Educators Credit Union - 1 When Apple launched its app store several years ago, perhaps even the tech wizards in Cupertino did not foresee how this new mobile technology would take the world by storm. The popular commercial has it right — whatever you are looking for, “there’s an app for that.” From movies and entertainment to exercise, news and sports information, there are apps for every purpose.

According to a Forbes article, the overall apps economy is staggering. By 2013, apps downloads surpassed 13.4 billion across the four major stores (Apple’s App Store, Google Play, Windows Phone Store and Blackberry World). Total revenue generated in the apps economy topped $2.2 billion.

Banks and credit unions are definitely getting into the app world, as well. As more consumers request mobile technology to access their finances, financial institutions are increasingly called to provide it. We have already passed the tipping point where consumers expect their financial institution to offer a robust app just as they would expect checking and savings accounts. If you don’t have one, you’re at a distinct disadvantage.

Mobile technology, including apps, requires a commitment of time, staff and money. For small to midsized banks and credit unions, diving into the app world is a leap of faith. Educators Credit Union in Waco, Texas ($353 million assets, 38,000 members) is a good example of a financial institution that decided the time was right to take such a leap.

Rachel Wilde, Marketing Manager at Educators, says work began on their new app about ten months ago. “A growing number of our members asked for an app the last few years,” Wilde said. “As that number continued to climb, we knew it was something we had to do. A real telling point for that need came not from our current members, but from potential members. As we worked community events, people would ask whether or not we had an app. You could tell that was obviously an important part of their consideration in a financial institution. When not only your own members but potential new members — the lifeblood of your financial institution — ask for something, you know it’s a major blip on the radar.”

As far as the process goes, Wilde says her executive team spent a great deal of time researching partners. “We were looking for the best fit for our members, but obviously other important factors in choosing a vendor came into play,” she said. “Key selling points also included the kind of app features a vendor could provide, how long they had been building apps, visiting with clients for whom they had already designed an app and, of course, price.”

“I think financial institutions must stop looking at mobile technology — and specifically apps — as a technology of the future,” Wilde adds. “This is something that is definitely at the forefront of consumer thought when it comes to deciding on a financial institution. An app is a product of the now, not some distant future.”

Wilde shares her advice to other banks and credit unions currently considering adding an app. “As with any other important project, you must do your research and due diligence upfront. Carefully research and screen potential vendors. Look at your app not just as a product offering but also as a membership growth tool. Critically important, make sure your app is an extension of your overall brand. After all, most mobile users will only rarely see the inside of a branch. It makes sense that your app is a faithful representation of your brand, miniaturized for someone’s smartphone or tablet.”

The app revolution will continue unabated. Banks and credit unions of all sizes, if not already on board with mobile offerings for their consumers, must quickly come to terms with the importance of apps or risk marginalizing their relevance to current and potential consumers.