March 28, 2014
Meet Hubert, the Internet division of Sunova Credit Union, billed as “Canada’s happiest online savings site.”
The $1.2 billion Manitoba credit union launched Hubert Financial in 2010 with the primary aim of attracting deposits by offering higher rates through a self-service, low-overhead channel. The online outlet has delivered the goods in the form of 9,985 accounts totaling $230 million as of January.
Hubert’s competitive rates—ranging from 1.8 percent on a high-interest savings account to 2.95 percent for a five-year savings certificate—have brought in deposits from throughout the country. Accounts are available to all Canadians (excluding Quebec residents) willing to join Sunova CU and handle the simple online membership and account-opening process on their own. More than 90 percent of deposits come from outside Manitoba, notes Sunova CEO Ed Bergen, CCE, a CUES member.
Hubert is staffed by a single person who offers phone support, but the vast majority of its services are provided electronically. In comparison, a Sunova CU branch generating $250 million in deposits would employ a staff of 15, plus the overhead of building operations, Bergen notes.
The online savings branch has proved a successful alternative to the other options the credit union considered as a way to expand its deposit base. Offering premium rates through its branches would not have been offset by operational cost savings, and selling deposit accounts through a broker would have required “a large fee up front and the potential to cannibalize our market” by attempts to lure members away, Bergen says.
Hubert’s streamlined website design reflects the basic service delivery approach, with Hubert’s “happy” brand personality represented simply in the smile-shaped u of its name. Marketing has been minimal, but Hubert’s quirky positioning reflects that of its parent credit union, which is known for its D.O.G.s, the live St. Bernards who serve as “Directors of Greetings” at branches and whose photos grace its website.
Strategically, Hubert is the perfect foil to Sunova CU’s emphasis on personal service, Bergen says. “In our branches, employees focus on getting to know members and providing exceptional service. They don’t have to worry about selling the best price in the world.”
The credit union is studying an expansion of Hubert’s product lines beyond savings accounts. The first step may be to offer online mortgages, slated for introduction in the third quarter of 2014.
Karen Bankston is a long-time contributor to Credit Union Management and writes about credit unions, membership growth, marketing, operations and technology. She is the proprietor of Precision Prose, Stoughton, Wis.