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Unitus Pioneers iPads as Virtual Branches

Unitus Community Credit Union uses Apple's iPad to take branch banking to consumers.

Although it didn't set out to turn branch banking on its head, Portland, Ore.-based Unitus Community Credit Union has done just that. Using Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple's iPads, Unitus recently began taking branches to customers rather than wating for customers to come to them.

"Early in 2011 a business development officer had the idea of using an iPad to sign up new members and fund their accounts," recalls Brian Irvine, VP and CIO for Unitus. "Initially, we thought of it as a way to reduce risks associated with paper documents, such as off-site visits to businesses."

From an IT standpoint, resource investments were negligible. "Because an iPad can access all the necessary account features via our website, which is provided by MeridianLink [Costa Mesa, Calif.], enabling an iPad as a virtual branch only required a secure access point," explains Irvine. "To accomplish this, we provide iPad users with a company-issued Wi-Fi card."

On the back end, Unitus deployed Microsoft's (Redmond, Wash.) Exchange ActiveSync to manage the devices. "It provided for pushing out policies, screen locks and wiping tools," Irvine says.

With IT preparations completed and usage policies established by early spring 2011, a two-person pilot quickly expanded to all four Unitus business development officers. Then, the first big win came in mid-March, when a week-long pre-opening event was held for a physical branch by setting up a pop-up branch in a tent outside the new location.

"We signed up 99 new members," Irvine reports. "At a similar event for another branch, 186 new members signed up -- that's more than our eight traditional branches attract in a week, combined."

By fall 2011, Unitus ($901 million in assets) had expanded the iPad deployment to its mortgage team. "We took 15 new applications in the first week," notes Irvine. Throughout the rest of 2011, Unitus closely tracked iPad outcomes. "The year before we issued iPads, our membership was 825," Irvine states. "At the end of 2011 we had more than 1,300 members."

Along the way, the only real hurdle Unitus encountered was affixing signatures to applications. Early-on, documents were printed for the member to sign and mail back in, "which sort of defeated the purpose of the technology," Irvine acknowledges.

As a workaround, Unitus used a graphic design iPad app by Adobe (Mountain View, Calif.) called PDF Expert. "People would sign using their finger and an encrypted PDF would be emailed to our file room," Irvine explains. Initially, the file room would print out the PDFs and scan them back into the document management system, he adds. But eventually, Unitus completely eliminated this back-office process by creating a workflow to keep electronically signed documents electronic from cradle to grave. "If a member wants a copy, we print it out and mail it to them," Irvine notes.

Beyond Account Opening

Today, while MeridianLink is developing signature and other iPad functionality, Unitus continues to expand its iPad deployments as new uses are conceived. For example, Unitus issued iPads to all executives and board members while discontinuing printed board packets in favor of accessing PDF documents via a board-specific portal. "We primarily use [Good.iWare's] GoodReader app to view packets," Irvine says.

The next wave calls for deploying iPads in the credit union's branches. "We're finishing a branch pilot that allowed staff to demonstrate, in the moment, our online services to members," says Irvine. "As a result, conversions to online services are much higher for members who bank at that branch.

"What's more, we've seen a tremendous impact on our organization beyond the device itself," Irvine adds. "It has created a culture where we're trying new things rather than just doing them the way we've done before."


Institution: Unitus Community Credit Union (Portland, Ore)
Assets: $901 million
Business Challenge: Increase market share with minimal capital or operating investment
Solution: Apple's (Cupertino, Calif.) iPad

Anne Rawland Gabriel is a technology writer and marketing communications consultant based in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. Among other projects, she's a regular contributor to UBM Tech's Bank Systems & Technology, Insurance & Technology and Wall Street & Technology ... View Full Bio

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