The True Definition of Virtual Banking

by Jac La Tour, ECCU Communications Manager
(Originally published as a post within ECCU’s former e-publication, The Buzz.)

Have you noticed how new social networking technology can become wildly popular while its ultimate purpose remains unclear? Twitter is the most familiar example. No one knows where it will eventually fit in the virtual world, but people sure are having fun experimenting with options.

Turns out this kind of experimentation goes on even in bona fide virtual worlds. According to TechCrunch, “Linden Lab has announced that virtual banking within Second Life is to be banned effective January 22 after receiving multiple complaints by Second Life residents scammed by bank operators.” Virtual people tried virtual banking in their virtual world, found it wanting, and are now shutting it down. I wonder what virtual economic recovery looks like.

For a financial institution like ECCU that has been a pioneer in helping ministries do their banking from a distance in the real world, the ambiguity surrounding emerging virtual technologies is both relevant and, believe it or not, personal. Let me explain.

Ask ten people what “virtual banking” means, and you’ll probably get ten different definitions. BusinessDictionary.com says a virtual bank is an “Internet based financial institution that offers deposit and withdrawal facilities, and other banking services, through automated teller machines or other devices, without having a physical (brick and mortar) walk-in premises.”

This definition is unambiguous, but is it complete? Accurate? I think not. Just as Twitter and other social media are still defining what they do best and refining how they do it, so are financial institutions. And at a place like ECCU, a sterile definition like the one cited above falls far short of the vision that led people to pioneer this unique financial cooperative in the first place.

What’s missing from this definition of virtual banking, or any other that would hope to eliminate ambiguity by means of technology alone, is the opposite of virtual. What’s missing is the potential for relationship. Many people in ministry, even those who manage the finances, are practically hard-wired to pursue relationships. Given the choice between an “Internet based financial institution that offers deposit and withdrawal facilities” or a financial institution that takes time to know you and your ministry so they can deliver banking services most effectively, our experience has been that the latter usually wins out.

Just as ambiguity is an unavoidable reality in the virtual world, so it is in the real world of ministry. You’re constantly being challenged to innovate and find new ways to fulfill your mission. When you’re innovating, ambiguity is essential, partly because it highlights your reliance on relationships with other people in your shared pursuit of clarity.

As ministries work to more effectively manage their finances this year, we’re joining in that effort by investing in technology that will make banking from a distance even easier. We’re also diving into the ambiguity of the emerging social media technology in search of ways to build even deeper relationships with our member ministries.

Our hope is that, with your help, we will rewrite the definition of virtual banking.

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