People of all ages love their pets

Why you should offer “Furry Friend Savings” and “Vetmergency Loans”

We REALLY love our pets. Now I know that no one will be surprised by that statement. But I was a bit surprised to learn that there are over 65 million dogs and 46 million cats (not to mention 45M fish, birds, reptiles, horses and other small animals) currently adopted by humans. In fact, pets are so much a part of our lives that 80% of owners consider them to be a member of the family, so it is no surprise that someone, somewhere, decided we should even have a National Pet Week.

Also not surprising, is that people of all ages love their pets. Millennials make up the biggest percentage of pet owners (33%), followed by Gen X (25%) and Boomers (24%). Gen Z is currently only at 16%, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they take the top spot as they get married and buy homes.

Personally, I truly enjoy pets. One of my favorite things about where I live is the walking trail by my home, where random dogs will beeline over to me, pulling their owners by the leash, in order to get a few extra scritches from a stranger. Meanwhile, my wife has always been a Cat Mom, so my two sons and I have always had fuzzy felines purring around our ankles – except for one 10-year period where we had a Golden Retriever because our first-born wanted one. I’m assuming that omni-pet-presence may be the biggest reason why that son decided to become a veterinarian.

Pets are expensive family members.

In 2024, owners will spend an estimated total of $150.6B on animals, food, treats, supplies, vet care, boarding, grooming, insurance, training, pet sitting and walking. Vet care is about a quarter of that amount, at $38B, but people seemed to be willing to spend A LOT of money when their furry family members aren’t feeling well. In fact, 78% of pet owners would consider going into debt for their pet, and 22% said they would spend $5000 or more. Over 50% of pet owners said they would use a credit card or dig into their emergency funds, and 14% would take out a personal loan to pay vet bills.

That’s enough money that Big Money noticed.

Investment banking companies have labeled the veterinary industry as “low-risk, high-reward” and the investment community has obviously bought in. In 2011, 92% of all vet practices were owned by individuals. Today, 25-30% of US veterinary clinics and 75% of specialty clinics are owned by large corporations. Since ROI is critical to corporations that sell stock, you can imagine how that is increasing the cost of pet care.

Banks have likewise noticed. Synchrony Bank is promoting their CareCredit card to pay for Animal & Pet care, as well as for human medical, dental and vision expenses. Stores like Petco have their own credit card, and Comenity Capital Bank offers a piece of plastic called an All Pet Card through various pet care providers.

Meanwhile, Forbes and Wallethub are making money from advertisers on pages with titles like “credit cards for pet owners,” and online lenders such as CreditKarma (Intuit), SoFi, and LendingUSA are buying google ads to promote their own financing and personal loans specifically for vet bills.

So what’s a credit union to do?

Simply telling your members to “just get a credit card / personal loan” or “just start up a savings account and call it whatever you want” isn’t really an answer. It’s too vague.

Your members want to be seen and understood as individuals, and since pet expenses are real, everyday issues for some of your members, you should be ready to help. By offering the right credit products and savings accounts, and teaching money management skills (like budgeting for pets, and building up savings for pets), you can make a difference in their lives by offering exactly what they need in those important life moments.

People also like to compartmentalize finances, so creating specific products like a “Vetmergency Loan”, or a “Furry Friend Savings” Account would be a great way to approach that preference. Yes, a “Vetmergency Loan” might just be a relabeled Personal Loan or an instant QCash loan, but your members will remember that they can count on their CU for help.

Plus, by connecting the dots between your financial products and their pets, in both your marketing promotions and on your website, you can demonstrate that you care about your members on a personal level; what’s important to them is important to you. You will also increase your odds of appearing in searches when your members are desperately googling for vetmergency financing options.

Kent Dicken

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