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Vantage CU uses Twitter for account transfers
BRIDGETON, Mo. (10/7/09)--Vantage CU, Bridgeton, Mo., launched a new banking solution, tweetMyMoney, which allows members to conduct financial transactions within their credit union accounts through social networking site Twitter. Released Sept. 28, tweetMyMoney is free to Vantage members. It allows them to monitor their account balances, deposits, withdrawals, holds and cleared checks. Members also can transfer funds within their accounts. The program can be accessed from a computer or mobile phone. About 70 members have enrolled. They access the program by enrolling in Vantage’s online banking program and setting up a Twitter account. Members also must sign up to “follow” Vantage on Twitter. tweetMyMoney works through Twitter’s Direct Message function--which allows users to send messages to each other privately. In this case, members send messages to Vantage. The program “utilizes a set of codes that you send via direct message to the credit union and get information back,” Eric Acree, executive vice president of operations, told News Now. The codes, originated by Vantage, appear at the end of each e-mail or text return to let members know the messages are legitimate. Members can change the codes at any time to make them more recognizable. They also can change them if there’s a concern the account has been compromised. The codes were implemented to combat phishing. “It’s one of many things we did to address security concerns,” Acree said. “If they get a message that doesn’t have the right code, they know it’s fake.” And, if a code accidentally goes public, “nobody knows what it means,” Acree said. As a security measure, Vantage cross-references individuals following the credit union on Twitter with those who have signed up with the program. One account number is allowed per Twitter username. The new program was controversial from the start, with some members of the technology community responding to tweetMyMoney negatively within hours of its launch. “They thought we were insane because of the unsecured nature of Twitter,” Acree said. “They were tearing us apart on the Internet. They jumped to conclusions, went to our website, and then voted their thoughts.” Vantage has an online poll so users can rate tweetMyMoney. After its launch, the program’s rating was low. However, when Vantage tracked the votes, it realized that negative votes were from non-members who were not using the program. “The primary hurdle is getting people to understand what little risk exists because of the type of information we’re providing and the type of transactions,” Acree said. He recognized that Twitter has been hacked, but said the credit union has thought through every worst-case scenario. The information provided in the Direct Messaging function presents a minimal to nonexistent risk, he said. The credit union hasn’t marketed the program, except for information on its website about enrollment. The viral component of Twitter has been very powerful. “It far exceeded our expectations,” Acree said, referring to the number of members that have signed up for the service so far through word of mouth. Feedback from members on tweetMyMoney has been positive. One member commented on Vantage’s site that the solution “sure beats the pants off of giving up your information to a company like [account aggregator] Mint--[members] of this credit union can now keep it closer to home.” Though the credit union has no hard data yet because the program was so recently launched, Acree expects that tweetMyMoney users are younger. He plans to analyze user data more deeply in about a month. Vantage developed tweetMyMoney in about four months. The staff also discussed text messaging and iPhone applications--which the credit union will provide next year--but kept coming back to Twitter. Vantage contacted several industry technology firms to discuss ideas, and then wrote the program. Testing took about two months, Acree said. Many financial institutions worldwide have contacted Vantage about the program and asked how it keeps the environment secure--which Vantage doesn’t detail for security reasons. Credit unions seeking to provide similar services should work with third parties--such as industry experts or technology firms--to get involved. “The big reason why we could do it more easily is because we wrote our own online banking program,” he said. For many credit unions, writing a banking program could be challenging. “Many credit unions may be at the mercy of the online banking companies they use,” Acree said. tweetMyMoney isn’t a mass-market item--it’s a niche product. Vantage knows that all of its members won’t sign up for it. But if Vantage can make 500 or 1,000 members happy, then it has “strengthened the bond with those members,” Acree said. Vantage plans to offer more solutions in the future, through text messaging, Facebook, and the iPhone. Convenience is a driver for these programs, but security is a primary concern. “We put a lot of thought into security [for tweetMyMoney],” Acree said. “If we can prove that we did our due diligence, it will be well-received. And if we think there’s a real security risk, we’ll terminate it immediately.”
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