Thursday, March 20, 2008

CUs can attract Gen Y with 'Second Life'

MADISON, Wis. (2/5/08)--Credit unions soon may be able to attract members of Generation Y by appealing to their second lives.

Scott Moriarty, vice president of lending for Virginia CU, Richmond, Va., and a Filene Research Institute i3 member, is working with fellow i3 members to create a credit union island using Second Life, a social networking application and virtual world that allows users to create avatars, or residents of the virtual world.

Other i3 members involved with the project include Lesley Carrell, Fibre FCU, Longview, Wash.; Dave Brooke, Point Lima CU, San Diego; Steve Koenen, Altra FCU, La Crosse, Wis.; and Linda Armyn, Bethpage (N.Y.) FCU.

Second Life is a three-dimensional, advanced social networking environment where avatars interact with their surrounding environment and communicate with others through instant messaging.

The project is "an attempt to leverage an emerging technology in the Internet called 3-D Internet," Moriarty said in an interview with Filene Chief Innovation Officer Denise Gabel. "We wanted to develop an environment where financial literacy can be gained more effectively for younger generations."

Credit unions can create virtual credit union branches through Second Life to enhance users' financial education. "It allows credit unions to get their feet wet in an environment that's relatively safe," Moriarty said.

Avatars can visit the branches and use currency--called Linden Dollars, which are backed by U.S. currency--to make purchases and see the effects of their financial decisions.

Credit unions interested in pursuing the three-dimensional program need to have an open mind for technology, as most information technology filters block Second Life, Moriarty said.

The credit union island project has three phases. The team is developing the game and working with Ohio University students to ensure it will allow users to learn about finances in a short period.

After Phase One is complete, the prototype will undergo testing in Phase Two, which Moriarty estimated would be in December. Phase Three will focus on making the island easily available to credit unions.

Some large corporations, such as Toyota, have used the environment to test new products. Instead of using traditional marketing, Moriarty said, credit unions should aim to provide service and build affinity.

"It's an experience you can create and derive on your own," he said.

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