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Spreading Savings Stories At Your Credit Union

Originally published on CUInsight.com

Why would someone want to join your credit union? Or keep their relationship over switching to a seamless app-based fintech (or snazzy big bank) platform?

It’s easy to talk about the mission, how members are the owners, and that the institution is not-for-profit. But these tell people nothing useful, nor do they give them a tangible reason to bank there. People think they’re making decisions rationally, but they’re really acting on emotion.

Between my business partner (who’s also my dad) and myself, we’ve dedicated over half a century to providing for credit unions. I don’t share that for accolades (applaud if you’d like), just so you can understand the perspective from which I approach this topic.

Most credit union marketing goes in one of two directions:

  1. Explains what the credit union is, making the assumption this is sufficient to convince someone to want to bank there
  2. Shares what your institution offers, and sometimes even how you do so

The first has no direct bearing on a person’s financial life (yes, I get that it’s what enables lower fees and whatnot, but that’s all abstract and intangible to your target audience). The second is what marketers call “features and benefits”.

There’s no emotional connection to either. Both assume a rational decision-making process, which we know now doesn’t exist.

“Hold up, Joe! We’re a credit union, and our mission is always about the why. We strive to help people create stronger financial lives.” I hear you, truly. But read that again. Where is the emotion focused? It’s not to the individual you’re trying to attract, but rather a “big picture” that’s hard to pin down.

Dollars and Sense

Vegetable Pizza
Well, great. Now I’m hungry.

Think of fast food and restaurant commercials. Do they spend their limited time talking about the mission of affordably satiating everyone’s hunger? No, they feature macro shots of their food items, make you hungry, and probably end with a “by the way, check out all you get for just this much money!”.

Bonus points for implying you’ll have a better social life if you choose to eat there.

So how can your credit union use this successful strategy? Focus on your members’ stories! (Chime does this ridiculously well with buyer personas.)

Our partnership with protection product providers as well as being credit union members ourselves gives us access to some compelling stories…and by stories, I mean, “big dollar numbers that will catch people’s attention”. 

Regularly, I learn about paid GAP claims of $8k, $10k, even $14,000, and more! For the average American, that kind of avoided out-of-pocket expense can be life-changing. Surely worth including in marketing efforts, don’t you think?

Our own vehicle enjoys a bit too much vacation time in the service center. Using a VSC policy purchased at a local credit union, paid warranty claims have exceeded $6000 so far. Yet when we reach out to the institution to encourage promoting their impact, it’s been radio silence.

Talking about your mission is one thing. Showing examples of how that mission of financial empowerment saves members thousands (people like you, dear viewer!) connects emotionally. Plus, choosing to save money sounds like pretty rational decision-making to me.

Make Your Credit Union An Easy Choice

Path Choice
Help more members find the rainbow.

Insurance commercials focus on the ease of filing claims, speed of payment, and how their prices are better than competitors. That’s fine when you already know their products; usually it’s homeowners insurance (basically impossible to get here in Florida) and auto insurance.

Do your members (and prospective ones) even know the insurance products you offer?

And how often is their first and last response to them, “I decline”, on the loan documents?

Instead of talking about how “credit unions are different”, share the stories that will catch people’s attention:

  • How Tasha avoided an out-of-pocket $8,400 expense after her car was totaled (with CU’s GAP)
  • When Steve could get his $3,500 car repair completed for only the $150 deductible (with CU’s VSC)
  • That time when Andy unexpectedly lost his job, but had his $545 monthly loan payment waived for 4 months, when he found another position, relieving the financial stress (with CU’s payment protection)

If your marketing simply said, “our credit union offers GAP, Payment Protection, and VSC, and they’re cheaper than the dealer”, would it generate an emotional connection?

Use your data. Surface the real stories. If you can get the members to tell them, even better.

Sure beats promoting that members get a vote in your operations.

AI Writing Tools: The Coolest…Until They Aren’t

Originally published on CUInsight.

Can you feel it? We’re in a bubble, and it is expanding rapidly. What makes up this enveloping sphere?

AI writing tools. ChatGPT-powered chatbots.

Incredible technology, right? It’s sci-fi, made real! Finally, we have the Enterprise’s computer or HAL…hmm, bad example.

These are impressive tools. But it’s important to recognize what they are…and what they aren’t. Despite seeming incredibly smart at times, these large language models (LLMs) are exceedingly dumb. They’re not AI by any means (it’s a pop term which has now lost most of its previous meaning).

At their core, they are advanced autocorrect and autofill platforms. Yet that can still be useful. I’ll get to how this impacts credit unions and your members, but first, we have to understand what these systems really are. Lots of hype, not enough data.

Sidenote: I am not going into the image generation models here. They exist, they probably have more downsides than benefits, and I make fun little graphics for blog posts with them. I’m also not including their enormous energy needs, which isn’t great.

Better. Good enough?

Keyboard Autocomplete

Take out your phone (if you’re not already using it now). Start writing an email. Notice how it suggests the next word above your keyboard? If you keep tapping an option, you’ll eventually get a run-on sentence that might, or might not, be total gibberish. (iOS 17 will improve that dramatically)

This is how ChatGPT, Bard, or anything based on them works, too. It predicts the next word based on what has already been output. “But Joe, not only did you have a whole interview with ChatGPT, it can do all sorts of complicated things!”

You’re right. And there’s absolutely a place for this technology. We just need to recognize where it does and does not fit.

What makes sense for a ChatGPT-type platform:

  • Organizing tasks
  • Laying out a social media or blogging schedule
  • Adopting a certain tone in a piece
  • Helping write a first draft of code, formulas, or other content
  • Creating frameworks for replicated processes
  • Diving into a topic you’re already familiar
  • Member interactions that are a step above the 1st generation chatbots, but worse than a person

Here’s what you should not rely on these systems to do:

  • Replace copywriters (or anyone, really)
  • Copy/paste content from it for use in any context not explicitly presented as “ChatGPT-generated”
  • Give you answers without having other sources available
  • Get medical advice
  • Use in legal arguments (unless you want to forever be known as the lawyer who presented made-up cases in front of a judge)

Hallucinations: On being wrong

AI Hallucinations
“Trippy” for computers can mean “make stuff up”

My greatest concern with these platforms is that they’re extremely convincing and certain. I’ve had conversations where it assures me the answer is correct…even when I know it is wrong. Gaslighting to the extreme. This ranged from math questions to factual challenges.

In the legal arguments referenced above, ChatGPT convincingly made up cases which never happened. Why? How?

Remember what it is: An autofill system.

The platform recognized how case records look, how they’re formatted, even trends in how they are resolved. Then, it made up its own to fit that mold. They seemed convincing, because to even trained eyes, they looked like how real case citations should appear.

There’s no motivation towards being “right” or “wrong” with a LLM. The goal of the system is to generate the next word, not fact-check itself. Thus, the tech industry came up with a harmless-sounding term for it: Hallucinations.

In other words, when your chatbot hallucinates, it’s creating new “facts” to fit the response. Lying, you could say, but that infers intent. Once again, a chatbot has no “desire” to be factual or not, only provide a response that seems appropriate.

Sidenote: Interestingly, “hallucinate” was originally a good thing, showing how the chatbot could “imagine” itself as a programming language or other platform. The original definition had nothing to do with making stuff up.

Bias

Bias Scales
Facts aren’t always facts here.

There’s also a danger of bias. While questions about Stalin mention the massive loss of life and human rights violations, it does not for current world leaders. Once again, it’s because the responses are created from content accessible online.

If certain people, policies, or ideas are associated with a lot of disinformation or propaganda, you can bet it will be reflected in answers. Without context or note. What exists, persists.

The Growing Bubble

Expanding Bubbles

Ok, with some background, we can now go back to the bubble. You have noticed just how fast ChatGPT became, well, everywhere. And every tech company (besides Apple) has thrown their shirt into the LLM game as well.

Microsoft has shoved ChatGPT (they invested billions) into Bing search. Google has Bard and is also testing “Search Generative Experience”. Nearly every smaller tech company I know is launching an “AI feature” of some kind, be it Canva, ActiveCampaign, Spark, Adobe, Zoom, and many more.

When a single product concept expands this quickly, across that many industries, I see a bubble. Eventually, interest will stagnate, people will tire of the “convenience”, and these generative chat systems will settle into a more permanent, and subtle, part of our tech world.

I hope.

Of course, the companies profiting from them want this bubble to grow forever.

Google wants to replace web links, keeping you on their sites (and seeing their ads, if you’re not using an adblocker). Nvidia, the graphics card maker powering many of these systems, is keen for it to grow, as they get to sell more units, following the crypto crash (using their cards).

Little players don’t want to seem laggards, so they launch things as well. They’re typically generators for writing or content layout. If these help your overworked marketing team, awesome.

The rush to fake “AI” is a bubble, and running too fast has consequences. Take care with anything you read, see, or hear. You can be sure unscrupulous actors will be using these tools to further drive their agendas and create the illusion of fact or reality.

Your Credit Union

Person and Robot Doing Work at Desk
Work together to unleash your creativity!

We’re here, as promised.

Even after all these cautions, for any credit union not yet using these LLM platforms, I’d still ask, “why not?” Their use cases are substantial, so long as you do not share your member or internal information with them (most systems add that data to the model).

To me, it’s the mundane, repetitive tasks where these systems shine. Need to figure out Excel formulas for some data calculation? Ask (then check to make sure they really do what it says). Want a marketing strategy for a promotion with a rock ‘n roll flair? Describe it.

If you have a blog that suffers from a lack of content, and you have no desire to create quality human-generated material for it, guess what? Your neighborhood LLM can help. Plan out a post schedule, get topic suggestions, and then draft out ideas.

My recommendation would be to create better, human-written, more relevant, and impactful articles, but if that’s not an option, ChatGPT is there.

Human or ChatGPT?

I read a lot of content in our industry. Not all pieces are stellar. Sometimes, on the particularly terrible ones (that I know were written by a human), I create a short prompt for ChatGPT to replicate. Then, I send both results to a friend to play our game: Human or ChatGPT?

Over half the time, we agree the GPT one was a much better article, even if we could recognize some of the LLM traits.

For any institution using staff resources to write these posts, I ask: When a free chat system can do better, why would your members care?

Here’s what you should do

Zooming in On AI Computer
Watch for progress!

Keep a close eye on ChatGPT and other LLMs. Watch the field to see progress, as well as challenges. Understand the benefits and downsides. Talk to your staff to learn if and how they are using them in their own life.

Through your day, make a point of asking one of these writing tools to compose what you have to do next. Get better at clarifying your request to the system (Side-effect: You get better at explaining what you want!). Compare what it creates to what you made.

If it’s as good or better, with no concern of “hallucinations”, use it moving forward!

I’ve commented on LinkedIn how we will eventually get to a point where so much content is generated that the new trendy thing will be to have a human make it! Bubbles and cycles.

Remember, like every other new technology, LLM chatbots are tools. A hammer can be used to bang in a nail or hit someone over the head. It’s up to the owner to decide the use-case. Take the same approach with these. Also please do not hit anyone over the head.

And to send us off, here’s a ditty from ChatGPT:

In the realm of finance’s digital tide,

Credit unions embrace tech as their guide.

With ChatGPT’s aid, they forge a new way,

Empowering members, trust paving the day.

Together they thrive, on innovation they ride.

ChatGPT

Credit Unions Already Lost. So, How Do They Win?

Originally published in CUInsight.com

Raise your hand if your credit union is a leader in digital offerings. Keep that hand up if your members agree. Finally, hold it just a little longer (you didn’t expect this article to be a literal workout!) if your local community agrees.

Of course, I’m just writing on a page, so my presumption of response is just that, a guess. However, I can wager no one held their hand up the whole time. This may shock you, so grip your phone tightly, but credit unions…aren’t digital banking leaders. Then what group is?

Digital banks and fintechs. And, frankly, it’s not even close. To rub it in just a bit more, they also won the race for younger, tech-savvy generations.

According to Cornerstone Advisors research, “[m]ore Gen Zers and Millennials call a digital bank their primary checking account provider than those that consider a community bank or a credit union…combined.”

That data point bears repeating:

More people 40 and under use a digital bank for their primary checking than every credit union combined. 

Maybe credit unions just need to work on their marketing. Members love dealing with the best not-for-profit financial cooperatives around! Right? Wait, right? Oh no, not here too!

Turns out, member satisfaction with credit unions is down, and has been on that path for a while, especially with Millennials and Gen Zers. Interestingly, member satisfaction levels fell for credit unions at the same amount as digital banks grew their satisfaction levels (around 2%).

In other words, people who make up the bulk of the population (and more moving forward) prefer digital banks to credit unions. The biggest reasons? Lack of satisfaction with “online banking capabilities that are easy to use” and the credit union being “easy to deal with”.

What is a humble credit union to do?

Mission

Group of Young Men Together
They just want connection and simplicity.

Yes, mission.

Just not the way you may think. GAC and other gatherings bring together credit union lovers to celebrate driving their mission of financial education, inclusion, and empowerment. But, given the data, that’s either not what people want, or it’s not getting across.

Otherwise, credit unions would be the dominant banking option of choice, right? Which means there’s a disconnect.

I’d bet people do want these things. It’s why they use digital banks, which make managing savings, spending, budgeting, debt elimination, and investing easy. With a bit of education, apps guide users to take positive steps with their own money.

In other words, they help more people take greater control of their financial life. Financial empowerment, you could say.

How is that not the credit union mission?

Combined with community impact, it is the mission. Which means people want it, but don’t feel they’re getting it from credit unions. Or to do so, have to deal with disappointing digital services. Something’s gotta give.

Claim Your Measured Mission Identity

Table of People with Phones and Laptops
Working together through technology.

So what’s missing? Obviously, first, you need quality digital options. You won’t be able to build them yourself. Partner with great providers. Ensure everyone has APIs so it all talks seamlessly and makes members and staff lives easier. I’ve covered that before.

Tech in hand, that’s not all. You still need something else. Branding and connection. Let’s achieve that in two, highly simplified, steps:

  1. “Measure your mission.” My CU Geek posts called for this concept numerous times, but when Anne Legg spoke the phrase in a recent chat, I had to give her the credit.
  2. Claim your identity. A common concept for my loyal readers, but, once again, someone else explained it more clearly than my dozen posts did. Jackie Brown of JB Collaborates suggests you “discover your individual credit union’s true identity”.

And step 3? Well that’s spreading the word, through actions made obvious in the previous two exercises. If you did them right, and continue to tweak as you go, the outreach will stem from self-appointed brand ambassadors: Your members.

After all this effort, will your credit union attract back all those people already lost to digital banking platforms? Probably not. But you will stem the tide, while building existing relationships and engaging the community, inspiring others to join.

In other words, shore up your digital offerings. Once you’re directly competitive and comparable to digital banks in people’s minds, the community focus shines through. And that’s where you excel.

Credit unions won’t make every person a member, but they can make a positive difference in more lives. And after all, isn’t that the mission?

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