Quis tu ipse sis memento

Portland Hotel Society: The Reckoning

I’ve been following the revelations about the Portland Hotel Society primarily through Frances Bula’s useful Twitter feed. The politics of the thing is following the usual script; my interest is different.

The Politics. Ugh. Let’s Just Get It Out Of The Way.

The story has attracted the usual ghouls, from the rabble who yell “poverty pimps” whenever a DTES group makes the news to the Rabble who believe that what PHS needed was a louder manifesto, not a forensic audit. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Not Banking or Business

A Pox On All Your Houses: My First Election As A Langley Citizen

Sayre’s Law: “In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake.”

Voters in the Township of Langley might care about taxes, development, urban/rural tension, transportation or amalgamation but in the end the election in The Township of Langley was about one very stupid thing: eight councillors and one mayor who couldn’t even try to work together. The result? Voters chose to keep the councillors and dump the mayor. Read the rest of this entry »

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Suburb Hell: The Willowbrook Area of Langley

The stretch of road on 200th Street in Langley from 64th Avenue to Fraser Highway called “Willowbrook” (there are neither willows nor brooks) is exhibit A in how not to plan a suburban retail shopping area and potential urban centre. The only stretch of road in the Lower Mainland more likely to cause an equivalent exhaustion is Number 3 Road in Richmond. And there is no intersection in the province – not Oak and 70th in Vancouver, not 88th and King George Boulevard in Surrey, not Terminal and Main in Vancouver – more exhausting than 200th and the Highway 10 Bypass. Read the rest of this entry »

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Costco: Portal To The Future

As rarely as possible I accompany The Wife to Costco (today’s goal was 17 feet of LED cool white C9 outdoor Christmas lights: $20 for two boxes). While The Wife did whatever it is she does I did my bi-annual wander up and down the computer and equipment aisles. I spent many minutes in front of the 9000 Watt gas generator trying to think of something that would convince The Wife that civilization is about to collapse (“I really think those Occupy guys are on to something!”) and would therefore make the generator a prudent $699 purchase. The Wife doesn’t really believe I’m qualified to operate power equipment (except, ominously, chainsaws) so the dream of being able to power a small country from my backyard was a non-starter and I eventually rejoined her at the bin of 7 pound wedges of parmesan cheese.

I did not leave Costco empty handed, however: not only did I buy a Griswoldian six boxes of Christmas lights but I experienced two things while I wandered that made me wonder whether a trip to Costco can help you see into the future. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Canadian Government likes kids more than we do

A branch manager at my credit union pointed out that the Government of Canada provides a fairly comprehensive youth financial literacy site called “The Money Belt“.  The site includes finance and banking information for youth aged 15 to 29 (is a 29 year old a “youth”?!), and includes a few resources for teachers. There’s also a related comprehensive learning program developed with the BC Securities Commission called “The City“.

The Money Belt was created because (according to the Government of Canada)… Read the rest of this entry »

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The Kids Aren’t Alright

Mourning Dandy Doodle
The first credit union I ever worked for had an account and marketing program for kids known as “Dandy Doodle”, with a mascot (a big furry green… thing, like Grimace but without the pleasing pear shape) and a kids section in the monthly newsletter and wooden coins that kids would get when they deposited money into their “doodle” savings accounts and which could be redeemed for some not very spectacular prizes (what kid doesn’t love pencils!).

The credit union doesn’t exist any more (merger), and I’m assuming that Dandy Doodle was downsized or reassigned or works for the collections department now.

I was never entirely clear on the purpose of the Dandy Doodle program: it felt like this weird mix of a savings incentive program, and half-hearted education program, and ill-defined marketing program (Dandy Doodle would hand out candy at local parades, Dandy Doodle would make an appearance at branch openings, etc.). Kids seemed to like Dandy Doodle, and some parents would take the wooden coin-for-deposits exchange very seriously. But I doubt very much that anyone outside of the Doodle family is mourning for Dandy now.

Read the rest of this entry »

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I voted for Change Everything – so should you

Vancity’s Change Everything initiative has been nominated for a Webby award in the Social Networking category.

I voted for them, not only because I’m a sucker for David (and Facebook, one of the other nominees, surely qualifies as a Goliath), but because it’s what social networking can do in the hands of normal people when they have a little time on their hands and a hankerin’ to do some good: help people.

Take a couple of minutes and register to vote.

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On our strategy

One of the challenges common to smaller credit unions is building our limitations into our strategy. It’s suprisingly hard to do when you look at all the cool things on the internet; it’s doubly-difficult if you work for a conservative organization (like an FI).

For instance, because of our size I’m a specialist in terms of the banking organization (I’m the “web guy”!), but I’m a generalist in the web space – and that’s a big space. I manage (with one other able employee) our content (which is a full-time job), our design, our Online Banking service, our business online banking service, our web strategy, our corporate Intranet (which is its own little universe) and a myriad of other systems and projects.  I’m not complaining at all; I like the variety and experience. But it does force us to be very organized and to priortize ruthlessly.

The key for us is focus: do your homework, create a strategy, and stick to it. Build into the strategy the ability to incorporate unexpected developments and events, but don’t take your eye off the end goal. Always maintain momentum somewhere (stasis is our enemy, because it’s self-perpetuating). And recognize -and don’t spend a lot of time lamenting – the sacrifices we have to make.

For us, our strategy has meant sacrificing innovation.  The pressure to innovate is almost overwhelming but we’re maintaining our focus on doing the best we have with what we have right now.  Innovation will come from necessity: we’ll be forced to innovate when we’ve maxed out our existing tools (which has already begun). So, strange as it may sound, we’re concentrating – strategically – on maxing out our existing tools.

That’s because built into our strategy (it’s a three year strategy) is the knowledge that we have to build our skill sets internally.  So the idea is not only to create a solid foundation of features and processes for our members, but also to spend the time it takes doing that learning. By the end of the three years (which theoretically will be at the end of 2008, and we are on target) we’ll be in a good place systems-wise, we’ll be at the front of the train in terms of the features we offer our members, and, most importantly, we’ll be frustrated by our current limitations. Literally frustrated. And when that happens, we’ll start pushing for change. My goal – strange as it may seem – is to wake up one morning and say “we can’t do what we want with what we have; we have to change.”

In the meantime we still have to address innovation on some level, and so, strategically, we “outsource” our innovation to Credit Union Central of BC and our peer group. That’s the beauty of a co-operative model. We watch carefully to make sure that they’re doing innovative things, and then we make sure we get near the front of the line to implement them.

It’s not rocket-science, but it seems to be working. (And I’m not a rocket-scientist, anyway.)

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Crossing the threshold to web effectiveness

At Westminster Savings I’m fortunate to work for executive management who recognize that the Ecommerce channel doesn’t just run itself: it needs to be managed to be effective. I consider the active and deliberate management of web services to be the magic line between an effective web channel and one that just sits there, underutilized and underperforming.

We’re proud to use the services of Credit Union Central of BC to host and create our website and Online Banking platforms: they provide Canadian credit unions of any size a credible and substantial base platform for offering web services to members.

But then it’s up to credit unions to maximize the considerable opportunity CUCBC provides to them. How this manifests itself changes, I think, from FI-to-FI but specialization, skill-sets and staffing are two key signals.  And these cost money.

Westminster Savings demonstrated its move across the threshold by hiring me to work almost exclusively in the web space. It didn’t have to be me – it could’ve been anyone – but by setting aside a piece of the credit union to look after just the web space they signalled their commitment to start moving in the Ecommerce area.

I spoke to the manager of another BC credit union at Net.Finance who is struggling with exactly this issue. When does the commitment to the web channel make sense for a small FI? Is it a product of strategy or a product of size, or a combination of those things? I had no answers for her, but it deepened my sense that, no matter how clever the distributed tools, WYSIWYG apps and outsourcing are, internally an organization still has to cross a threshold to be effective in the web space.

They need to be active and deliberate.

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How to highlight a navigation problem

Another interesting tidbit from James Anderson at Michigan First CU. When they had to demonstrate their website navigation problem they asked a bunch of users (I think they were employees) to come in. They gave the users cards with the various content pages and data elements on the website. They then had the different people organize the cards according to how they would find content.

This isn’t directly applicable to us as from a public website standpoint, but we’re in the middle of an Intranet re-org and this makes good sense. For us, it would be less about highlighting a problem – we already know that we have one in terms of how our intranet is organized – and more about trying to figure out how our users think about content: what relates to what, what’s a child of what, etc. It’s a low tech but effective way to get a handle on how to set up navigation.

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If a complaint occurs on the internet, does anybody hear it?

I’ve known about Google Alerts for awhile, but after Shari Storm‘s (Verity CU) presentation at Net.Finance I finally realized that I can’t avoid it any loner and that I have to sign up. So I did. And the pay-off – the immediate pay-off – was remarkable.

On the same day that I signed up I was alerted through the service to a blog post made the previous day by one of our members commenting on a frustration he had at one of our ATMs. The same freakin’ day. It gave me chance to respond to the concern on the member’s blog, and to begin a discussion internally about some of our processes.

The obvious reason for not using Google Alerts is that if you can’t hear what they’re saying about you then you can say that everything is OK. I know, I know, this is a bad idea from start to finish, but it’s also a strangely powerful one.

So, thanks to Shari we’re now doing what we should’ve done all along: we’re monitoring the web.

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How Michigan First Credit Union solved their content problem

To paraphrase William from Vancity, how did I miss Michigan First Credit Union? They’re a smaller credit union in the Detroit area who went through a website redesign recently.

They solved part of their “diverse content” problem – straight product and service information vs. the community news/updating members – by separating… the content onto two sites. Ta-da! The Michigan First CU site has the corporate/product stuff, and I guess acts as the basic portal into company, and they put the community updates, etc. into their micommunity space blog. Problem solved, and very clever (and simple – how did I miss this?!).

I asked James Anderson from MFCU about how they ensured that their content remained fresh and current, and he said it wasn’t a problem: there’s lots to tell their members and the task was delegated to the appropriate area of responsibility in the marketing groups. It sounds like culturally and organizationally the idea of using a blog as a current and permanent archive of member news and community news was straightforward for MFCU.

I’ve been thinking about how to incorporate the newsy and calendar stuff onto our homepage, especially the community events which are regularly updated and which I’d like to make more prominent. I’m intriuged by the MFCU method, and will look into it more.

Of course, I’m also keen on users managing their own content. With blogging software – I think MFCU uses WordPress – it’s straightforward. But with TeamSite, it’s not, so I don’t know how feasible this is as long as the blog uses TeamSite as the content management tool.

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M&I welcomes you to Online Banking

When you first log in to Online Banking at M&I you receive an email – I think they said that they were using LeadFusion to do this – to welcome you to Online Banking that first time.

There are other ways to do this, using the Personal Messages feature, but it’s not a bad idea: “welcome to Online Banking, have a look around” and then send them off to the “About Online Banking” pages or a flash tour or somethng.

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Back from Phoenix, catching up

I’m back from Phoenix – thanks to US Airways for bumping William and I up for a small fee so we could get home earlier than planned. I’ll be adding my notes from the last day of the conference today, plus going back and editing posts to add links and tags, which I just didn’t have time to do while I was in Phoenix.

When I called US Airways in the morning to ask to be booked on an earlier flight I told the agent that I wanted to fly from Phoenix to Vancouver, British Columbia. There was a long pause on the phone, and as I started to repeat myself the agent said “You want to fly from Phoenix to Vancouver via Columbia?”

I should’ve said yes, just to see if they could do it.

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Statement marketing isn’t dead (apparently)

From the BMO presentation we found, among other things, that statement stuffers still matter. Really. BMO had the data that suggested this. Got to get a copy of their presentation.

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Proactive Chat: huh

Proactive chat is a neat cross-channel strategy: get site visitors to talk to someone pre-app by offering the chat option.

This was a Charles Schwab thing. Online-only companies are always good examples for best practices: if their practices suck it has a direct impact.

I could see us doing this. And I see a natural credit union alignment, since, strategically, I see driving personal one-to-one interaction from the website as both an excellent sales driver and credit union differentiator.

It does make me wonder. To what extent do FIs with online and b+m channels rely, even subconsciously, on the b+m channel to compensate for poor online experience. More specifically, to what extent to we compensate this way? B+m and call centres are a convenient escape hatch for bad online service. Partly this is because we think that we offer online service to branch clients, and not the reverse.

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Turning the freighter around

Avi Pollock from RBC gave one of my favorite presentations. For lots of reasons. It caters to my interest in how organizational things happen. It also seems like RBC’s innovation initiative is slightly subversive, which is cool. I’m not saying it is; but it would be cool (for them) if it was.

A few key take-aways:

  • Start small – do it incrementally.
  • Be deliberate about innovation.
  • Try things (do-learn-do) – this is risky, but I also think the web forgives risk and failures like no other market.
  • Innovative initiatives feed business cases. Understand innovation as a pre-business case concept, or as a way to build (or kill) a business case, not as something to do as a result of the business case.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Intuition is out, data is in

The Omniture presentation this morning reinforced in my mind my general sense that analytics is reaching maturity and that we’re beginning to parse smaller and smaller data sets until… there’s nothing more to parse (see WAMU, that metrics is an art, too). Metrics is now assumed, and now we’re moving to better application of metrics. OK. I get it. It’s important.

But there’s a really interesting question for small FIs like us when it comes to analytics. At times I don’t even think we have enough data to reach critical data mass. How do you parse visits that aren’t measured in 10000 unit increments? What does a control group even look like for us?

So how much time should I spend on public website data (banking system data is something else…)? I just don’t have enough time to spend in serious analysis (even though I’d like to). So it’s a straight prioritization/pay-off issue.

I’m starting small: using analytics to track obvious optimization (page errors, etc.) and conversions. And reporting. I’ll do reporting. When I have time, I’ll do more. But – alas – not until I have time. The improvements are marginal, given the time I’d have to spend – away from other responsibilities – to do this properly.

Aggregated data across multiple CUs using our basic layout and architecture and features would be useful for optimization and navigation. Definitely.

I’m an analytics believer. I am. I’ve even taken the courses. But it has to make sense in light of (a) site visit volume, and (b) other priorities. One day I hope to work on a site where analytics should matter more. Hopefully that site will be ours.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Virgin Money is coming (or maybe it’s here)

The Virgin Money presentation was excellent. It’s not clear to me whether they’re coming to Canada (I’d bet yes) but if they do they have a great model from my perspective.

It’s interesting to contrast the Virgin Money presentation with the Prosper presentation. Virgin doesn’t think that they need to create online financial relationships; those relationships already exist, and they’ll just help “officialize” them and put them online. As Prosper found out in their Facebook experiments, not all friendships are created equal. I like the Prosper model too, but it seems to me you could rely less on new online relationships and instead seek to get existing trusted relationships online.

Again, there seems to be a natural credit union “fit” here. We’re already trusted. We already have access to immigrant communities. We’re already in our communities (that’s all we’re in!). Is this a threat or an opportunity?

Read the rest of this entry »

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YouTube and FIs

Given that using YouTube without a sense of authenticity (definitely one of this year’s leading buzzwords) is a killer, I think that there’s a natural fit between YouTube and credit unions. I’d be curious about what “leeway” companies have here, the trade off between cool or funny and authentic. When does YouTube get so crowded with corporate messages that it’s lost it’s crucial authenticity?

I’m wondering what production values are required to be effective on YouTube. We can’t afford cool commercials, really. We can’t afford the production values to compete with the big guys. Can we, even as a small FI, get away with lower production values in the name of authenticity? When does “authentic” look “unprofessional” (and does it matter)?

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WAMU does things differently (in a good way)

I really enjoyed the WAMU presentation. They concentrated on getting an online account up and running, and Rick Starbuck’s presentation about how they did it and what they went through was helpful (and reassuring).

I’ll note-form some of my takeaways (my comments in italics):

  • To do good design we need to use the tools our customers use. So common sense. And so neglected. I wonder how culturally we ensure that this is done?
  • We need to be wary of features that don’t add value… and too many features can reduce value. Man, that’s a hard lesson to learn. I’d like to hear more about this, and its implications.
  • Ask your customers, not subject matter experts, etc. Get as close to the customer as possible. We’re at a big of a disadvantage here because we don’t have the flexibility to blow everything up or turn everything upside down. I wonder what our clients would tell us about our basic design if we asked them. I think we’ll need to optimize just the main content of our site for now…
  • Serve the majority – don’t try to be all things to everyone. Yeah. Who are we trying to serve? Are we losing something by trying to be everything to everyone.
  • Lawyers are literal – show them, don’t tell them. I think this applies to more than lawyers.
  • Start with “no one cares”. Yes, yes, yes. Maybe I’m over sensitive about this, but I’ve worked for FIs for 12 years and I still think that what we do is boring. Not frivolous. But boring. We need to create the hook to get people in and engaged.
  • Metrics is still an art. At some point you still have to make a judgement call.

One thing I really appreciated was the comments regarding getting the online application as short as possible. Long forms are a disincentive to completing forms. That has direct application for what we’re doing this year.

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Catching Up

There’s no way that I can blog everything – despite best efforts – so I won’t try. I’m tired, so I’m floating in and out of sessions now, trying to be a little selective.

I’d die happy if I never saw another PowerPoint presentation again.

Filed under: Banking or Business,


Chris Larsen, CEO, Prosper.com

A general overview of the Prosper business, highlighting new features and functions expected to be introduced (or recently introduced) with a longer explanation of Prosper’s attempts to work within the Facebook community.

Prosper describes themselves as an “ebay for loans.” It’s peer-to-peer lending. They’ve identified their basic function as using the internet to synthesize social capital and diversification. I won’t go into what they do and how they do it: they’re website can do that. I’m only peripherally familiar with these services, so I was listening for a few key things:

The build credit histories within the Prosper community, not from common credit histories, but they do report loan defaults to credit histories.

He was a bit coy on overall default rates.

They’re excited about the group feature, to essentially build a reputation through participation in a group. It’s an interesting idea, and they’re fine tuning they’re metrics and processes to ensure that this can’t be used to distort the basic risk profiles.

They’ve also introduced the “friends” feature which allows friends to endorse and – better – bid on loans.

A new feature allows lenders to set up portfolios: rather than identifying specific loans lenders can choose a portfolio profile (high risk, low risk, etc.) and then identify loans within those profiles.

They’re attempted integration into Facebook was problematic. A “friend” in Facebook is different than a “friend” in Prosper (indeed!). Their new strategy is to have Prosper users identify themselves as such in Facebook through news and headlines, rather than as saying that they belong to the Prosper community. More later…

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Marketers gone wild: forum discussion about customer retention

Yeah, I kind of tuned out this discussion regarding general customer retention and marketing strategies. I’m sure it was very good, but I was distracted by the lousy battery life on my laptop. Lots of talk about segmenting and identifying bad customers from good customers and flushing the bad ones down the toilet or taking them outside and shooting them or service charging them a fee for breathing within two blocks of a branch or whatever.

A funny (and suggestive) point by Shari Storm that it was ING Direct that “freed” institutions to fire their customers.

I’m not saying it’s not important I’m just saying I tuned out.

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Mass Affluents

Mickey Mencin, KeyBank

An interesting demographics presentation regarding the “mass affluents”, people who became adults in the 70s who have money to send, and how you communicate with them. The demographics and income data will be in the presentation, but generally they have poor financial literacy with high investable assets (and a pre-occupation with maintaining a lifestyle).

The key question is how to market to these people. Key Bank is creating “media personas” to direct their marketing by medium and message. Interestingly, Key Bank is using the website to gather their data about these people. Not sure how they’re doing this, but that’s a good idea. They’re behaviour online will tell you what they want, and how they want it.

A great question from a Google guy regarding how this information affects product design decisions. A great, great question. We’re seeing that, definately, in our space, not only in the “deep green” products from Vancity but, I think, the no-fee chequing account from Coast. I’d love to see customer-centric product design that goes beyond service fee packages.

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More metrics

Larry Freed, ForeSee Results

A general presentation on metrics and the importance of transforming your metrics from straight behaviour data and assumptions about that data to customer satisfaction indicators. That seems to be a strong theme this year: find out, from the customer, what they’re wanting and what they’re experiencing, and build that into your regular metrics and success indicators.

That presents particular challenges for us because focus groups are expensive. We need to look at more responsive online feedback tools to help address this: ask for an opinion, on the spot, as they’re using the site.

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I’m thinking about content right now

As already noted we have a content issue: functionally, architecturally, I’m satisfied with where we are. But we’re really stuck because content development (and optimization!) is beyond budget, requires a specific skill set, takes time, and often can be shared between credit unions. It’s also a significant difference between our sites and the content-rich big five sites.

For CUCBC the content issue might be partly addressed this way: “we can’t supply the content necessarily, but we can supply best practices, style guides, and encourage you to understand the skill set necessary to build these pages.” The other thing is, maybe, to limit content to content you can effectively manage. Don’t add content you can’t maintain. Still need to think about that.

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Trying to be more visible… and more usable

Geoff Galat, Tealeaf

A good overview of how online experience and usability – particularly around failed online processes – can be and should be addressed. Of particular interest to me is the use of error messaging as a relationship opportunity and how they can be built to reduce call centre costs. Geoff noted that when online failures are reported to call centres they still often don’t get satisfaction because the people answering the call don’t know what the customer went through. Yes, indeedy.

The major takeaways from this presentation was:

  • The confirmation that our efforts in error messaging are worthwhile,
  • The necessarily and increasingly close alignment between the website and the call centre particularly around allowing online clients to complete or discuss online behaviour with call centre agents (the relationship between website and call centre is now *assumed*)
  • The need to find a way to make the visitor experience visible to us and our call centre, and the need to track and follow-up on online failures.

In regards to the last point we might need better banking system reporting for error messaging: how many things went wrong, and what did we show users (and what did they do) when it went wrong? The business case seems straightforward and an easy pitch: we can flat-out reduce call centre volume.

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What content matters?

Thomas Pitkin, Sovereign Bank

This presentation was about the rebuilding of the corporate information area of the Sovereign website. They applied the same best practices that they used on the more mature product area of the site to the often over-looked corporate/investor relations area, convincing the traditional owners and stakeholders of that area of the site to participate by mocking up the pages rather than making a blind pitch.

Interestingly, the opposite dynamic is at work at WSCU (and probably at other CUs as well). We focus heavily on that corporate information area. Partly that’s because it’s a credit union focus and differentiator, but it’s also because our marketing areas spend a disproportionate amount of energy and time away from products and services and more around corporate communications.

The emphasis here at NetFinance – the overwhelming, almost oppressive emphasis – is on using the site as sales tool.

Thank goodness for William and Shari: they remind us that not everything we do as credit unions is about selling products. Maybe that represents where we’re behind the times: or maybe it reflects why we *have* to do things a bit differently. Not sure where I come out on that question.

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Mobile Banking Update

Eksander Matta, Wells Fargo

This was a good presentation by someone who represents a leader and innovator in this space, and so compels respect. Wells has been in the mobile banking space longer than most, so they have experience and data to draw on.

They’ve found that mobile banking usage cuts fairly across the customer segments, and that those who try it use it a lot. As a result they’re taking the same approach as was used for Online Banking: “yeah, maybe you don’t think you need it, but once you’ll use it you’ll like it.” Basically creating your own market.

The controversy continues about which mobile banking platform to use: sms vs. browser vs. application
Though he didn’t really come out and say it I got the sense that Wells Fargo will stay in the sms and browser space, without heavy custom app development. That seems safe, especially as new popular and ubiquitous browser platforms from, say, Google get released.

Ultimately, Wells Fargo is banking on the convergence of the phone and wallet: how does the phone become a wallet. Their Contactless POS system is a good example… and cool.

They also see integration in other ways: getting a text message and then using the phone to follow up on the message with a call centre or moving from a text message to a browser page. It’s a great idea: the phone as branch.

He also noted that because mobile banking users are technically savvy, support for the service was lower than expected, which is reassurring.

In response to a great question from Lorne at Island Savings, Eksander mentioned that mobile banking is not a revenue producing channel right now, but it wasn’t really conceived that way in the first place. He mentioned that mobile banking potentially “exposes” other services for which they do charge a fee (bill payments, etc.), which I thought was a great point, and that eventually they may bundle this service as part of a larger account/relationship package but for now it’s about convenience and because increasingly it’s becoming a market expectation.

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The first kick at a major theme

Jason Shulman, x+1
I’ve been looking for major themes or trends this year, and Jason was the first person to provide one explicitly: “This is the year of customer experience and personalization”. That’s as good a theme as any, I guess.

He commented upon using pre-authenticated homepage personalization, through cookies or geo-location, to show better messages/marketing to site visitors through directed promotions. I’m cookie-shy, but maybe unreasonably so. Partly it’s because I clear cookies religously (I literally pray while I do it), so I assume others do as well.

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Monday afternoon roundup

On Monday afternoon we did small groups around a number of topics. These were of varying usefulness. A summary of things of interest to me:

  • A regional bank in the US does “affinity marketing”, primarily around checking accounts associated with existing community groups. They “brand” their ATM cards with local sports team logos (worked out in sponsorship deals). I wonder why Canadian credit unions don’t use their plastic for something like this? Essentially this allows the bank to hitch it’s wagon to something else that people are truly passionate about: in this case, their sports teams.
  • The email marketing guys suggested that having people enter their email addresses on the calculator screens – to have the results emailed to themselves or someone else – is an effective way to start a relationship and to get a sense of what people are looking for right now. A very nice idea, with a cool “value-added” side to it.

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Vancity does cool stuff

(from yesterday afternoon)

William Azaroff gave a compelling presentation – the best so far, IMO – about Vancity‘s corporate responsibility initiatives. For obvious reasons I won’t say a lot except for the following:

  • Vancity lives and breathes their brand. There seems to be no division between who they want to be and who they are. That “brand confidence” allows them to be risk takers and leaders because they don’t have to constantly revisit their brand or figure out who they are and what they want to do. That strong brand permeates everything they do, and rather than being restrictive it’s actually freeing, because by living and breathing their brand they know that within the broad parameters of that brand they can do… whatever the heck they want.
  • William made the crucial point that corporations only partly control their own message now. Online tools and social networks ensure that what your brand says is partly out of your own control. Vancity equips evangelists to join these other networks to, well, not control conversation really, but to make sure they’re part of it.
  • Vancity sees a real alliance between their social responsibility activities and social media. These things go together, if only because they both reflect the desire of people to be involved in some way in something.

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Making your online brand work with the rest of the stuff you do

(From yesterday morning)

I won’t summarize the full presentation: this was basically how JG Wentworth repositioned their brand completely, and the impact this had on their web services.

One thing they did that I thought was interesting is show people an aggressive persona on TV, and then show people a softer persona on their site, the assumption being that people will hear about them on TV, not on the web.

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Corporate blogging (not as boring as it sounds)

(From yesterday afternoon)

Shari Storm from Verity Credit Union in Washington State took us through her adventures in public blogging. She made the important point that you can’t approach blogging from an ROI perspective; I’d append the comment that as soon as someone starts asking you about ROI you’ll know that they don’t really get it.

She made the valuable point that “social media” is really the collection of interrelated and interconnected stories, and that measuring the impact of that is tough, but it’s there.

Verity assumes that employees are already talking online, and so it encourages participation in such sites as yelp. If you’re a bad employer the risk is big; if you’re a good employer that payoff is big. The point is not to discourage employee participation, but… to be a good employer.

As a sort of off-hand comment Shari noted that, by blogging in a relatively unscripted manner, she as encouraging the creation of a sort-of “free focus group”. It’s a good idea, and she pointed out that Starbucks has a new forum called “My Idea” that basically allows end consumers to suggest changes to the company products or processes. It’s risky, but it’s also a good (and cheap) way to make sure you’re talking with the end user.

I’ve seen the Commonwealth CU Young & Free site before, but Shari pointed it out as an interesting experiment in using ground-level social media to promote a product.

At the end of her presentation Shari summarized what they had learned so far about the social media activities at Verity CU:

  • To get people involved you need to invite them. They won’t just show up, unless you’re being controversial (and the people who show up when you do this might not be the people you want).
  • People must have a reason for participating. It might be prestige, it might be incentives, but it’s something.
  • Take control of your forum/blog. You’re the boss. Don’t let bad participants ruin the tone of the blog, and don’t let your attempts to be transparent and/or authentic distract you from ensuring that the tone of the blog is compromised.
  • Don’t overlook one of your most important assets – your employees
  • Don’t talk about product. Ever.

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Acting like your brand online

(from Monday Morning)

Risa from Charles Schwab took us through their website redesign, specifically addressing how they designed their website to better reflect their brand (“Talk to Chuck”). They understood their mission to be “making the promise” and “keeping the promise”; that is, the website is a unique combination of both marketing the brand and having people interact with the brand.

Like something we would see later in the day, Charles Schwab took a “know me, then guide me” approach to site navigation by having visitors self-identify based on their needs or demographics, and then putting them on a path to, or within, an area in the site that addresses those needs.

Charles Schwab also recognized that task oriented users know what they want and don’t want or need to be interrupted with marketing messages to get to those areas. The site redesign gave these users more direct access to these tasks right from the homepage (something we’re also trying to do).

Within the pages Charles Schwab found that it was important to put pricing clearly and distinctly right up front – what they call transparent pricing. I’m not sure how important that is to our users, but I think it should be considered.

One nice little feature was the ability of people who had authenticated to quickly get a profile of their account or sales rep. We store information like this in our banking system; it’s not inconcievable to have this information returned after login, with a link to profile and contact information for that employee. We could add business rules to do that only for certain high-value clients, etc. I very cool little feature…

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A small change

Rather than attempting to copy the presentations we hear I’m going to try to distill the salient points into those things more relevant to a small FI. We’ll be getting the PowerPoint presentatons anyway…

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Online Acquisition Strategies

Mark Wachen, Managing Director, Interwoven
(from Monday morning – not comprehensive!)

Online usage generally continues to trend upwards in the States. Most startling is the proportion of time spent online vs. on television: it’s almost double online vs. TV. Online Banking usage continues to rise, not surprisingly.

The cost of online advertising through search is rising dramatically: search advertising is getting expensive as the space gets crowded!

There was discussion regarding the role that content optimization plays in increasing online conversions. The term “content optimization” was undefined (or assumed), but I take it to mean (content + creative + layout).

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Unravelling the marketing mix

Julian Chu, Director, Internet Acquisition, Discover Financial Services LLC

This presentation is about what mediums are best chosen for effective marketing. There’s a massive proliferation of media and product, but not a related increase in sales. The lesson: people are “switching off” despite increasing ad and marketing spending. So we need to be more selective about how we’re marketing.

He recommends close monitoring of diminishing returns and the central collection of data from all marketing sources to assess the effectiveness of all channels.

Some interesting points:

  1. There’s a potential conflict between brand vs. acquisition, online vs. offline mixes.
  2. He recommends organizing on the basis of customer centric alignment. Choosing a customer segment and organizing around that. This is knowing your customers and then “mixing” to target them.

In the end, he recommends an integrated approach, integrating: strategic intent + organizational alignment + real-time data integration + knowing your customer.

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How to manage a redesign

Jennifer Sussman – Online Experience Strategist, American Century Investments

This presentation was really about how they went about developing and implementing a strategy to increase online usage and sales through a site redesign. They identified three goals as part of their plans to reinvest in their web channel:

  1. Drive customers to initial investment
  2. Engender customer loyalty
  3. Reduce deliver costs

They made an interesting strategic decision, under point three, to concentrate on what they could do distinctively and not concentrating on “parity” items, which could not be differntiators.

They identifed three different “client sets” with different brands; they synthesized the brand to look like “one company” across all of the client sets. She makes the important point that underused areas of the site are not necessarily unpopular, but just hard to get to. Read the rest of this entry »

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Cash Edge – Instant Gratification

These guys facilitate the opening of accounts online. They’ve idenitifed a 7 step workflow that an account prospect has to go through, from opening the account to funding the account immediately. The service that CashEdge appears to supply is the funding of the accounts.

The devil here is really in the details, beginning with how to satisfactorily identify the individual to open the account in the first place. CashEdge anticipates that systems-hosted business rules can make a decision; “instant approval” and “instant funding”. CashEdge suggests that the instant decisioning increases closing the sale in a massive way. They believe that “instant gratification” is key. They do make a distinction between “booking” and “closing”, but this happens in quick succession.

During the case-study portion they make the point about a large institution that they gather only enough information at the beginning of the process to qualify the applicant. It’s not entirely clear what they need to verify the applicant (still the $64000 question).

CashEdge is saying that they’re seeing the “anonymous” or “automated” account openings in a branch through some sort of account opening kiosks. When going across channels it’s possible that the same type of service can be used for, say call centre or branch, that’s using the same back-end service for decisioning.

They have distributed a White Paper to address how they do it in general terms. A question from the audience regarding Canadian Banks -they’re not doing anything now, but they think they could – might be worth pursuing. The speaker believes that the basic business challenges are the same – or similar – to the American processes.

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Note-taking at NetFinance

Since I intend to take notes at my first visit to Net.Finance, and since I’ ll be typing those notes on my laptop anyway, I figure that free hosted blogging software is as good a note taking tool as any – and a little more Ecommerce-ish than my beloved Notepad 2.

I’ll make my notes public to convince the folks back home that I’m actually working and learning and networking and engaging in Ecommerce-ish activities that will in the long run prove useful to my employer and not just going to Arizona to watch Steve Nash and the Big Aristotle prepare for the playoffs. It also gives me an opportunity to compare the hosted WordPress software with Blogger, which I’ve played around with for awhile and am not completely sold on.

This post was written in a departure lounge at YVR, with a view of North Shore mountains, on a beautiful spring day, whilst hoping and praying that the family with the screaming little boy just to the right of me isn’t also going to Phoenix.

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