A Personal Review: Massachusetts Credit Union Website

An associate of mine offered to review the website: Massachusetts credit union, which you can find at http://www.wcu.com. So it’s over to you, J. and thank you for taking the time to review this site.


Easily Accessible Rates

I absolutely loved how easy it was to find the various rates on this website. I have been shopping around for a new bank account for my girlfriend for a while, and know how buried some of these rates can be. Even though the law says they need to be out there, some sites still push them into the background.

With one click, (on the “for rates” button) I can instantly have access to the various rates the credit union offers on each account. Now, the fact that this credit union has an APY of 1% on their online savings account is intriguing, I’d switch if I didn’t have a better rate at the moment, but that’s neither here nor there.

Think About the User

I like that I can sign in to my home banking account right from the front page, and that it’s on the left of the page, which is where my eyes fall naturally. I’m a little confused as to why I’m required to sign in to all the different services separately. A unified login feature would be amazing, so I can check my account balance and my credit card status all in one go.

Were I using this site for the first time, I might experience some confusion about where exactly to log in. While the website isn’t exactly hideous, I’m not sure why there are so many colors going on. Not only are there eight different shades of green prominently featured, but red, tan, blue, and orange all make appearances. It all adds up to look a little bit on the messy side.

There’s also an overwhelming amount of links on the front page. I get that the goal is to get me to have to use as little of the page as possible, but it’s frustrating enough that it is kind of hard to figure out where I’m supposed to look. I would love to see the site use more of its pages for practical reasons.

Too Much Mumbo Jumbo?

Some of the services available make me nervous as well. What is a jumbo loan? Is it a loan that is bigger than a regular loan? Are the interests rates higher to go along with it? When it comes to my finances, there is a set of terminology that I am used to, and this certainly is not it.

Words like jumbo to me belong as descriptions for elephants in parades. When dealing with my money, I’d prefer the language be kept professional and typical. I’m grateful that the site makes it easy to find that it is a member of the CU Service Centers.

Accessible Banking Offline, too

But as a credit union member, I’m often asked how I can bank when I’m away from home, and the answer is simple. There are hundreds if not thousands of banks that are within a short distance from me no matter where I am, because of the CU Service Center network.

Functional: Needs TLC

Overall, I think the site is ugly but functional. There are a few tweaks that would make it excellent to use, but overall it certainly is not bad. It is easier to find information here than it is on many similar websites.

How does this site compare to your bank or financial services company? Do they get it? Or is their website just an afterthought? Write and share YOUR feedback with me!

Learning from your mistakes… Turning your ship around (Part 1)

A tale of how (NOT) to run your business into the ground ! I was inspired by this story from Emonitized: Mistaking your Way To Success. In other words, “why I don’t post so much right now!” I’m too busy…

The article I mentioned lists some interesting ways to kill your business:

  • * Overexpansion.
  • * Poor capital structure.
  • * Overspending.
  • * Lack of reserve funds.
  • * Bad business location.
  • * Poor execution and internal controls.
  • * An inadequate business plan.
  • * Failure to change with the times.
  • * Ineffective marketing and self-promotion.
  • * Underestimating the competition.

PHTO0158We achieved an amazing 80% on that scale, once I tell you the story, you’ll understand. Perhaps then you’ll see what we did wrong… and why things are better now…

It’s always difficult to know which episode to start the tale. A brief introduction. We started running our business unofficially in 2000, we had very little idea of how the business would ‘take’, how much money we could or couldn’t earn, how to hire/fire, how to get/keep customers, etc… We were, the Chinese say, “Vegetable Birds”, Greenhorns through and through.

Given the success/failure rates in business in the first five or ten years, we have been remarkably successful: we’re still here after seven years, we’re still making a ‘little’ money, and we have created a thriving business. But it was in the seventh year that we faced our biggest challenge: falling enrolments, unmotivated staff, poor advertising/marketing, budgets out of control, and lousy management (yes, I mean we did a lousy job at managing things!).

The ESL Business in Taiwan
T100 1100o explain, The Language School Business in Taiwan is a fiercely competitive business with numerous chains and independents. Of course, we are the latter category. There are also a lot of crossover businesses, schools who provide other services that also provide language teaching. This can be done in a number of ways: after-school classes with English, kindergarten with English, English and other subjects, and general cram schools. Schools can also be categorized by the age of students, e.g. children and adults, kindergarten and children, children and teenagers. So there are a number of ways to look at the market. There are of course language schools that teach a number of languages, including Chinese, Japanese, and so on.

The Competition
PHTO0127Our school has focused on solely teaching English to children aged 6 to 16. We don’t mix our products with anything else. This has been both good and bad, but it makes us different from almost all of the schools in the immediate area who teach English, and from most of the schools in the surrounding area. We have achieved a good reputation for that subject teaching alone, BUT we sometimes lose students because we don’t offer after school care, or kindergarten, or whatever. Some parents really need the convenience of multi-service schools. However, we excel at preparing students for standard examinations in EFL (which are not compulsory), and we teach students to USE the language (you have no idea how rare that is in Taiwan!).

There are also challenging factors in that for schools, student retention rates are also critically important. Student semesters are generally only 3 months, and in many school attrition rates are attrociously high, often 50% of students leave after six months. Staff attrition rates are also a problem, as several of the schools I worked experienced staff turnover rates well in excess of 100% per year. The two factors are, if you know teaching, very much inter-related. In short, keeping the teachers happy helps you to retain students. When students stay, they learn well. Other students stay, too. Success in the language school rests on creating a virtuous cycle, not a vicious one.

Tuition Fees
With lots of competition, if you aren’t a first rank school in a large city, then pricing pressure restrains your upper price limits considerably. In addition, there are expectations for discounts on the prices from parents that you have to factor into your pricing scheme. Many schools try to charge extra fees for books and materials to cover their additional expenses, but in general this is not easy, either. Taiwanese customers tend to focus largely on the material costs of books and use very practical ways to measure books’ values.

32735A good example to illustrate: if a book has 100 pages, then it’s upper price tends to be restricted to about NT$200 or thereabouts (because that’s how much it costs to photocopy a page). Additional value can be extracted by adding color for the children, and CDs and so on. But in general, it can be very difficult to get purchasers to appreciate why a 50-page book costs more than a reasonable amount, almost regardless of what’s in the book.

Competitors: Local and International
There are, despite these problems, considerable opportunities in many markets for these kinds of schools. In fact, the presence of lots of competition indicates a strong desire for many of the services already being provided, and a willingness for parents to try new schools, as well as new services. Elementary schools and high schools are increasing slowly the quality of instruction within their communities, but the parents’ desires are far from even being recognised by the local education authorities. It’s that gap that allows so many schools to exist in the private sector.

making faces sean simonIn addition, from being a largely homegrown market with staples, like Hess Kindergartens, Joy Schools, Kojen, and a few others, increasingly foreign competitors are entering the marketplace, such as Shane Schools (from Japan), Geos (from Japan), PopularKids (from Singapore), etc.. Suffice to say, the international chains have few advantages in the local market, except perhaps deeper pockets than local companies. Local chains also operate in the same environment. All of them face the same typical problems. Therefore, in many areas of Taipei City and County, and around the island, local independent (or boutique) schools do well because they can compete very effectively on Quality of Service.

So, with the usual business concerns, pressures from competition, and pricing challenges from customers, we were quite surprised by our initial success in the local market where we are. We grew quickly year-on-year, and soon found ourselves with a popular little school in a well-defined market.

It’s that context that we will explore in the next posting as we explain how we achieved a failing grade of 80%! It’s been an interesting journey!… Bet you can’t wait…! Oh, and thanks to our wonderful students, Peter, my first class, some students and teachers at a recent demo, a naughty class! and some flowers!).

Running a blog in another language: it’s a challenge

nozkidzI recently decided to keep my business website on the WordPress platform for a number of very sound reasons and against the advice of some people. I found that the WordPress platform offers a tremendous number of benefits for small business websites and those starting out with their own online businesses like …

Ease of use: it’s tremendously easy to get it up and running. It’s also very easy to do basic administration for the blog without knowing much or anything about the underlying programming language.

Support: there is a huge user base out there to create themes, plugins, and whatnot. You can find answers to most questions quickly, and someone somewhere is working on a solution if one isn’t available. Also development speed is fast. We’ve moved from 2.0.7 to 2.2.0 in the space of a few months.

Web 2.0: there are quite a few ways to take advantage of the interconnectedness of the web 2.0 that static HTML sites and old style websites just lack – automatic feed creation, trackbacks, commenting, multiple authors, etc.

International: the multi-language support of the blog software makes it easy to post in several languages, including my target language: traditional Chinese.

But challenges remain, most of them not to do with the software. The biggest challenge is getting content for the website. I’ve asked a colleague to write up an irregular column for us, but that’s an expensive solution. My own facility with the written language is poor at this time, and I’ve made no progress yet, really, except to make my Chinese speaking colleagues cringe at my poor writing. I’m looking to source language learning articles from Chinese speakers written in traditional characters, but it’s hard going. I don’t know where to advertise for that.

The second problem is that the blog is published on the Internet, but our market is very much a local market area, so it’s sometimes difficult to reach out to the local population. Many of the target market are in fact older people, but who seem to have less interest in the online media than their kids and younger people in general. So, I’ve put our website address everywhere, but I suspect few people look it up. I’m thinking that people with Internet enabled mobile phones might be more likely to check it out!

So I have had to combine new media with old: I created a newsletter that is available in printed form, and online in several forms (including a PDF). Almost all of the content is created for the website or the newsletter. However it is created, it is used to get maximum effect. I’ve also added a few newsletter stations around the area where the newsletter can be picked up for free. Additional flyers, banners, posters and so on, all have their online equivalents.

It’s quite surprising but I think the offline marketing has been much more successful than the online media. But online allows us to do so much more, including video, montages, photographs, contacts, newsletters, mailing lists, etc. that I can’t ignore it. Despite that, we have never received a single query from our online website. So we really need to refine our marketing outreach! Back to our keyboards!