Answering the Indirect Question

One of the more intriguing credit union marketing problems we encounter is “what should we do with all these indirect members”? To be clear, we’re talking about members who have joined the CU by getting a car loan at a car dealer. Many times, they have only the base savings account and the car loan, and they’ve probably never set foot in a branch. When the car loan is paid off, they vanish.

The numbers vary tremendously, but there are credit unions with thousands of indirect members on the books. Can they (or should they) be “converted” to long-term, participating members? There’s no single solution that fits every credit union, but there are a few “indirect” questions that can help you decide.

Does it even make sense to try?
At some CUs with robust indirect lending programs, indirect members are treated and tracked separately, almost as a CUSO or an investment. They’re a source of steady interest income, but for whatever reasons it’s not considered worth the effort to convert them to fully participating members.

Should we spiff up our welcome mat?
One option is to get serious about onboarding — make sure these members see the CU as more than a place to send a loan payment. Make them feel welcomed and invited with regular contacts (email, direct mail, etc.) during the first several months. They chose your loan mostly because of your great rate, so make sure you “show them the money” at every opportunity, and consider making an extra-super-duper-special offer.

Should we go deeper?
Perhaps it’s worth reaching for the reading glasses and taking a deeper dive into the data. It might make a lot of sense to send targeted, prequalified offers to consolidate credit cards, refinance other auto loans in the household, or refinance mortgages. Or maybe you could tweak your processes a bit to automatically offer a Visa to every indirect borrower.

Can we answer this in the laboratory?
It may take some experimentation to fine-tune your approach to investing in indirect members. You might need to try focusing your efforts on indirect members who live or work close to a branch, since they’re more likely to be open to a closer relationship. Or try sending one set of offers to used car buyers, another to new car buyers. Marketing automation can make it easy and inexpensive to test different strategies and see the responses.

There are plenty more options, and the right answers to the “indirect question” are different for every credit union. But it’s well worth asking — every member you retain and convert from “indirect” to “participating” has a direct impact on membership growth.

When you’re ready to start asking a few indirect questions, please get in touch — we’d love to help you find the best ways to make the most of your credit union’s indirect members.

Brian Wringer

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