Credit Union Geek

Marketing, Strategy, and The Force by Joe Winn

Tag: fees (page 1 of 2)

Disclosures everywhere! …except for there.

Originally published on

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

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.)

April Fool’s – The Most Elaborate Hoax…Or Is It?

“With low rates, minimal fees, and a focus on the community, it has to be a joke, right?”

And thus begins the most intriguing post of the year.

Conveniently shared on April 1st, known world-wide as April Fool’s Day, an unnamed blogger drew all the wrong conclusions. Here’s a piece:

“…planning went deep, as one study found there to be thousands of these institutions across just the United States alone. Estimates put their total member base at 100 million, meaning that one in three Americans are a part of this intricate plot. Imagine the time it took to put this together! Not only that, but all these “credit unions”, as they call themselves, appear to work together. Through something called Shared Branches, a person can walk into a credit union they’ve never met and deposit or withdraw money…from their own account! And you thought Google went overboard with their April Fool’s jokes. A moon base? That’s nothing compared to a nationwide agreement of shared banking.”

They continued in this manner for another few paragraphs before reaching this gem:

“Oh, and there are no additional fees to do this. Tell me that isn’t the most unbelievable gag you’ve ever heard!”

This blogger proceeded to analyze how credit unions are not-for-profit entities, serving their community rather than a room of stockholders:

“Typical banking involves fees. It has to. How else can an institution make any money? With interest rates where they are, fee-structures are essential to maintaining a profitable outlook. But here they claim to be something called ‘not-for-profit’, meaning that all money made after expenses goes back to the members [emphasis original]. They call them dividends. I call it an elaborate prank.”

As you know, this blogger got it all wrong, and credit unions do, in fact, exist. Contrary to that perspective, they do work on a not-for-profit basis, and have at their core the best interests of their membership. It would appear that the unbelievability of these truths were too much for them.

Or, they were right, and the entire thing has been one enormous practical joke. Are you in on it? And, if so, can I make a withdrawal? As the blogger concluded:

“If, by some wild miracle, I am incorrect in these analyses, and credit unions are actually a crucial part of our society, then it is high time for me to find one which I can join. Only then will I be able to learn if the credit union idea is an intricate joke. Or, perhaps, the joke has been on me and the time and money I’ve spent in endless battles with my current financial institution.”

Happy April Fool’s Day, unnamed blogger. And take a look at A Smarter Choice to find a credit union for you. Also, watch out for those pranksters…it seems as if they’ll do anything to pull one over on everyone nowadays!

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