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What Credit Unions Must Know About Google’s New Checking Account

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Some unexpected and somewhat unwelcome news came to light recently that has caused ripples among credit unions. Traditional financial institutions are currently forging alliances with tech giant Google. 

So, what does this mean for you as a credit union? Could they end up disappearing from the Google search engine results if they do not form a similar partnership?

It is worrying news for the nontraditional finance sector. After all, the new Google checking account could well be just the start of things to come.

Will investments and lending also become part of Google’s product umbrella? Will those new Big Tech products and services attract consumers away from their existing credit unions?

Here, we take a closer look at the potential impact of these latest developments on credit unions. We also examine how credit unions can fight back against the possible risks that this new checking account could pose.

The Google Checking Account – The Background

The financial industry has known for some time about the threat posed to it by Big Tech. However, the surprise announcement of Google’s plan to begin offering a smart checking account still came as a shock.

Google revealed its partnership with Stanford Federal Credit Union and Citibank in mid-November 2019. It is a development that could bring huge changes to how the financial industry serves its consumers.

Beginning in 2020, these two major institutions will partner with Google to offer a co-branded smart checking account. Google Pay program will offer it.

Currently Google is still developing the majority of the program’s details. All that is currently known is that the accounts go under the code name of “Google Cache.”

The project will still reside within the financial institutions and retain federal deposit insurance. The “smart” element will be the extra features and budgeting tools that offer extra value to account holders.

The two partners so far, Stanford Federal and Citibank, will not be the exclusive deal partners. At the moment, though, there are no other partners named.

A Google spokesperson expressed the brand’s interest in working with more partners in the future. The company will take on board more institutions when it has scaled the product to suit users’ needs in 2020.

Stanford Federal is an institution that has strong ties to its community, while Citi is a major global bank. Google supposedly chose them for their innovative abilities and the focus and scale they could offer.

Yet, it is impossible to overlook the fact that Stanford Federal’s headquarters are in Palo Alto, close to Google’s headquarters. Google’s employees are among those that this credit union can serve.

Many other credit unions in the country can boast impressive ties with their local communities. However, they cannot boast such strong links with Google.

What Will This Checking Account Mean for Credit Unions?

Although credit unions have received the news with some concern, it is unknown what the impact will be. What most agree on, however, is that these deals will certainly cause considerable change in the landscape of financial services.

Some credit unions worry this could signal a mass defection of consumers to banking services offered by Big Tech. After all, Google’s new partnerships could be the first step of many more.

Although financial institutions are not disappearing from this new banking structure, Google could become the key gatekeeper. This could also simply be Google’s initial foray into a much wider banking arena.

Details are currently sketchy about the product that Google will offer. Some people believe that it will probably be mobile-first with a click customer experience.

Credit unions may not need to panic quite yet. It could take some time for Google to grow its market share.

Nevertheless, there is evidence that well-known tech organizations are increasingly attracting consumers, so they can supply their financial services. In 2020, it is highly likely the line between banking and technology will become even more blurred.

Apple has already moved into the credit card sector, while Facebook has introduced its new Facebook Pay payment tool. This all goes to prove that credit unions are losing their grips on payment systems.

Should this concern credit unions? Or, will the risks turn out to be grossly exaggerated?

Some experts suggest that there’s no cause to panic since few people ever switch financial institutions. They believe that those consumers who do opt for Big Tech accounts will primarily be young adults.

Boomers, Generation Xers, and early Millennials are unlikely to find any appeal in an account that has an affiliation with Google. Thus, say those experts, the primary market will be younger Millennials and Generation Zers.

This limits the concerns of credit unions and nontraditional financial institutions nationwide. At least, for now.

Other experts, though, have a very different opinion. They think that virtual properties are now more important than physical world institutions.

At one time, the financial institutions that purchased the best possible physical real estate could win entire markets. Now, consumers have moved online, and Google owns the virtual properties that most people pass on.

Also, there is evidence that consumers like to have accounts with more than one bank. Adding extra options to the marketplace could be a game-changer.

Americans could well react in a positive way to the possibility of a convenient Google online account. Alternatively, another confusing possibility in a highly crowded financial market could deter them.

There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the impact of this new checking account on credit unions. It stands to reason, though, that preparation is key. And, failing to prepare for all eventualities is preparing to fail.

What Can Credit Unions Do to Fight Back?

Credit unions must act now to combat the impact of Google’s checking account (and any other products it may release).

Credit unions need to adjust the way they approach their content strategies. They need to pay more attention to determine their target markets.

Knowing the customer is key to success. Credit unions, therefore, must take the time to examine their potential member groups.

The chart above shows the potential market for credit unions compared with other finance options. Reaching that target audience is key.

Targeting users who are currently in the consideration and awareness stage of choosing a financial provider is essential. Credit unions can only achieve this if they focus on understanding the wants and needs of those consumers.

Those consumers dedicate a considerable amount of their time to researching online when choosing a financial services provider. Credit unions need to capitalize on this.

If institutions send consumers to sales pages instead of informative and educational content, they risk losing them. This is especially so when dealing with a younger, digital-focused generation.

Attracting Millennials and Generation Zers is vital to the success of credit unions in the future. Therefore, knowing everything about these demographics is essential.

The more knowledge credit unions can obtain on these key demographics, the more they can tailor products to suit them. They can adapt their services to meet their specific needs and address their financial problems.

There is another area that credit unions also need to focus on -– providing multichannel solutions to serve customer needs.

Big-name traditional banks already service customer needs through an omni-channel approach. They have online banking facilities, social media contact options, forums, blog posts, and fully functioning websites.

Omni-channel delivery is seen as incredibly important, as the above chart shows.

Unfortunately, many credit unions are still lagging in this respect. This is leading to some member dissatisfaction with the lack of change. It is also causing some members to turn to other financial options.

So, how can credit unions compete in this arena? Here are some suggestions to consider:

  • Equip credit union employees with the necessary resources to offer members outstanding service. They can achieve this by putting in place organized and efficient knowledge base solutions to inspire member confidence.
  • Allow members to access self-service options. Today’s consumers are very self-reliant and want to have independence when managing their finances. Putting excellent self-service support in place gives members the freedom they need. It also ensures that credit unions are ready to move into an increasingly digital future.
  • Ensure consistency across every touchpoint so members can enjoy the same excellent experience through every channel. Credit union websites must be mobile-optimized. They must also allow 24/7 access to account functions.
  • Allow members to use social media platforms to their fullest extent. This only works to credit union’s advantage.
  • Publish regular blog posts to educate current and potential members about financial literacy. This reaches a wider audience while also offering valuable information.
  • Embrace the latest financial technology by adopting cutting-edge innovations, such as mobile payments, biometrics, and geographically targeted offers.
  • Offer a broad spectrum of services for members beyond the traditional lending model. Offering financial advice to small businesses is one example of how a credit union can do this.
  • Ensure there are personalized member experiences tailored to individual needs. Credit unions can achieve this by harnessing the power of big data gathered from their members. Through the use of personalized services and messages, members feel more valued, and engagement with the credit union increases.

Credit Unions Must Prepare for An Increasingly Digital Future

There’s a lot that credit unions can do to combat the risks posed by Big Tech financial partnerships. It does, however, require institutions to step up to the plate and embrace the possibilities that an omni-channel approach offers.

Apple and Facebook’s recent moves into the financial sector have already posed a clear threat to traditional financial institutions. With the news about Google Cache, the possibility of tech giants involving themselves more deeply in the sector moves closer.

It’s now up to credit unions to put more effort into retaining their existing members while working to attract more. They must look to the most forward-thinking organizations and work harder to compete on an even footing.

New and innovative products, such as Google Cache, will, as experts say, be most appealing to the younger generation. It is this demographic that credit unions now must work extra hard to appeal to.

As the chart above shows, Generation Z have their own preferences and behaviors when it comes to finance. Credit unions must embrace those differences and cater for them effectively.

It need not be difficult for credit unions to act. By adopting a multichannel approach, and by focusing on offering outstanding service, they can remain competitive.

The future of the financial services industry is an ever-changing and increasingly digital one. However, credit unions have it within their power to offer members the excellent and personal service that they always have.

Learning as much as possible about their target audiences and adapting products and services to match their needs is key. When members can find what they’re looking for from their local credit unions, they will remain loyal.

Google may be introducing its checking account, and it may be developing other financial products in the future. However, with the right approach, credit unions can not only survive but thrive for many more years to come.

Shondell Varcianna is the founder of Varci Media. A content writing agency that writes content for financial institutions. She can be reached at her website: shondell@varcimedia.com.For more blog writing tips, check out The Ultimate Blog Content Checklist – 10 Keys to Blog Content Success at www.varcimedia.com/checklist

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