We know credit unions to be helpful, community-oriented and compassionate. We know they keep their members’ financial interests close to their hearts.
But what do people really say about your CU?
A lot of people (and I mean A LOT) have largely experienced financial services as punishment, as trauma. And they feel this way for the same reason that people avoid the dentist, or the doctor.
Overdraft fees. Credit scores. Denials. Checking stress. You’ll have to leave a larger deposit for that apartment. Sorry, you’ll need a deposit of $300 to turn on your electricity. Here’s our secured card; all you need is a deposit of $500. Sorry, we don’t make car loans under $5,000. Sorry, we don’t make loans for tires or car repairs. Every helping hand comes with a free slap on the wrist.
No one wants to hear that they’re not good enough. And from their perspective, this is just what financial institutions do.
So, what if you could re-script that trauma so people don’t flinch and change the subject when they think about “banking?”
Step 1: Make things easier when life gets harder
This Financial Brand article talks about how Affinity Plus, a Minnesota CU, saw its membership grow more in 2022 than in any year of the previous decade. What was their secret? Well, for one thing, they were the first credit union in the state to eliminate NSF fees.
There was certainly some risk involved, but their goals weren’t so short-sighted. You see, Affinity Plus has a membership where more than half of their members fit the “low income” designation. They knew they were making a big move that would improve the lives of so many people, and they paired this move with a smart marketing campaign that helped them grow substantially.
It’s easy to get comfortable and reliant on NSF and overdraft fees for income, but it’s also easy to see why they draw so much criticism. It’s bad enough to see your transaction get declined, so tacking on additional fees just feels like adding insult to injury.
All of this to say, look for changes that will give your members well-deserved quality-of-life improvements. It might seem small, but it could make a big difference.
Step 2: Get connected and get out there
We see a lot of credit unions showing great community initiative, but sometimes even great ideas can result in something that feels less than impactful.
The reality is, a lot of CUs end up with a collection of sponsorships and connections where money is exchanged, logos are printed, and acknowledgements given, but the other really important element seems to be kept in reserve: Time.
The most successful community connections we’ve seen involve someone from the CU getting out of the office and spending time with some real, live people. The connection this creates cannot be overstated, and should not be undervalued. And without it, you simply don’t know what people really want.
It’s sort of unavoidable, but you’re going to have to spend that all-too-precious resource. From in-person events to social media marketing, it’s unwise to expect results without first investing your time.
Step 3: Tell everyone who will listen
Back to Affinity Plus CU, we can’t forget that there were two parts to their success: They made a welcome, people-oriented change, and then they launched a marketing campaign to tell everyone how they were different. You could argue about which is more important, but you can’t deny they needed to do both.
This messaging element can be crucial for two reasons. For one, being overly humble about your more humanitarian initiatives won’t necessarily pay off. After all, it won’t do anything for your CU’s reputation if you keep it quiet, and offers nothing for new members to identify with.
Secondly, advertising your better qualities helps to spread the message, which draws in members with similar values, which continues to spread the message… you get the idea. It’s hard to grow when no one knows why you’re different, and advertising your priorities is an essential part of attracting the ever-necessary new blood to your credit union.
As a final note, something you have to be prepared for is that you cannot appeal to everyone. Or, rather, trying to appeal to everyone often means you appeal to no one. As Chip Filson highlighted in his recent blog post, “The truth is that, to mean something, values always cost you something. Otherwise they’re just platitudes. . .”
If you only help when there’s no risk involved, everyone can see you’re only interested in helping yourself.