Credit Union Geek

Marketing, Strategy, and The Force by Joe Winn

Tag: fees (page 1 of 2)

Your Members Hate Keeping You In Business

“Free is the greatest product never sold.” – Me, just now

Did I just come up with some crazy insight? Who knows. I just heard quotes at the beginning of an article lead some to get “hooked” and continue reading. See? You’re reading.

Back on topic, what do you offer for free at your credit union?  Of those things, which are premium services at other financial institutions, be they banks or other credit unions? I’d like to ask why you decided they should be free. Is there a cost to you? Is it a benefit to the member? If the answer to both of those questions is “yes”, then wouldn’t it make sense to ask, “what’s the benefit worth to the member?”

I’m all for lower or eliminated fees. They are punitive forms of payment (and research shows they are overwhelmingly burdened by those least able to afford them). That means your members aren’t happy when they have to pay. However, many subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Birchbox, and Blue Apron. The money spent is done so happily, as these companies offer more perceived value than the cost. Their products/services are a reward for spending, not a punishment resulting in forced spending. 

So, let’s review. Your credit union makes its money through things people don’t want to pay, like interest rates and fees (even if yours are lower than competition). There is a proven model in society of paying for things you do want. Credit unions should be things people want. What if you could change the dynamic, so your members are excited to “renew their membership” with their credit union?

It’s time to turn the whole model on its head. Instead of jumping about cheering for free and boring, let’s charge for value. Use that income to reduce or eliminate punishment fees. Shift the cost burden for your operations from those who can least afford it to those who want to pay for the benefits. Create an environment where members are happy to pay for all they receive from you. Guess what also comes with it? Members remember who you are. They consider you first for financial solutions. They recommend you to family and friends (your referral platform is ready, right?).

Will all members see the value and want to pay? No, and that’s fine. You can maintain basic, free services for those members. Remember the ones who couldn’t afford to pay? Now you’re really doing them a favor and living the credit union mission.

Sure, things like interest rates cannot go away. And you’ll have to keep some fees, just to protect the credit union. But what’s so bad about (partially) becoming a pay service offering incredible value? Netflix couldn’t offer what they have without charging. Blue Apron’s recipes and food would be pretty awful if they were in a race to free.

So go ahead, step out of the free zone and get uncomfortable. We all know you need to make money to survive. It’s just that none of us want to be the one who does the paying. How can you change that dynamic?

Disclosure: My company offers fee-based checking solutions to credit unions and community banks which deliver ongoing and substantial value to members.

Disclosures everywhere! …except for there.

Originally published on CUInsight.com

You’re all about openness.  Your new branch design includes sweeping halls, natural lighting, and big windows to provide a welcoming atmosphere.  That snazzy new website encourages whitespace with at-a-glance information on your latest promotions.  Of course, your staff are available to answer any questions members might have, as well as help them create a brighter financial future.

Then there’s your legal team.  An open field isn’t clear enough for them.  And that’s ok, because having an examiner woefully shaking their head is not your idea of a great day.  The lawyers want disclosures on top of disclosures, with a healthy dose of clarity, just in case something could be misinterpreted.

I’ve written about these concepts in previous posts.  Remember that “speed bump”, or website exit warning?  You don’t need it, never did, yet I still encounter them on a regular basis.  It’s tough when your in-house counsel says, “yes we do.”  If it’s between listening to me or them, I’d choose your person.  Clarity on your offerings and operations is essential as well.  We as an industry have a hard enough time getting members to even understand what a credit union is.  Don’t need them confused about what theirs can offer.

Which brings us to member understanding in the face of marketing and legal, combined.

I follow a large credit union on Twitter which embraces the idea of no fees and free accounts.  It’s a main part of their marketing.  While I’m more about finding unique ways to attract members, do what works for you.  “Free everything!” feels a bit “me too” to this geek.  Anyway, this credit union tweeted an image of two wrestlers with the copy, “Stop wrestling with fees.”  It links to their Truly Free Checking details.  The page talks about how awesome the account is and why you should just apply already! (Not quite, but that’s the idea.)  This is what appears when you click the Fees and Terms tab.

“This account doesn’t have any fees tied to a minimum balance requirement.”  And that’s it.  So there’s really no fees at all?  This is amazing!  What a super account!  Oh, wait, “…tied to a minimum balance requirement.”  This reminds me of the phone call with someone which goes, “I hope you’re enjoying your vacation!  I checked in on your house and the garage door totally looks great.”  And?

The account page has no link to the full list of fees (there aren’t any, remember?) or terms.  I dug around on the website and, after more searching than you’d expect, found a Fees page.  Unsurprisingly, it contains the standard laundry list of fees for all the items you’d expect, from check reorders to overdraft.  I’m not putting down the account.  It’s your run-of-the-mill $0 minimum balance free checking account.  Which is fine for many people.  But…

What would legal have to say?  Do you think they saw this page?  I clicked around and, yes, they do feature speed bumps on links to 3rd party partners (partners, because it’s a two-way contractual relationship).  So legal mandated this unnecessary feature, but let a checking account description get away with no disclosure of any fees or terms?

On top of the legal issue, this credit union is only setting themselves up for disappointed members.  Consider the member who wants a no-fee account.  This looks perfect, and if you’re not reading carefully, that one line sure sounds like there are no fees at all.  Imagine their frustration when they get hit with fees for checks, an accidental overdraft, or any number of other actions.

We all want to help members become more financially secure and knowledgable.  So let’s make sure our efforts don’t conflict this goal.

Image credit: Me, showing my mom demonstrate openness and clarity in Rocky Mountain National Park.

How a crying baby can help you serve your members

Originally published on CUInsight.com

A few weeks ago, old friends were kind enough to host me for a short vacation. The deal was that I help entertain their kids (1 and 3). In the words of my friend, “every kid should have an Uncle Joe”. (While I was explaining the physics of rocketry to a 3 year old). As you would expect, the younger one had a few upset moments. What was the problem? Sometimes, it’s obvious: he bumped his head or wants something just out of reach. For a few days, he also felt a little under the weather. I’d be cranky too. Other times, the issue was a complete mystery. “What is it?” Since his vocabulary is roughly on par with the use of “bigly” as an actual word, clarification is a challenge.

In a way, he is just like your members. Though they probably have a better vocabulary. When your members have a problem, their frustration is not always expressed as a direct reaction to the issue. Maybe they are angry about a new fee on their account. Or that it always seems to take a while to get a support response. “This credit union is simply the worst.”

The member who was angry about a fee may actually be upset that your communication of how to avoid fees was insufficient. Or maybe they just learned about an account available with far more benefits at the same price they end up paying after fees. Yet no one told them.

Instead of giving negative reviews about long hold times, perhaps that member found it annoying they couldn’t get their questions answered or tasks achieved through the mobile app.

What people complain about is rarely the real issue. 

Sure, we could delay my nephew’s whimpering with a different book, toy, or snack, but it was only temporary. If we didn’t solve the primary issue, he would struggle against us again. And it progressively gets more intense. Just like your members. Imagine being caught up in a cycle of unfulfilled customer service. As the little problems pile up, you get more frustrated, until you’re throwing toy trucks around the house because NOTHING IS GOING RIGHT!

Let’s work together to keep them from throwing their stuffed animals in your face.  You know, your nephews…obviously.

Image credit: My friend (Nephew while watching a SpaceX Falcon 9 landing. Yeah, he’s a rocket scientist in training.)

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