Credit Union Geek

Marketing, Strategy, and The Force by Joe Winn

Tag: member services

Your Mission Demands It

Originally published on CUInsight.com

Why does your credit union exist?

Go ahead and think about it for a moment. I’ll wait.

Is it to provide safe storage and management of your members’ money? To help those in troubled financial situations? Maybe it’s to create a community of similarly-employed citizens.

Whatever your reason, it should matter. If your purpose for existence is just another version of Wells Fargo’s mission, then why even bother? (For reference, this is their vision statement: We want to satisfy our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially.)

So what makes your credit union different? This seems to get lost in the day-to-day of marketing pushes, car sales, core conversions, and more. It’s a question only you can answer.

Here’s an idea:
We exist to provide top-of-class financial services, education, while offering a unified voice in support of our members’ best interests. 

You probably aim to achieve the first two parts today. Ask yourself: How are your financial services? Would you bank there? Even better, would you encourage friends and family to do so? (Then why aren’t you referring them?!) Financial education is crucial to every member, yet few have the knowledge needed to maximize their savings potential. I’m sure you do what you can to help educate them, right?

And then there’s the last part: “Offering a unified voice in support of our members’ best interests”. This is where it gets fun.

Ask a credit union or industry trade group to support the tax exemption and you get cheers all around. They’ll “hike the hill” 5000 strong to demand “common-sense regulation” that reduces the time and financial burdens on credit unions large and small (but primarily the latter). If you are fighting for survival, then you’re automatically fighting for your members, right?

Not. Even. Close.

I support the tax exemption for credit unions. I also agree treating the vast majority legislatively the same as a national bank is unnecessary. Theresa in compliance cannot possibly provide the same level of, well, anything, that the 200-person team at Bank of America can (and should) offer. Of course, we’re getting sidetracked. I said, “members’ best interests”, not credit unions’. And it’s where we are doing a disservice to 1/3 of Americans.

The next few posts will dive into, issue by issue, areas where credit unions have a responsibility to speak out in support of their members. You’ve already seen my take on Net Neutrality (and my interview in CUtoday; many thanks to them for the focus!). Next up: The allure of Free. Then payday lending. And taxes. With a dash of de-regulation for extra flavor. Because what you don’t have to do can still hurt your members.

Credit unions and their lobbyists love to talk about how they are representing a large portion of America. It’s about time they use their voice to improve peoples’ lives.

To Make A Difference, Be Different

Originally published on CUInsight.com

What appeals to you more?

Get a lower interest rate! How much lower? Nearly 3%!
Or
Remember the milk, we’ll remember your rewards.
Or even
Buy what you need. Support the causes you love most.

Let’s face it. People aren’t good at math. It’s an important challenge the credit union industry is tackling with financial literacy programs. Commendable. However, I would bet most people will still sign up for a credit card with a few percent higher interest rate if it means they can get back a few percent in rewards. “They’ll even out in the end, at worst,” may be a common thought.

And rewards are just the beginning.

You’re a credit union. Community engagement is part of your DNA. Show it!

Just take a look at our friends up north. I spoke with a representative from Vancity Credit Union in Vancouver about their credit card program. Why? Because it is different by a long shot.

Not only do their members receive rewards, depending on the level of card chosen, but the entire program is a staple of the community. But don’t take my word for it! Here’s how the spokesperson for the program described it to me (emphasis mine):

“What we do is take 5% of our profits on Visa card products and put it into the enviroFund Grant Program. Being a credit union, we donate all our profits back to our local communities through our grant programs and member rebates. This 5% is just part of what we do and is another way members can choose to support environmental issues through the credit card they use.

We use the funds to address local environmental issues in our communities. Right now we are in the middle of a 5 year campaign focusing on building a sustainable local food system. In the past (as the enviroFund has been going since 1991) we have addressed other issues such as air quality and transportation, toxics in our environment, water issues, green buildings, wildlife preservation and ecosystem restoration to name a few.”

It’s ok if you feel a bit overwhelmed. “But they’re a really big institution, Joe!” That’s fair, and I raised that point to them. They explained how it is related to a percentage of profits, not the total funds. Therefore, a small institution could run a program with smaller investments, but no less impressive impact.

Take, for example, Christian Community Credit Union.  Their “Gives to Missions” cards support a variety of community efforts using a portion of profits from interchange fees.  From disaster relief to college scholarships, their members have supported a to-date donation total of over $4 million! Oh, and cardholders receive rewards for every purchase, as well.

A recent blog on A Smarter Choice discussed the perks of using a credit union credit card. All of them revolved around the boring rates. It’s true, they are lower, yet wouldn’t it attract more attention if you spoke of building playgrounds in your city and returning rewards to your members?

If we talk about being a smarter choice, shouldn’t we be smarter about how we promote our own programs and services?

Say My Name!

Last March, I composed a post called A Loan By Any Other Name. The thesis was that as long as your members embraced your services, who cared what they called them? You could be, “that car pay thing”. As long as the auto loan was paid each month, specifics didn’t matter. I’ve decided to revisit the topic after learning more about partnerships and the co-op environment. Whereas in that discussion, I addressed product names, here we will look at the name use of the entire institution.

What’s in a name? I suppose about the same as a motto. What’s the motto? Nothing, what’s a motto with you? (I can’t resist my Disney references)

Nearly all of our partner credit unions have undergone a name change at some point in their history. Sometimes, it is to reflect a new affinity group or open charter. Other times, it is to clarify their mission to the membership and community. Most are good, some, fantastic. Is there an inherent benefit to a stylized name over “Such and Such Community Credit Union”? Depends on market coverage, size, and other factors better for your board to address than me.

The important part of your name is that it gets used, and in the right situations.

Think of a company with which you’ve had unsatisfactory dealings. Now say their name out loud. How do you feel? Uptight, frustrated, angry? What about a company you love? Don’t be shy, speak up! Better? Perhaps even the sound of their name made you smile.

Which reaction do your members have when vocalizing your credit union? Or worse, do they not even know?

Your members may see your name in different ways. Some, as a bill pay entry only. Others, their financial family. With a bit of networking on your end, that name can gain some serious value!

If a member uses your name in a positive light, that’s a referral, and it holds tangible value. Building on the stories in “Credit Unions, Spelled C-o-m-m-u-n-i-t-y“, helping each other comes by working together. Seek out responsible businesses (and fellow cooperatives) in your local area. Work out incentives your members can receive just by saying your name. Perhaps it’s 10% off dinner or a complimentary admission to a local museum. In return, offer new member programs for the staff or volunteers at these venues. Be creative in the arrangements! At the end of the day, both sides benefit, and your name spreads with a smile.

The next time they say your name could be for a home mortgage.

Image credit: lifeingroup5.com

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