Even the smoothest credit union merger is a whirlwind of details. Of course, making sure the accounts transition smoothly is job #1, but merger partners also have to pay close attention to personnel, cultures, regulatory requirements and all the rest.
No wonder it’s so easy to forget something very important – your members. Communicating with the members of both merger partners early, often, and clearly throughout the process will help ensure the smoothest possible transition.
And that means that Marketing, your communication and brand experts, absolutely must be a core component of planning any merger.
Budget like you mean it
Keeping members happy and in the loop will take a serious commitment of cash and attention. Make a plan from the start to cover everything you’ll need for the merger. And don’t forget – marketing will also need to keep the growth engine running while you’re in the merger process.
That’s at least three times the usual work, so unless you have a cloning machine, you’ll need to lean on trusted, experienced partners (ahem) to get everything done and keep everything running. Work with us to put together a smart budget with enough time and attention to get everything done.
And cover all those marketing details, too – what’s your plan for merging two websites? Two brands? Will you be re-naming or rebranding? What will that cost? Do you need to put it to a member vote? Can you do that online, or does it have to be paper? What’s that going to cost?
Don’t be hasty
One rule of mergers is that members always hate the idea the first time they hear about it. People don’t like it when things change. That’s just normal human behavior.
They’ll need time and repetition to get used the idea and to get on board. Plan on at least three months if at all possible. Six months might be better.
And if you need to have a member vote to approve the merger, don’t just spring it on your members out of the blue. They’ll automatically vote “no”, every time. Communicate, communicate, communicate so they know exactly why the merger is a good idea, and give them time to get used to the idea and ask questions before asking for their blessings.
Get loud and proud ASAP
Sure, merger discussions and planning have to begin in private. But the second the Boards decide to move forward, turn the marketing machine up to 11.
Tell the members of both credit unions why this is such a fantastic idea, in simple, clear terms. Dump the corporate-speak; banish the word “synergy” from your vocabulary. Explain how they’ll directly benefit from a larger member base, more services, economies of scale, etc.
Make it clear that benefitting the members is the primary reason for the merger.
Make your website the merger info hub
Set up a new page or section of your website for merger matters, and keep it frequently updated, exhaustive, and up-to-the-minute. Use FAQs and video to explain what’s going to happen and when and how. Make merger news the top link on the home page for the duration.
Don’t sugar coat
If there are downsides or bad news of any kind, get it out in the open ASAP and address the issues as thoroughly and simply as you can. For example, if you’re closing a branch, make sure local members know there are good reasons, and where they can go instead, and that their favorite tellers will still have jobs.
If account numbers, checks, or cards are changing, tell them exactly how the process works and how you’re making sure nothing falls through the cracks.
Address fears and concerns head-on
In the corporate world, people are used to predatory mergers, so you’ll need to be ready for questions along these lines. Some common questions include:
- Is the larger CU “buying” the smaller one?
- Is this going to be a combined CU with a new name?
- Are you turning into a bank?
- Is the CU in trouble or going bankrupt?
- Is my money safe? Is my mortgage going to be sold?
- Is the CU going out of business? Selling out?
- Am I going to need new checks or new cards?
- Is this going to cost me anything? Will fees increase?
- Will everything keep working?
- Will my account get shut down?
- What will happen to my loan/credit card/ mortgage, etc. ?
- Will my account number change?
- Are online banking, the app, phone numbers, routing numbers, etc. changing?
- Are you closing any branches? What about my favorite branch?
- What about the staff? Are you going to lay off anyone? Is my favorite teller going to be OK?
- Are the Board or CEO are getting big payouts?
- Who’s going to be in charge of the CU? What’s happening to the CEO, board, management, etc.?
- What if there’s a problem with my account after the merger?
- Are you going to shut down for a while?
- What’s going to happen to the name or heritage of my CU?
- Is everything going to get more impersonal and corporate? Are you going to start acting “bigger”?
Get your staff on board and up to speed
Don’t forget your internal audiences, too. Staff will need time to get used to the idea and ask questions. Make sure everyone is up to speed before they’re in front of members trying to field questions.
And pay close attention to how the merger is going to affect staff. Will pay and benefits change? Will anyone have to change jobs or locations, or get laid off? Will there be extra training? Will they have to change vacation plans? They’re going to be worried; make sure they will see benefits too.
Involve Marketing in culture and brand planning
This isn’t just an “Executive thing” or an “HR thing”, or something you leave to chance. A strong brand in action is the sum of every decision, every day. Culture and brand are fundamental, and you have to deliberately plan how the new “blended” brand works. What’s the same? What’s different, and how will our decision-making change?
A successful, smooth CU merger depends on member, volunteer, and staff buy-in. A strong communication plan will help ensure that the new “blended” credit union is stronger than ever, and maximize the benefits for the members.
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