Tilting at Windmills

Posted on July 1, 2012


At #ACUC CUNA President Bill Cheney hinted that they were close to putting together a unified credit union marketing campaign. [Great recap of ACUC by CUTimes’ Sarah Snell Cooke] For many of us, this was a long time coming. CUs have a great story but we tell it poorly. If milk and eggs have a brand, CUs should have one too.  LGFCU CEO Maurice Smith challenged Patrick and me to come up with a CU pitch that can be tweeted, so that younger generations will pay attention.  I hope CUNA hits this one out of the park, because we’ve had zero luck so far.

Whenever I think of a national media campaign for credit unions, I think of this picture.

I really don’t envy CUNA’s job in trying to get CUs from all over the country of all different charters, sizes, and memberships to agree on one campaign. Many large credit unions don’t even want to be seen as credit unions and small credit unions are often solely and strictly SEG based, so how can either benefit?  I say any awareness of credit unions is good, but finding the right pitch for everyone is quite the task.

One thing I did come up with while writing this piece started with remembering the phrase:

“Not for profit,
Not for charity,
But for service”

Isn’t this already credit union’s motto?  It was this phrase that partly got me hooked on the CU movement.  It details exactly how CUs differ and how there is a third path in this bifurcated world: CU’s don’t chase dollars, don’t provide handouts, but they do find a middle road dedicated to serving their members.

At nine words it’s quite a bit more wordy than “got milk?” but it does follow the rule of 3 and it also provides a framework for conversations with members.

An example using overdraft:

1) Credit unions are Not for Profit, so we do not act like our bank competitors and charge excessively high fees, nor do we change the posting order of transactions in order to post higher balance transactions first.  This practice causes your checking account to empty more quickly and causes more individual transactions to be overlimit and, therefore, more transactions can be fee’d.

2) However, we are also Not for Charity, so we have to pass some of the cost along to keep the lights on. Additionally, overdrafting is a practice that can lead to financial hardship and our hope is that the fee charged when you do not correct an overdraft might provide some incentive to stop this practice before it becomes a habit.

3) Therefore, we have designed a Service to provide responsible overdraft that requires a commitment on both parties.  Penny Overdraft is our commitment that if any overdraft is corrected by end of day, you will only be charged a penny in fees per transaction.   You must commit to fixing these overdrafts by end of day or we will charge you a reasonable fee to discourage further use.  We believe that this practice will enable us to continue to serve you without penalizing you unfairly.

I’m sure actual sales people could create a better message, but it seems like it could be a pretty effective framework to me.

However, no matter what the message is, it must be consistently applied. If it’s launched and no front line staff know about it, it will still flop. Also, CUs must have demonstrable examples of how they live by that motto. If its one about commitment, then CUs better have benefits tied to longevity and/or usage.  If it’s low rates, they better have legitamately lower rates.


On a personal note, I’m doing most of my writing on CUaware.org now, so go on over and check it out.  I’ve even continued the Top Ten lists.

Also, don’t be surprised if I update some of these articles and repost on CUaware.org.  You’ve been warned, so you can’t call me out on it!

Posted in: Uncategorized