Credit Union Geek

Marketing, Strategy, and The Force by Joe Winn

Author: Joe Winn (page 1 of 57)

Are You A Dumb Bank? (Part 4ish)

Originally published on

This is a spiritual continuation of a series from a while back, titled Are You A Dumb Pipe. The idea is related; read on to understand how. 

For every 100 members buying a car, 8 will pay in cash and 30 will lease, leaving around 60 which continue to be an opportunity for your credit union. Of those, many will simply finance at the dealer, signing with captive or another indirect lender. Was it yours? Maybe. Probably not.

Since most people pay for cars at the dealer, it only makes sense to pour resources into indirect, right? Operating in this fashion reminds me of my post on being a dumb pipe. Take a look.

Indirect lending is making your credit union a dumb bank. Your members won’t know who you are. They don’t care. You’re a line in their bill pay platform, and it’s probably set to automatic, anyway.

I’ve spoken to the lending teams at many credit unions. The allure of indirect is strong. Do nothing, get auto loans. As long as you approve and fund them in good time, you’re done. I’ll be honest; I have lost some business to it. However, it is costing the credit unions much more. It’s no different than the internet providers being just a dumb pipe (which, with the loss of Net Neutrality, is sure to change). You become a faceless lender.

Credit unions see financial interactions in a different way than any other institution. It’s what makes you, well, you. And not a random bank. Right? I mean, if I’m wrong, say so and continue down the path you’ve set. Become the faceless money storage and lending facility.

It’s true, there are a lot of people who will never care about their bank, credit union…whatever. When it does what they expect, it’s another utility which receives little attention. If something goes wrong, well…”geez, this bank just sucks!” You can try to engage them, but the decision is theirs.

However, if you are in any way trying to fulfill your mission statement, this is not the path forward. As your services become commoditized, your interactions devolve into support requests and complaint resolutions. You lose the ability to help your members in all the unique ways available to credit unions. Financial coaching? That would have been nice. Investment guidance? I’m sure they’ve got it handled. Even a simple grasp of how fee structures or interest rates can affect someone long-term? Hey, if they don’t know you, they don’t engage.

Am I saying indirect and other “faceless” services are bad? Not at all. They serve a valuable role in boosting asset volume in many credit unions. If it fits your strategy, and is properly accounted, then why not enjoy the growth it can deliver? However, I have noticed a growing trend of institutions putting more resources into this basket…at the expense of their direct channels.

There are a lot of industries where your company can remain unknown while also a part of everyone’s life. That works if being faceless yet ubiquitous fits the mission. I don’t believe it does for the credit union industry. Do you?

A Mission You Can Bank On

Originally published on

A recent post, Giving Back Has ROI, Too, linked your charitable efforts with your growth strategy. You can do the most for all parties when your “good” aligns with your mission. It keeps everyone more engaged, provides the best opportunities for cross-promotion, and clearly defines your purpose in the community.

Already well-aligned with the areas of community you support? That’s great! You can go even further.

Your product lineup is boring. It’s the same as every other credit union and bank. Checking, savings, lending, and maybe investments. On their own, these provide no differentiation or excitement. However, what if you designed these offerings to directly benefit those you help? A successful strategy can help gain new (profitable) members while making a difference beyond contributions.

A previous post dove into this concept with two interviews. One was of a credit union in California, CCCU. The other, Vancity, out of Canada. Both integrated their giving into their products. The former supported local students with scholarships, using funding from interchange fees. The latter donated a portion of their profits from their credit cards. Both times, members have a direct hand in the positive impacts of their credit union. In fact, if not for the members’ actions, these contributions would never have occurred.

Here’s another way to integrate closely with your core mission. A credit union local to me, Grow Financial, uses a leaf as their logo. This was not a random choice by the board. It was selected for two reasons (of which I’ve learned). The first you’d expect: I want my money somewhere it can “Grow”, and leaves are a tangible symbol of growth. The second is for their environmental focus. Grow’s headquarters is LEED certified (uses less resources to run, built with local materials, maintains high indoor air quality, etc.). They support environmental charities. Being “green” is who they are.

How about you? What’s your raison d’etre? Now it’s time to brainstorm how you can merge that into your “boring” banking solutions. Maybe that means working with one in your community (or a variety if serving large areas). Maybe that means starting your own! Besides making a positive impact, it can rally existing members and attract new ones!

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Member Relationships Which Could Be

Originally published on

This is part of the “CU That Could Be” series.

You pride yourself on amazing member service. If anyone has an issue, your entire team is equipped to handle it promptly, politely, and with a minimum of effort for everyone.

E-mails are answered within a few hours, and members get only personalized replies. No one deserves a generic response! If an issue will take longer to resolve, your team sends out a quick message informing of that fact, along with an estimated timeframe for the next reply.

Your credit union embraces a phone platform which automatically routes calls to keep hold times low. And, if someone needs to be transferred, it’s always done while the original agent remains on the line. Having to start over with the 2nd (or 4th) person stinks! This also ensures no one gets disconnected and left for a lurch. On top of that, the menu system never says, “please listen carefully as our menu options have recently changed.” That’s old school. Your system lets members press a number or say a simple word (which it recognizes easily) to accommodate those driving or otherwise occupied.

All social media platforms are centrally monitored 24/7 so complaints and compliments alike can be answered within a few minutes. Sure, you’re not solving a detailed account issue on Sunday, but you feel it is important to let the member know you are ready to help at any time. And Yelp reviews? You’ve seen how many people view your credit union’s business pages (yeah, you check the stats); every single review gets an answer. You’re not going to be part of the 98% who never reply. If it needs follow-up, that begins right now.

Then there’s the interactions which don’t involve a person. Your member is looking to do something on your website, or in your mobile app. You realize they’re using those systems to make life easier. So everything those platforms do is easily shown in device-specific interfaces. They’re fast, secure, and updated regularly. Feedback is encouraged, and suggestions are embraced in future revisions.

You may notice I didn’t discuss in-branch interactions. There are a few reasons. One, branches are no different from other lines of communication. Sure, you are face-to-face, but waiting there stinks just as much as being on hold (depends on if you listened to a previous post and set up Mario Kart 64). If you treat people well “virtually”, you’ll treat them fine in person. Two, with web-based everything, there’s nothing a member can do which can’t be done online or over the phone. Three, I’m not sure branches will be a standard feature of the credit union that could be. In my mind, if physical locations stick around at all, you might eventually see an extension of the “shared branches” concept take hold. Instead of banking at any credit union, there will be an unbranded CUSO operated “branch” where physical-contact holdouts can go to accomplish the same thing. Branches simply cost too much for every institution to maintain them. A credit union near me just expanded their membership into new counties and stated they have no plans to extend their branch footprint to match. They are no longer necessary to provide the member relationship of the future, or, that could be.

We will continue expanding on the “CU That Could Be” case study with technology integration. Stay tuned!

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