Technology

Technology for What Purpose?

Make sure technology benefits your members, not just your operations.

July 13, 2012
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Being a search and rescue volunteer always has its challenges. But recently I faced one of my most daunting challenges ever.

No, it wasn’t jumping out of a helicopter or jumping into a 40-degree river for swift-water rescue training. It was far worse...and scarier.

I had to figure out how to use the new search and rescue radio.

I’m not really a technophobe, but I do have weird phobias. For example, I’m fearful of both clowns and Congress, although they might share enough in common to make them indistinguishable.

In retrospect, our new radio had all the bells and whistles one would expect:

The capacity to store hundreds of radio frequencies in a package only slightly larger than half the size of its predecessor, while simultaneously handling new Federal Communications Commission regulations with ease; and

A user’s manual that would make a NASA engineer proud, and probably busy, for the next three months.

Yes, it’s a miracle of technology. But my first use of that miracle drove me nuts.

Apparently, I hit a button called “Scan every frequency known to man, and when you’re done do a few more.” I’m pretty sure I was hearing traffic from passing aircraft, ships far out at sea, and something to do with an order for a cheeseburger and fries at the local burger joint.

As I pressed other buttons, the situation worsened with beeping, screeching, and bellowing. The radio was making sounds, too.

Technology for what purpose?
James Collins is Credit Union Magazine's humor columnist.

This encounter with miracles has practical applications back at the credit union. It’s very similar to most financial institutions’ approach to in-branch automation. We try something new, expecting it to work because it’s “new technology.”

Here’s an example. This experience happened at a local financial institution in my community (not at my credit union):

Me: I need to deposit $100.

Teller: Sure, please put it into the receptacle labeled “cash” and press the green button.

Me (looking first at the ceiling, then to the ground): Where?

Teller: To your right and down.

Me: It’s not working.

Teller: You’re putting it in the wrong slot.

Me: Got it.

Teller: What’s that grinding sound? Oh goodness, you didn’t put change in the slot did you?

Me: You told me to.

Teller: I thought you had bills.

Me: I do. I also have coins.

One hour, two supervisors, and one technician later, the deposit was made—although I think the teller now has a phobia of me because she avoids me like a teenager avoids chores.

I can honestly say this little piece of technology was not helpful—at least to me.

Fundamentally, technology should benefit the consumer in a unique and personally satisfying way—something that companies such as Apple have learned and my neighborhood financial institution has not. I perceived the cash recycler as less of a convenience for me, and more of a work-saver for them.

The takeaway: When your credit union considers automation—whether it’s a cash recycler, lobby kiosk, ATM, or even an automated loan system, ask: “How will this help the average person?” and, most important, “Is the benefit to the member readily apparent?”

Too often, the credit union benefits but the member only benefits indirectly.

As for the search and rescue radio, I finally figured it out. I pressed the “OFF” button.

Silence is golden.

JAMES COLLINS is president/CEO at O Bee CU, Tumwater, Wash. Contact him at 360-943-0740.

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