OMG! My Credit Union Is Totally Stalking Me.

External factors are eroding the trust and confidence consumers have online. Are your members in danger of adopting a Do Not Track mentality?

All good things must end, and according to some sources, the era of social sharing that spawned hundreds of new ways for businesses to track, learn about, and market more effectively to consumers may eventually reverse course back towards the early days of Internet anonymity.

It is true that demand for online privacy is booming. Browser companies (perhaps ironically) now offer their customers Do Not Track features and Incognito Modes, while startups like Snapchat and SecretInk provide a way to automatically delete respective images and texts shared with others after a certain period of time.

You can’t blame it all on Big Brother either, as Americans are seemingly just as worried about peeping eyes from the private sector as they are from the public one.

For example, Google + recently caused a stir with plans to automatically feature user images, messages and more in online ads unless these individuals opt out, and consumers were similarly up in arms when they learned that many big name retailers keep return logs on all customers as a way to weed out fraudulent activity.

Online information brokers like Spokeo are even more aggressive in their data collection practices, hunting down highly personal details on individuals from different online sources to aggregate and sell to users for a small fee.

The downside of all this activity is that consumers are increasingly paranoid about providing information to companies that (worst case scenario) could potentially be used against them and (best case scenario) still very rarely provide an intelligent, personalized benefit.

There’s certainly a big difference between credit union members and consumers who have no knowledge of, or relationship to, the companies that are tracking them. In fact, many members already benefit from CRM systems that know which products they have and which would be most relevant to them in the future. But the next iteration of this analysis which hinges on access to behavioral data and involves interactions outside the institution can be a tougher sell.

Many members do view next-generation options such as geolocation, which uses mobile GPS data to provide things like rate information when an individual walks into a dealership or coupons when they visit a participating retailer, as a tremendous value add.

But success with these new strategies hinges upon transparency including sharing what data is collected, who it is shared with, and how it helps the end user. It also requires choice, letting those who are interested in the process opt in rather than having individuals somehow discover it has already occured, become upset, and then opt out.

Like it or not, current experiences with the big data practices of other businesses can shape how trusting members are of your advanced marketing efforts. As is true in so many other areas, it’s up to credit unions to proactively counteract these negative trends and move the bar forward with ethical, service-oriented use of consumer information.

November 21, 2013

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