After years of hard-fought litigation, credit unions around the country are breaking out the champagne. The NCUA officially amended its Field of Membership (FOM) rules, which will allow many credit unions to expand. Although this is an exciting development, it isn’t the end of the road. In fact, it’s just the beginning.
Winning the right to expand your credit union is one thing.
Getting people to switch to your institution is another challenge altogether.
When attracting newcomers, perhaps the biggest mistake financial institutions can make is simply sending their boilerplate and regular marketing materials into new targeted areas. If you want to make the most out of this opportunity to serve more members, strategy is key. The fine line between successfully reaching new audiences and muddling your brand identity is a hard one to gauge without the right plan in place.
Get Your Columbo On
Do your research. This sounds like a given, but you’d be surprised how many skip over such a crucial step. Despite what Buzzfeed listicles claim, there’s no such thing as a singular, homogenized region of the country. A few miles, or even a couple of city blocks, can present a dramatic shift in residents’ financial priorities and overall culture. Some of these differences are lighthearted, like New Jersey’s great Taylor Ham vs. Pork Roll debate, while others are more involved, like the 10 counties in Colorado pushing for independent statehood.
Your expansion into a new region is many residents’ first impression of your credit union. If your debut marketing campaign rubs people the wrong way, it’s an uphill battle to change people’s minds for the better. Read local news bulletins, see what local legislation is up for a vote, and make sure to check out what the 2020 Census says about the area once it’s published. Chances are larger financial institutions aren’t taking such a tailored approach to their expansion plans, so your locally-minded strategy has the potential to stand out from theirs.
Taking the time to do a deep dive into the cultural, political, and social landscapes of a region shows that your staff cares about the members they serve. That, in itself, is what credit unions are all about.
Your Knowledge Isn’t Their Knowledge
Chances are, your leadership team lives and breathes everything “credit union,” and they have for a long time. At any nonprofit organization, key decision makers must have a deep knowledge of their industry. But, when it comes to marketing strategies, that can spell danger.
Although it’s internally crucial to have leaders focused on finance and banking, it’s easy for experts at credit unions to assume everyone has this same level of knowledge. Nothing could be further from the truth. According to a survey conducted by students at Duke University, 76% of undergrads do not know what a credit union is.
We repeat: seventy-six percent of young adults don’t know what a credit union is.
Let that sink in.
But, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. In fact, this is an opportunity. The same investigation indicated that once younger adults learned the differences between credit unions and banks, their reactions were overwhelmingly positive. One respondent even said, “What’s the catch? Is there no catch? Why wouldn’t everyone use a credit union?”
Limited membership numbers in younger age groups don’t indicate a clash of generational ideals between the youth and credit unions—it’s simply a lack of knowledge. If you’re looking to expand your membership reach, think about targeting regions or workplaces with an influx of recent graduates. College towns, tech companies, and up-and-coming neighborhoods are probably craving what credit unions serve.
Use this as a chance to educate potential members about what credit unions bring to the table. Campaigns emphasizing what your institution does for its members and the surrounding community will stick in the minds of those new to nonprofit banking. When you assume everyone knows what credit unions are, you’re missing an opportunity to turn newcomers into lifetime members.
You’re Not The Only One
Remember, NCUA’s latest FOM rule impacts not only who your credit union can serve, but also who other credit unions can serve. A new consumer survey published in early August revealed that 1 in 5 Americans plan to open a new savings or checking account within the next 30 days. Additionally, 1 in 10 Americans aim to consolidate their debt and/or credit cards in this same time period. These results combined with the new NCUA FOM rule means that there’s huge potential for growth—as long as people know who you are.
Like mergers, expanding membership eligibility gives your team a chance to consider the overall effectiveness of your branding strategies. If you aren’t getting the results you need, think about doing a brand audit. Having an outsider’s perspective on what your marketing does and doesn’t do effectively can give you the insight you need to reach new and current members successfully. Brand audits can also offer a comprehensive look at what your competitors are doing, which means you will know how to differentiate yourself in the future. With clear, unique messaging on your side, standing out from the crowd stops being a goal and starts being a standard for how you reach audiences.
When a door opens to a big opportunity, seizing the moment to shine doesn’t last forever—especially if that door is also open for others. With an open mind and plenty of knowledge on your side, your credit union can thrive alongside this latest regulatory revelation from NCUA.