More Than A Website

Next-generation strategies for organization, accessibility, and content can transform an aging channel into a vibrant one.

The Internet connects individuals from all over the globe to products, services, and information. And as consumers’ experiences with and expectations for online interactions change, credit unions are also revisiting their website strategies.

Building a new website or redeveloping an old one can be time-, labor-, and cost-intensive. Given all the moving parts involved and the near endless opportunities now available within this channel, it can also be difficult to prioritize what matters most to members today as well as what will allow the site to remain relevant for years to come.

Here, representatives from credit unions and website design companies offer their insight on where they think this channel is heading.

Next-Generation Organization

Building an effective website starts with gaining a full understanding of both your audience and your competition, says Patti Barrow, vice president of marketing at Suncoast Credit Union ($5.8B, Tampa, FL). In 2012, Suncoast underwent both a charter change and a total rebrand that included updating its name and website.


Suncoast Credit Union

  • HQ: Tampa, FL
  • ASSETS: $5.8B
  • MEMBERS: 588,818
  • 12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 4.52%
  • 12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 6.62%
  • ROA: 1.30%

We’re competing against everything that people see on the Internet, Barrow says.

To counteract that, Suncoast needed to be able to match or exceed outside experiences. So the credit union took a holistic view of the financial services industry to determine how other credit unions and banks were leveraging their websites.

Suncoast discovered most of these sites grouped together products and services such as mortgages, autos, and savings accounts into their respective silos. However, these groupings were neither intuitive nor reflective of how consumers thought about their finances. And that’s a problem for a member-facing tool such as a website.

To resolve the issue, Barrow says Suncoast asked members to group its products and services in the way they felt they belonged together. The result was a number of usage-style categories that included personal, business, student, advice, and community. These categories have since become the main fly-out menus on the institution’s new site.

Next-Generation Accessibility

The mobile-only website is dead. Or, rather, it should be dead, at least according to experts like Spencer Pryce, president of L9, a firm that designs and builds websites almost exclusively for credit union clients.

That’s because a mobile-only site is generally a pared-down version of the mother site with a different URL. This not only hurts the institution’s search engine optimization but also creates an uneven experience for members who expect the same features regardless of how they access a site.

According to Pryce, responsive web design is a better, more modern option that provides a congruent experience across all devices including computers, laptops, tablets, and mobile while playing to the strengths of each channel.

Hover over image to enlarge

Users spend less time on mobile sites, Pryce says. So we need to pare down the message there and change the way we talk about products and services to make sure we are not wasting any valuable space or time.

Although elevating mobile and tablet experiences is an important priority, credit unions shouldn’t let the limitations of those channels shackle what they do on their full site.

The trend is absolutely a steady and rapid increase in mobile usage, Pryce says, But we are still only talking about in most cases fewer than 30% of [site] users. So you have to be careful not to have too much of a mobile focus.

Next-Generation Content

According to Tony Haile, chief executive of the web analytics company Chartbeat, the average reader of Internet content spends approximately 15 seconds on a site. That’s a short amount of time to make a lasting impression.

To combat this limitation, credit unions need to rethink the way they present content on their website. Today’s strategy should be driven more by marketing and communication goals than by aesthetics.


Global Credit Union

  • HQ: Spokane, WA
  • ASSETS: $366M
  • MEMBERS: 48,737
  • 12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 2.35%
  • 12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 16.89%
  • ROA: 0.24%

For example, at Suncoast, members believe their relationship saves them money, that the institution cares about their best interests, and that it’s important for the cooperative to give back to the community, Barrow says.

The credit union expresses this identity visually on its website through a number of graphs it updates weekly, sometimes even daily. These include things such as the rates and savings on products in comparison to the average bank, the dollar amounts that Suncoast has donated to important causes, and member reviews of products and services.

When a member joins, they are starting a relationship with us [and] it’s not just about dollars and cents, Barrow says. We want our members to tell our stories for us.

Global Credit Union($366M, Spokane, WA) took a similar approach in 2013. Today, its website is not only a destination for financial services but also a platform for various elements of the local communities it serves. For example, under a section of the website called Evolution, the credit union promotes the works of the local community-based musicians and artists who helped inspire its brand.

Interactive microsites are another option for credit unions. PSCU’s microsite uses a combination of engaging visuals, concise information, and user-controlled actions to bring new life and personality to an important message why a consumer should join a credit union.

In some instances, even old approaches can find new life if executed correctly.

Blogs are becoming popular again in terms of talking to members about financial education, Pryce says. That has been a part of credit union sites for the past 10 years but now credit unions are trying to get more creative with it.

October 13, 2014

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