Large institutions invest millions in cutting-edge online and mobile services. Their smaller competitors, meanwhile, have been slower to adapt. This is largely to do with a lack of resources. But while customers still favor the personal service, trusted relationships and community benefits of working with smaller credit unions, as the technology gap becomes broader, they must increasingly weigh the cost of living without the convenience of some of the world's finest software. And many of the efficiencies and revenues realized by large banks end up left on the table.

There are few options available to these smaller institutions, however.

Del Norte Credit Union, which serves Northern New Mexico, recently sent an email to its customers titled "The new face of Online Banking!" In it, Del Norte previews a host of new, upcoming features and added functionality, including the ability to track expenses and review past spending via easy-to-use charts, the option to review all account balances and recent transactions on one page, even the ability to add outside bank and credit card accounts to get a more comprehensive view of your personal finances.

No doubt these changes will be a long-due, welcome improvement to many of Del Norte's customers, especially considering that this is the same credit union which until a year ago still required customers to fax address change requests to their office.

But these changes close less of the gap than it may seem. Del Norte's off-the-shelf software, called FinanceWorks, is made by Digital Insight, a division of Intuit, which also, by the way, owns It does move the ball for Del Norte, and for far less than building custom software across an entire platform. But it does less, doesn't integrate as well, and isn't as seamless as big banks' custom software. And it's a poorer long-term investment. That's because, as technology advances, it cannot be relied upon to keep up. And the gap will continue to widen.

And that's not to mention the many efficiencies and revenue-generating functions of quality custom financial software.

Instead, credit unions should consider custom software – but for select services only. Most institutions do a few things extremely well, such as auto loans, or CDs or boat financing. Whatever your institution does well, why not invest in doing it well online? Investing in core revenue-generating activity is within reach of most institutions, and can even the playing field significantly, or tip the balance in their favor – even in the quickly growing mobile space.

Custom software looks better, fits better into your overall online suite of services and, best of all, it can continue to adapt as technology and consumer demand evolves. It can be made to do unique things, specially suited to particular needs. And because it is focused, it costs far less than the big guys' stuff.

Let off-the-shelf software do some of the work, but when it comes to the business which really matters to your institution, slam the door on that technology gap with a strategic investment of your own, designed to play to your strengths.

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