Where are your members checking if they're not checking with you?

How do you market checking when no one writes checks?

Paper checks may be fading, but checking will likely be with us for years to come. And I suspect that the term “checking” will linger long past the time payments are telepathic and humans have stopped chopping up trees to make paper.

After all, that amazing all-purpose portable computer, navigator, and communicator sitting on your desk or in your purse is likely going to be called a “phone” for all time.

Whatever we end up calling it in 2120, the “everyday transaction account” is an incredibly sticky product that forms the core of your relationship with your members, and will always be worth fighting for.

So how do you market “checking” accounts when “checks” aren’t really a big deal anymore?

What is your basic growth strategy?

Are you mostly looking for membership growth via new members, or financial growth through bringing existing members closer? (Or a balance of both?)

Defining your strategy is important because it helps define how you communicate about your checking account, and who you communicate to, and even how the account is designed. For example, is it a “no-brainer” free-for-everyone sort of account, or is there an elaborate structure of reward and activity levels?

Is checking the core of a complete suite of products, or more of an option? How do you look at the total member relationship? Are you prioritizing loyalty or profitability?

What is your timeline?

Switching checking accounts is not a trivial task, no matter what. And with so many automated deposits and withdrawals, well, that’s why they call it a sticky product.

So if you want to grow checking accounts, you have to temper your expectations. It can take a lot of time, resources, and tweaking to start seeing steady results. Plus you have to make it as easy and seamless as possible to ensure there’s no chance of a late insurance payment or missing tax refund.

It takes a lot to get someone to switch, but it can be done.

Where are your members checking if they’re not checking with you?

First, do some research on those mysterious folks with checking elsewhere. Of course your checking account is awesome and amazing, so why do they still have their checking at that other place?

Maybe it’s features, maybe it’s cost, maybe it’s simplicity. Maybe they just don’t know about the amazingness you’re offering. What’s different or missing about their perceptions?

You might have some brand work to do. For example, a lot of members have this idea that their CU is just a sleepy little technologically backward place to keep a Christmas account. Or maybe they don’t know about Shared Branching, and think there are only a few ATMs they can use.

There are also a lot of people who have perfectly good reasons for keeping accounts in multiple places; how can your credit union become part of that mix?

Ideas for selling checking


Cash is the most common tactic, but it’s never that effective. This rarely gets the kind of accounts you want; you have to put so many conditions and delays on the $100 or whatever that only the most dedicated scroungers sign up.

Go for the grrrr. Market to angry people.

No one who’s happy will bother moving their checking account. One good audience for checking is people who are mad about something. You could target people sick of fees and conditions, or who have had service problems. Maybe a lot of people these days are ready for an alternative to for-profit banking. 

This partially depends on your local competition, too. If everyone’s getting treated well across the street, then you might need to try something else. But if you’re hearing about fees or problems, or there’s a merger brewing, it might be a good tactic.

Get ’em young

You can take advantage of inertia by capturing that first checking account. Market to parents and youth with incentives and a nice suite of features to set up their first checking account, then transition smoothly into their “grown up” account.

This can work pretty darn well, but obviously the “payoff” is a few years down the road for the young person. However, if you consider the household as a whole, it can also really cement the relationship with the parents for a more immediate effect.

Unconventional rewards

Interesting rewards can have a lot more impact than just coughing up cash. For example, a reward that goes to some good local cause (or let the member choose) plus a regular “round-up” to keep the feel-good vibes going.

Or just something unusual, funny, silly or interesting. What would make a hilarious, funny, or interesting Instagram post? Differentiation is pure brand plutonium. Maybe if you open a checking account, CU staff will sing a custom Mad Libs style “thank-you” song? (Definitely ask the staff first, though…) Tailor it for your community and your members.

Make switching really actually no-kidding easy and safe

Basically, put together a very thorough process and market a truly seamless experience managed by a “personal credit union-er”.

You could set up a killer online form to collect all the info needed, then back it up with processes, budget, and member services people able and willing to do the legwork and follow ups required over the next few months to make everything as safe and seamless as possible.

Make checking part of a care package

Checking by itself may not be that exciting or enticing, but a suite of products and benefits can be more compelling.

For example, a “Digital Diva” membership might connect the dots between every non-branch product and access. Or maybe folks shopping for home or cars get a “No Closing Costs” mortgage refi or “Deep Discount” auto loan refinance if they move their accounts at the same time with just one more signature.

Checking isn’t going away anytime soon.

As the account most members interact with every day, checking is going to be an important part of credit union memberships and brands for at least the foreseeable future.

That’s why every aspect of the way the account works requires careful attention to make sure it plugs in to your members’ needs and your credit union’s long-term growth strategy.

Brian Wringer

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