Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Paving the way for CDCUs with CU Impact

Last fall, we shared a very exciting and meaningful, announcement: we forged a new partnership with the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions (Federation) to create CU Impact, a shared core banking platform designed specifically to help credit unions deliver affordable financial services to low-income members in underserved communities, which will have a massive impact on community development credit unions (CDCUs) and the communities in which they operate. We are now excited to announce that this partnership has been officially finalized, and we cannot wait to get the ball rolling. Not only is this an exciting new business venture for EPL, but also a great cause we were excited to get behind.  

Each year, 90 million Americans living in unbanked or underbanked households pay more than $90 billion in fees and interest to payday lenders and other lenders outside the financial mainstream. Most CDCUs, similar to other CUSOs and credit unions, have instilled within them the great desire to provide exceptional customer service. However, they are often strapped for resources, and therefore the advanced technology needed to provide a superior member experience. This is part of the reason we stepped in to help—EPL wanted to empower the Federation with the software solutions and services necessary to allow member CDCUs to expand access to safe, affordable banking products and services, and reach a greater number of underserved households.

Our core solution, i-POWER®, is known for its modern versatility, flexible integration capabilities and convenient plug-and-play functionality. This perfectly positioned us to work with the Federation, alongside our parent company, Dedagroup, to leverage the modern platform i-POWER® and develop CU Impact so that CDCUs have the opportunity to provide exceptional service, measure results, efficiently report and consolidate a number of essential tasks. By aggregating the accounting, compliance and processing functions across credit unions with a shared mission, CU Impact achieves economies of scale that allow credit unions to invest more in their members and communities.

Since our recent announcement, we have been working tirelessly to perfect the rollout of this product—after all, it will be serving more than 5 million residents of low-income urban, rural and reservation-based communities! We believe hearing from the people that will be using our software is most effective and influential, which is why a software advisory committee of leading community development credit unions will prioritize CU Impact software design and enhancements. CU Impact will be the first core platform that will support, deliver and measure the impact of credit union products and services that build the financial security of low-income members.

This initiative has been in development since 2013, when Citi Community Development provided financial support and expert insight to the Federation to determine the viability of building a dedicated core banking system to power the growth and impact of credit unions. Under the terms of the agreement, the Federation will purchase preferred stock in EPL, and we will match the Federation’s investment in CU Impact on an ongoing basis. Additionally, The W.K. Kellogg Foundation recently granted $559,500 for enhancements to CU Impact for the automation of small dollar loans and matched savings accounts.

Needless to say, we are thrilled to be a part of this meaningful and exciting venture, and look forward to our software having the opportunity to make a true difference for these CDCUs and the underserved, low-income individuals that they serve.

Robin Kolvek

Interim CEO

EPL, Inc.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

EPL’s May 2016 Product Advisory Team Meeting Recap

May was an exciting month at EPL, as we were thrilled to host our second Product Advisory Team (PAT) Meeting here in our hometown of Birmingham, Ala., at The Wynfrey Hotel on May 23—24, 2016. The biannual strategic meeting provides an avenue to connect more deeply with many of our credit union customers, discuss new developments within EPL’s “Connection Suite” of products and collaborate to identify collective top areas of focus for the upcoming year.

This customer-centric event is significant and meaningful to EPL, as we value our customers and their members’ experiences above all else—it is the core of our industry. We were very pleased with the turnout at the May meeting, with a larger number of credit unions participating than at our first PAT meeting in September 2015. The increased participation is more evidence that our customers know their voices are heard, and they value the opportunity to connect with us and other credit unions in this forum.

Not only is the PAT intended to be the direct voice of EPL’s customer base, but also is intended to empower growth, maximize revenue and improve members’ experiences at credit unions of all sizes. During the first day of meetings, we had the opportunity to discuss progress on initiatives laid out last fall, including general ledger enhancements, relationship pricing, in-house credit cards, proprietary lending services, e-communications, teller operations, online banking and other functionalities of our technology offering, such as security, client support and architecture.

On day two, we engaged collaboratively to hone in on top areas of focus, and will direct our attention toward additional capabilities for the general ledger, more choices and options in lending within i-POWER® and also via integrations, online banking enhancements, major additions to document management, user interface enhancements and advanced account research, including great ATM, debit card and electronic interaction enhancements.

We have recognized the critical need for more in-depth communication on industry issues, and need you—our subject matter experts—to share your institutional knowledge and experience with us during our smaller focus groups. Your insight is invaluable to the process, and plays such a vital role in helping us discover what is working well and what we need to improve upon. Customer insight is what allows us to continue to build a system that better accommodates evolving needs.

Our post-meeting feedback surveys showed that customers positively responded to the new format of the meeting, and we will continue to refine our approach in an effort to increase engagement and streamline various processes. One thing is for certain—we are convinced of the value created by our PAT meetings—not just for improving EPL’s technology offering, but also for building deeper relationships with our customer base as a whole.

At EPL, customer collaboration does not begin with or end at the PAT meeting. We invite you to continue to share your thoughts, concerns and ideas with our customer support team as we look toward our next PAT meeting in November 2016. Until then, we will work tirelessly to deliver on the issues that that matter most to our customers.

If you have questions about EPL’s PAT, please let us know on Twitter, Facebook or via email at rhiannon.stone@epl.net!

Rhiannon Stone

VP, solutions delivery

EPL, Inc.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Implementing an Internal Communications Strategy within your Credit Union

Oftentimes, companies don’t recognize the need for improving internal communications until it’s too late—when their employees are unhappy and their culture is suffering. If you do not have an internal communications strategy implemented within your credit union, you are already two steps behind. Did you know that ineffective internal communication leads to lost revenue, customer dissatisfaction, massive miscommunications and rapidly decreasing employee engagement and retention? According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, 70 percent of employees are already not engaged.

Make it a priority

After digesting the above news, you probably just had a revelation—you are going to prioritize achieving great internal communication within your credit union, but unfortunately it’s not as easy as simply making an intentional decision to do better. Prior to establishing a new strategy, you need to accept that change could be inevitable and that these changes should be embraced by you and your fellow executives. Additionally, prior to implementation, it is necessary to gather information from your employees to develop a baseline. You can begin gathering the pertinent information by distributing short anonymous surveys to your employees, or by meeting with them in small groups or one-on-one to discuss their views and concerns regarding communication within your company.

Tailor your approach

Once you have established a baseline, you will need to discover which internal communications methods are the best fit for your credit union. All companies are not created equal and will have different needs and preferences. Hone in on improving horizontal communication by exploring tools that allow your employees to communicate most effectively and encourage collaborative, open conversations. If employees feel mass emails are clogging up their inboxes and leading to miscommunications, perhaps you should consider services like Slack or Google Hangouts. If your company’s Intranet is not being properly utilized, it may be time to consider discarding the service for something more appealing to your employees.

Appreciate your employees

Another important aspect of internal communication is to ensure your employees feel included and appreciated, as it increases their engagement, work ethic and loyalty. Intentional efforts ranging from something as simple as recognizing a celebratory day, such as a birthday or a noteworthy accomplishment, to focusing on improving the vertical communication between your executives and employees will have a noticeable effect. If your employees feel that there is not a sufficient amount of vertical communication, consider holding a weekly team meeting so that everyone feels in the loop and included.

Measure your success

The best way to discover appropriate internal communications tools for your company is to pick your employees’ brains for their suggestions—and once you select the most appropriate communication methods, be sure to set goals surrounding them in order to measure your success, or to learn you need to reroute. Use metrics such as Intranet logins, surveys, retention rates and sales changes to measure your internal communications success. It might take time to figure out what is right for your credit union, but we assure you, once you do—it’s worth it.

Cathy Hulsey

Chief of staff and Chief human resources officer

EPL, Inc.

Friday, April 1, 2016

5 ways credit unions should engage with members on social media

Did you know that one in every five mobile minutes is spent on either Facebook or Instagram? With an average of 1.04 billion daily active users, these social platforms have the potential to be an outstanding marketing tool for your credit union. If used correctly, social media can engage your members in a customized way that will enhance their overall experience and increase their loyalty to your credit union. Here are five best practices for engaging with your credit union’s members on social media:

1. Utilize Facebook Messenger
Connect with your members – instantly. People, especially millennials, don’t want to wait for answers when using social platforms. They crave instantaneous responses and therefore tend to prefer their communication to be on social channels rather than in-person or over the phone. Credit unions can easily take advantage of this customer preference by utilizing Facebook Messenger. This platform allows members to privately direct message your credit union’s Facebook page with questions or information that one might not want to disclose on the public Facebook wall. It’s important to discourage your members from sending personal information such as social security numbers and account details through this platform, as Messenger isn’t completely secure. Setting up notifications and closely monitoring this channel will allow your credit union to respond to the questions in a timely manner and bolster member satisfaction.

 2. Interact and be responsive
Social media wasn’t developed to be a silent one-way street. Make sure your credit union is interacting with content that is posted on your page and answering all member inquiries.
Received a negative review or comment? Be proactive in establishing a company strategy for responding to negative comments and complaints. An aspect of this plan will be your response timeline – it is best to always respond within one business day, if possible. In addition, have your team craft specific language so multiple employees are able to properly respond to member comments while maintaining one cohesive brand voice.

3. Prove you’re a thought leader
One of the best ways for a credit union to establish itself as an industry leader is by pushing relevant content on its social channels. Whether it’s breaking news, trends or original content, engaging in relevant conversations about the credit union industry will demonstrate that your credit union is a thought leader. Has new technology been developed that will significantly impact the credit union industry? Write a blog about the possible effects to insert your credit union into the conversation, and then share the content across your social media channels. If done properly, your members will find significant value in your content and will in turn actively follow and engage with your channels.

4. Show your credit union’s company culture
While sharing industry news is one excellent way to engage with your members on social media, it’s equally important to showcase your company’s culture. Connect with your members on a deeper level and humanize your brand by thoughtfully highlighting employees, departments, awards and social events. Do you have an all-star member? Feature him or her on your social channels! Keep in mind that these posts are most appropriate on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Be sure to save LinkedIn for the industry insights and original content such as white papers, news articles and blogs.


5. Share member-generated content
Actively seek member engagement by running contests, asking for photos and posting questions on your social channels. Utilize your members’ creative ideas and opinions by simply asking for it; you can gain valuable insight from member feedback.
Once your credit union implements these best practices, monitor your channels and utilize social analytics to gauge your success and channel growth. Not getting the results you’d hoped? Vary your content and test new strategies. Remember that establishing a solid social strategy takes time, so be patient during your evaluation. If done well, your credit union will see higher engagement and increased member loyalty through your efforts.

Rhiannon Stone

VP, solutions delivery

EPL, Inc.

Monday, March 21, 2016

GAC in review: 3 key takeaways



The CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) unites thousands of credit union leaders in our nation’s capital at the year’s biggest credit union advocacy event. The GAC is recognized as the premier event for political impact, and features keynote presentations from high-profile leaders, political figures and media influencers. It is an important opportunity to connect and learn from progressive thinkers and doers, as well as engage with legislators and regulators on key issues.

This year, EPL had a strong presence at the conference, and our team networked with credit union leaders and showcased our exciting product offering. We also had the chance to attend several workshops and presentations to learn more about the issues that directly affect our customers.

We absorbed a vast amount of critical information, but of course—there were specific themes that arose more often than others. Below, we have compiled our top three takeaways from the GAC that we believe credit unions need to be aware of:


1. Cybersecurity Preparedness

This year’s conference featured a keynote speech delivered by award-winning broadcast journalist and author of Lights Out: A Cyberattack, a Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath, Ted Koppel, on the topic of cybersecurity preparedness.
 
It is imperative that credit unions prevent, detect and prepare for potential security breaches using contemporary technology. Speaking candidly with technology vendors about your expectation of receiving the highest level of security against breaches will help them create and manage disaster preparedness plans that map out your credit union’s response to any incident. As it happens, current regulations mandate that vendors provide advanced and holistic safeguards to protect your member data.
 
However, in order to be effective, the plan needs to define immediate and longer-term objectives for operations and communications to ensure sustained confidence from regulators and members. In addition, you should train your management team and staff on how to respond to any such matter. 

2. Advocacy is Everyone’s Job

CUNA President & CEO Jim Nussle reminded attendees that advocacy needs to take place all 52 weeks of the year, not just during the GAC. “Advocacy is everyone’s job,” he said. One area that is in need of more attention is technology. Credit unions will have to accommodate the needs of “tech-savvy natives” as technology plays a larger role in the lives of future generations, said Tansley Stearns, Filene Research Institute chief impact officer. “This next generation of members is going to demand service that includes digital technology.”

Core solutions providers will play an important role in developing the technology tools and platforms that meet the expectations of new generations of members. Adapting to mobile and desktop requirements is only the first step. Technology is changing rapidly and what satisfies today likely will be outdated within a few years. Evolving with, not in spite of, market demands will be key to the success of the credit union industry as a whole.
 

3. Speeding Up Auto Loan Approvals

President & CEO of CU Direct, Tony Boutelle, said in an interview at CUNA’s GAC that as auto sales continue to increase, many credit unions still take longer than other financial institutions to approve loans. New car sales are estimated to reach 17.7 million this year—a drastic increase from the 11 million sold in 2009 during the recession. 49 million used cars are likely to be sold this year, Boutelle predicted, although consumer confidence may slow down slightly as the November election approaches.

It has been revealed in a study by Google that consumers desire “micro-moments” or the ability to make instant decisions about such things as purchases no matter where they are. Therefore, it would behoove credit unions to take advantage of organizations that offer them a variety of services that use technology to help speed up lending in several areas, including auto loans. Such services allow you to offer a branded shopping service to members who are considering a vehicle purchase. 


These are just three of many takeaways from our perspective—what we are really interested in is what you think! What other issues discussed at the GAC that affect your credit union were important to you?  Let us know on Twitter, Facebook or via email at wayne.benson@epl.net.

Wayne Benson

President & CEO

EPL, Inc. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

How credit unions can empower members to be their best marketers



Credit union executives constantly ask themselves, “How can I improve our marketing program?” It’s a vital question if you are trying to generate a more positive perception of your credit union within the community and ultimately grow your member base. If you know EPL’s mantra—if you’re not growing, you’re dying—and recognize its importance, then you believe inherently in the necessary role that impactful marketing campaigns can play. While tactical outreach programs are crucial for both promotion and brand awareness, one of the most powerful resources that you have at your disposal is your membership base itself.  

Below, we’ve outlined five ways credit unions can empower members to be their best marketers. 
  1. Member experience – Cultivating an environment that produces positive member experiences will naturally encourage them to rave about your credit union. Remember—people want to talk about things they feel good about. A great member experience leads to overall satisfaction, and therefore improved outcomes—something we here at EPL recognize and prioritize. Provide your members with superior service by working with them quickly to resolve any issues and constantly implement touch points throughout the relationship. As credit unions are member-owned, this aspect of your marketing plan is integral to your collective success.
  2. Loyalty and rewards programs – Show you members you care by rewarding them when they overcome feats or accomplish something new, and recognize their loyalty to your credit union where possible. According to the National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU), consumers want discounted or free products more than anything else from these programs, followed by enhanced customer service, free shipping and access to exclusive products or events. Provide your members with these initiatives, and their sentiment towards you is sure to improve.
  3. Member appreciation events – Host events to show your credit union members how valuable they are to you. A Member Appreciation Day (or week, if you really want to show your gratitude), is a meaningful touchpoint and reminder that you appreciate them as much as they appreciate you. Even something as simple as offering your members donuts and coffee at your credit union’s branches can go a long way, and will encourage members to speak positively about their experiences.
  4. Innovative solutions and products – Credit union members want to feel as if they have the most innovative products to manage their finances. Especially in today’s world, people also want convenience—so give both to your members by providing a robust, functional online banking platform. This will give your members the ability to easily access their finances from anywhere, while allowing them to still feel the trust and comforts of their credit union home—digitally.
  5. Educational tools – Empower your members to be fiscally responsible by offering them the educational resources they need. By showing your members you care enough about them to provide financial literacy tools, such as pamphlets or classes, they will deeply value your relationship and become more loyal over time. At the end of the day, it should be your credit union’s mission to help members achieve their financial dreams—and a bit of education can a long way. 
Do you have any other great ideas to help credit unions empower member to be their best marketers? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook or via email at jami.jennings@epl.net!

Jami Jennings

Senior Product Solutions Manager

EPL, Inc.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Is it time to break up with your bank?


With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, people around the world are realizing just how in love they are – or, just how in love they are not. Such powerful emotions can sway individuals to make serious life decisions; decisions that may alter their future in a very real way. Of course, we’re talking about folks’ relationships with their bank.

In today’s analogy, your bank is your significant other (SO). Do you really trust your SO? Does your SO have your best interests at heart? Does your SO make you feel like you’re the most important thing in the world to them?

Perhaps instead, you’re feeling jaded; betrayed, even. Ready to stray. Abandon ship. If that’s true, then maybe it’s finally time to break up with your bank. The good news is that cupid’s arrow happens to be pointing straight toward your local credit union.

Here are just a few reasons why it might be time to call it quits with your bank and move on to a happier, healthier and more meaningful relationship with a credit union.
  • Money, money, money – No one wants to spend their life paying for an absurdly expensive date, costing you more of your hard-earned money on as time goes on. Banks are notorious for hidden charges and fees, ranging from debit card usage fees to obscene overdraft charges to nonsensical ATM fees. On the other hand, credit unions will often pay you to use your card and, in some instances, even reimburse your ATM fees or forgive occasional overdraft mistakes. You want to spend your life with someone who truly cares about saving you money and invests in YOU, right?
  •   Making big purchases is (slightly) easier – Buying a house or car can be overwhelming, so you want to partner with someone who is going to make it easier and help you make the right financial decisions for you. Mortgage APRs at credit unions and banks are very similar, but oftentimes credit unions will waive the origination fee, saving you thousands of dollars. Additionally, when it comes to car loans, banks’interest rates are usually slightly higher. 
  • Credit unions care about others – Financial institutions in the credit union industry have a track record for going the extra mile and investing in their local or under-served communities. For example, in 2015 EPL partnered with the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions to develop CU Impact, a core banking platform designed to scale the delivery of innovative products and services offered by credit unions operating in low-income and underserved communities.  
  • You’ll be treated the right way – Credit unions have a reputation for providing exceptional customer service to their members, as they are owned and operated by the members themselves. Your experience matters. Because of this, credit unions recognize the value of spectacular customer service and creating a positive customer experience. Unlike banks, you  won’t be helped by a robot – you’ll be assisted by a real human being from start to finish. In fact, a recent survey showed that credit union customers rated their overall satisfaction at 87 percent – 13 percent higher than the highest rated bank.
These few reasons are just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re ready to break up with your bank and enter a new, satisfactory relationship, look no further than your local credit union – you won’t be let down.

Robin Kolvek
 
Senior VP of Business Development
 
EPL, Inc.