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Should CUs Offer Portable Account Numbers To Switch FIs?
IRVING, Texas (3/1/13)--About 61% of U.S. consumers surveyed in a global study want a portable account number that would allow them to switch financial institutions without changing account details. The idea could be a boon--or a bust--for credit unions.

The percentage of U.S. consumers who favored a portable account was the lowest among the six countries, which ranged from 62% in the U.K. to 76% in Spain, according to the online YouGov study conducted by British Telecommunications (BT) Global Services. It surveyed 6,500 people in the U.S., United Kingdom, Germany, France, Hong Kong and Spain.

Switching from banks to credit unions helped prompt 2.2 million new members in a 12-month period surrounding Bank Transfer Day, according to Credit Union National Association statistics. Many credit unions that capitalized on consumers' dissatisfaction with bank fees in 2011 and 2012 helped make it easier for new members to transfer their accounts by offering Switch Banks tool kits.

But to offer a portable account number, credit unions will find that the devil is in the details. The study pointed out that many of those surveyed had mixed feelings about financial institutions sharing their infrastructure and having access to customers' personal information. Roughly 38% said banks sharing infrastructure would be a bad idea even though the idea had the potential to improve competition and make it easier to switch institutions. Roughly 28% were undecided.

"There is clearly an appetite for technology and services which help increase transparency and competition, such as number portability and richer online comparison tools," said Tom Regent, president, global banking and financial markets at BT Global Services. "But there is also a significant level of apprehension around the creation of a shared banking infrastructure."  Consumers, he added, will need "reassurance around security and protection of their data."

Other key findings in the survey:

  • Most respondents did not consider engaging in dialogue or sharing information with their financial institutions over social media channels as a priority. Instead, when asked which three tools they most would like their financial institution to provide, consumers said they wanted more sophisticated online tools such as peer review sections, 32%; webchat facilities, 23%; and "compare-my-bank" type services, 29%.
  • The three most important factors to consumers in considering moving financial institutions were: good online banking facilities, 39%; the presence of a local branch, 45%; and the ability to access banking services 24/7, 29%.
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