When students step onto college campuses for the first time, they’re suddenly faced with a slew of new financial responsibilities. Many of them have never handled their own budgets before — something that can be quite tricky when it includes not just food and rent, but also expensive textbook purchases. As financial institutions (FIs) know well, serving this customer base takes careful strategizing.
Credit unions (CUs) and other FIs looking to reach these young customers must tailor their approaches to gain and keep their business through their college years and beyond. Students want the convenience of mobile, but they often need in-person assistance, as well. In addition, they may need to be educated on financial security and different financial products, said Eric Bangerter, vice president of eCommerce at UW Credit Union.
In a recent interview with PYMNTS, Bangerter said serving students means offering on-the-ground outreach and extending mobile services to cater to busy schedules and digital habits.
Branches Keep Their Appeal
In the past, it was necessary for students to seek out FIs close to campus and open new accounts. But thanks to mobile banking, many students who arrive on campus often already have bank accounts that they can use and monitor remotely. Mobile payments have also made in-network ATMs less important, as students don’t typically need to withdraw cash, Bangerter noted. All of these factors mean CUs must raise the bar on what they offer if they’re going to recruit new students as members.
The increase in already-banked students puts a dent in recruitment numbers, he said, but in-person service can be critical for some students. “We don’t necessarily assume all [students are] tech-savvy,” Bangerter said. “They know how to use their phones, but usually the financial relationship they have with us is the first … in their banking lives.” A large portion of the CU’s student members prefer to visit branches to get service and ask questions, he added.
Credit-Building For College
Mobile and other technological offerings are non-optional in today's digital age, but many other conveniences and services can make CUs stand out. This includes having staff treat students as customers, as opposed to appealing to the parents they sometimes bring with them. Another enticing feature UW Credit Union offers is no-fee checking accounts for its student members. Targeted financial products are also vital when it comes to meeting students’ needs and encouraging them to retain their memberships beyond graduation.
Many students enter college with little to show for their financial histories, making it difficult for them to qualify for credit cards. To help students meet immediate financial needs and build credit, UW Credit Union offers new members who meet certain income requirements low-value credit cards with credit lines between $500 and $1,000. If students manage these cards properly, they can begin building credit scores that will enable them to obtain car loans or rent apartments upon graduation, Bangerter said. “[The credit is] not so big an amount that someone could get themselves into trouble,” he said. “We’re trying to get you to a place so that you when get your first job out of college, you have a strong enough credit score to qualify for one of our other Visa cards.”
Security in a Mobile World
Even though many students seek out physical branches, digital natives who enroll in universities may find that technological features are a must. Students are often interested in CUs' starter credit cards, but they also want to be able to apply for them online or by mobile app. It's also important for students with packed class schedules to be able to open accounts, deposit checks and perform other banking needs on their own time via their smartphones, Bangerter said. This technology-first attitude enables CUs to confidently roll out such services, as user uptake is almost guaranteed.
Offering services on multiple channels can also present some challenges, he added, pointing out that when students walk into branch locations, they will see posters and notices and interact with staff who can notify them about the latest features and security updates. Students who engage only via an app could easily miss out on useful advice.
“[Opening an account via mobile] creates a problem from an educational perspective,” Bangerter said. “We have to find ways to get into [these members’] busy lives with messages and features in the app — with things they might see if they came in but may miss in the digital experience.”
He has also observed that younger digital natives can be too trusting of technology — and too willing to share usernames and passwords. Ensuring the safety of students’ finances often means UW Credit Union must provide safe practice reminders, such as informing members to nevershare their account details and offer tips for detecting phishing attacks.
“The No. 1 fraud case we’re seeing is where people are giving up their credentials in order to receive money or help someone out, with the offer that they can keep a piece of the money — those generally turn out to be fraudulent transactions,” Bangerter said.
UW Credit Union wants to provide its members with seamless, frictionless services while also keeping them safe, and digital loan and credit line applications are areas in which it has been successful in this endeavor.
“You buy something on iTunes and it starts downloading instantly” he said. “People’s expectations are the same for financial services, and, a lot of the time, waiting three days for loan approval, or two days for card in the mail doesn’t hold up.”
To provide faster, more secure services, the CU uses automation that leverages information about the application — drawn from both the CU’s prior interactions with the member and from partner data sources — to fill in details, enabling a more streamlined application process.
As CUs work to recruit student members and stay engaged with them throughout their financial lives, they will increasingly have to find ways to provide robust digital services and compelling on-site support.