Your competition is apathy not a bank

Just one of these obstacles is enough to keep you from growing

Ignorance, inertia, and inattention. Just one of these obstacles is enough to keep your credit union from growing.

And your credit union needs to overcome all three if you are ever going to thrive.


As CUNA President/CEO Jim Nussle told attendees at the Southeast Credit Union Conference, credit unions have a perception problem, which raises concern about their future. In short, he reiterated what most of us have known for years: people really don’t understand “the credit union difference”, don’t even know that credit unions provide the same basic financial services as banks, and are often confused about the terms (union, member, share draft, etc.) used by credit unions. Nussle went on to point out that if credit unions aren’t careful, they might follow the path of community banks, who once had 52% of total assets in 1992, diminishing to only 17% by 2016.

So what can one credit union do about this issue?

Open doors instead of hiding behind them. Stop expecting new members to walk in; go out, say hello, and invite them in. Start with yourself as an example, and build a culture where everyone on staff is an ambassador for your CU. Hold community events in your parking lots. Open your conference room for service organization meetings. Encourage staff to become coaches for youth sports instead of just putting your name on their jerseys. The more your community knows about you, the easier it will be for new people to become new members.

Get involved. CUNA is looking for people to provide input and be part of their CUNA Creating Awareness Advisory Group. While they specifically state that they are not creating a new national ad campaign, this research initiative is supposed to help define CUs on a national scale, in order to help each CU market their unique brand “in a unified, clear, and compelling way.” (A good idea, even if the wording is a bit vague; which is why I’m hoping some of the talented CU marketers reading this get involved and make something happen.)

Take advantage of our free video series. We’ve created a series of five short, sharable videos that each focus on just one reason why credit unions are a better choice. Everyone is welcome to use the videos on your website and share them on social media. Add them to your “About Us” page. Use them in your Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter feeds. All we ask is that you give us feedback. Tell us what your members think. And give us suggestions for more videos, so that we can include them in round two. Or create your own to share.


A recent experiment in the UK gave consumers five different ways to earn higher interest by switching to a different savings account at their bank. All they had to do is download a form, sign and return. It was pretty simple to do, and they didn’t have to switch banks – but only 10% acted on it. While the author suggested that “it might have looked too good to be true“, my guess is that for most people it didn’t seem to be worth the effort.

I’m not saying that people are lazy. What I am saying is that people aren’t going to act on an offer, much less go through the hassle of switching from their bank to a credit union, without a really good reason.

And maybe credit unions haven’t given them a good enough reason yet.

Higher deposit / lower loan interest works for some people, but not everyone. Rate shoppers, perhaps, but as the UK study proved, a few dollars (or pounds) didn’t seem to make much of a difference to the Average Jolene.

Meanwhile, cooperative values are why credit unions started, and these values resonate perfectly with several generations of potential members. Concepts like sustainability, local investment, peer-to-peer, people-over-profits, what’s in it for everyone, and even peace and love have a lot more power and resonance than you may have assumed.

People would rather join a cause than a club. Clubs are exclusive, while causes are inclusive. So discover what resonates with your membership, make that part of your mission, and start telling everyone what you are doing about it. When you have a purpose, people of all ages and backgrounds bring their enthusiasm, allowing you to build something amazing.


If you haven’t noticed, you haven’t been paying attention, and that’s actually the point:

Attention is the new currency.

It’s hard to get and hard to keep, making it scarcer and more valuable every day.

Even when people seem to be constantly watching some sort of digital device, there’s more online content than can be consumed, each piece chunked into ever smaller bits to fit our attention spans. Multiplying media sources seem to be surrounding us, each getting louder and crazier in an attempt to get their stories about celebrities (real and wanna-be), athletes (real and wanna-be), and politicians (real and wanna-be) to go viral.

It’s no wonder that credit unions don’t get a lot of attention. They aren’t usually as loud and obnoxious as everyone else.

Which is a good thing, because according to Kevin Kelly (author and founding executive editor of Wired magazine) people are starting to be annoyed by all the noise, and are beginning to look for intangibles, for something better. Several of Kelly’s points offer opportunities for CUs to bring sustainable attention to themselves, without devaluing their members’ attention, including personalization (just for you), interpretation (support and guidance), authenticity (the real thing) and accessibility (wherever, whenever).

Bottom line, when you treat the attention of your members as the scarce commodity it is, you have a better chance of capturing it.

(H/T to Daniel Latimore at Celent for inspiration regarding the obstacles in this post, and to Bryan Clagett of Geezeo for the quote used in the graphic.)

Kent Dicken

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