. This just came in from Bank of America in an email blast to media about upgrades to its mobile banking app: “Express checking account application — With nearly one-quarter of all accounts opened digitally, Bank of America has introduced a new streamlined process for customers to apply for a checking account securely within the app. The enhanced, single-page design populates customer information into the application, simplifying the process.” 

Can you match that? 

What can you do to get there? 

What can you do to stay ready for the next wave of upgrades? 

The process just doesn’t end and, at many credit unions, there’s resistance to the idea that continuous improvement is a must with mobile apps. 

But give it up. Resistance is futile. With mobile banking, it has become improve or perish. 

Why MRDC Hasn’t Fulfilled Its Promise 

By Robert McGarvey 

For Credit Union 2.0

 

A new research report from Javelin on “Why Digital Banking Often Fails to Reduce Offline Volume” has an infographic that just popped my eyes. The subject: “Reasons Why Consumers Avoid Mobile Banking and Turn to the Branch or ATM for Check Deposits.” 

Javelin offers answers but, first, why do you think your members do this?  Especially when, in theory, nothing could be more convenient and simpler than using a smartphone at your kitchen table to deposit a check that came in the day’s mail. 

But lots and lots of consumers don’t use MRDC and even those who do, don’t always use it.  Why? The Javelin report explores that question. 

I can give you a hint about why. A few months ago I opened a new account at Arizona Central Credit Union.  I deposited a check for around $25,000, drawn on Capital One (closing an account), and I deposited it at a branch a few blocks from my apartment. 

Recently I opened the ACCU app to make a deposit and saw my MRDC limit is $500. I shut the app. 

I opened a Chase app, where my limit is many times that, and deposited the check. 

I’m not alone. 15% of the consumers who don’t use MRDC told Javelin they were afraid their check was too big. 

They’re probably right. 

Even Mitek, the principal MRDC cheerleader, in its 2017 Mobile Deposit Benchmark Report, moaned about this barrier to wider usage: “Deposit-limit policies at three quarters of FIs essentially represent penalties for customers who use mobile deposit, representing an unsustainable barrier to digital migration and growth….Many consumers state they have been prevented from using mobile deposit by the FI’s dollar limits, yet conversations with industry executives tell us that advanced risk management policies can enable customer-friendly deposit limits that also limit misuse.” 

Yep, and that’s been true for years. But still most credit unions retain absurdly conservative deposit limits. 

As for long holds – and I have personally seen holds as long as seven business days on a mobile deposit – there is no defensible reason for the practice, other than a desire to thwart MRDC usage. 

Could be that’s exactly what some credit unions want to do. Processing fees are involved with deposits via vendors such as Mitek. Force the consumer to walk the check in and there’s no Mitek fee. 

But maybe there also is no consumer, as the consumer does as I did and calls up a friendlier app such as Chase and makes the deposit. 

Note, too, Javelin said 17% of consumers who did not use MRDC said their reason was that “I needed the funds quickly.”  Long holds chase away members. 

Probably the biggest barrier to MRDC usage, per Mitek, is insecurity about the technology.  Reported Mitek: “Fear of fraud is the most powerful impediment to widespread mobile deposit[Text Wrapping Break]adoption, cited by 43% of non-users from large FIs. FIs must unequivocally assure customers that mobile deposit is every bit as secure as an ATM or bank branch. Immediate feedback and receipts upon deposit acceptance, and notification of funds availability will help resolve these fears. Walking customers step-by-step through their initial experience may also alleviate[Text Wrapping Break]worry, as fear over making a mistake is holding back 34% of non-users at large FIs.” 

According to Javelin, 14% of non users said: “I didn’t feel safe depositing a large check via the phone.” 

A last, huge obstacle to MRDC usage – fortunately seen at ever fewer financial institutions – is charging fees for MRDC. That never made sense and certainly doesn’t make good business sense today.  Reported Mitek: “In 2017, for the first time, none of the major banks reviewed charged a fee for standard processing of mobile deposits. Still, worries over fees remains a block to nearly one out of three FI customers. Therefore, marketing the costfree nature of mobile deposit is an imperative to boost channel migration.” 

Now, just maybe MRDC will never capture all deposits. Javelin research found that 27% of non users said they had to go to the branch for other reasons. 32% said they had to go to the ATM for other reasons (presumably withdrawing cash).  So they made their deposits through those channels. 

But there remains huge growth potential for MRDC if credit unions raise deposit limits, erase unnecessary holds, stop charging fees, and go on the offensive to assure consumers that MRDC is as safe as making a deposit at an ATM. 

That’s because, among those who do use MRDC, a consistent comment according to Mitek is praise for the “ease of use.” 

But there’s even hope for capturing non-users. Advised James Robert Lay, CEO of Digital Growth Institute who specifically addressed how to gain usage by those who so far are resisting MRDC: “What will increase mobile deposit use is credit union staff working with account holders that come into the branch to deposit checks. Hold account holder’s hands (and their phone) to guide them through the process. Heck, employees might find the account holder does not even have a credit union’s mobile app downloaded to their device.  

It’s a bit of a paradox but to increase digital product use requires human interaction and intervention as change is hard, even though the mobile deposit is easy.” 

So right. So smart.