3 ways your credit union can attract younger members

When I help a credit union define their ideal member, what I usually get at first is a wish list: 18-29, credit score of 700 or above, gainfully employed with a high income, tech-savvy…” The list goes on. But as I ask more about this ideal member during a strategic planning session, the conversation often shifts. It becomes less about an ideal member and more about lamenting potential members from younger generations. I hear things like:

“We are now in the Me Decade… They begin with ‘Let’s talk about Me.’ They begin with the most delicious look inward, with considerable narcissism… Whatever [this] amounts to, for better or for worse, will have to do with this unprecedented development: the luxury, enjoyed by so many millions… of dwelling upon the self.”


“Their exquisite clothing, their lax habits and low moral standards, are becoming appropriated by the plastic minds of American youth… Divorce scandals, hotel episodes, free love, all are passed over and condoned by the young.”


“The soul in youth is feverish, and is primarily driven by the love of glory, and luxurious living, and sensual lusts, and many other imaginations.”

Alright, I am embellishing a little. I haven’t heard those exact words from board members, but I have heard words and sentiments very similar. The irony is those quotes aren’t from recent times. The first, most recent quote is from a 1976 New York Magazine cover story—about Baby Boomers. The second quote is from a 1926 town newsletter. And for good measure, the third quote comes all the way back from Book IV of Plato’s The Republic, during a philosophical exchange between Socrates and Adeimantus, written around 380 BCE.

So instead of dismissing or complaining about younger members, how do we reach them? There are three actionable steps required to attract younger members.

1. We were the younger members once

The first step in attracting younger members is to understand that, at one time, we were the younger members. Those three quotes above demonstrate how older generations have always moaned in despair about cultural changes and the youth of their day. Narcissistic, lazy, disrespectful, immoral! Different centuries, same complaints. Each new generation has its own culture: An inheritance reshaped through its own cycles of creativity, exploration, and experimentation. This culture feels foreign to older generations, unsettling, and perhaps even painful. Young people then feel the same in return.

At our age, in our current role as leaders, it would serve us well to recall our own youth. Understand that each generation—while very different in many ways—has always been criticized by the preceding generation. We can’t sit in the boardroom echoing all the same words about younger generations that rang as far back as 380 BCE and expect them to want to do business with us.

2. Reaffirm your “why”

The second step is to reaffirm your “Why.” Why was your credit union founded in the first place? Regardless of company, industry, or group, we all know that credit unions were founded to serve groups of people that traditional financial institutions would not serve. Today, fintech companies abound, and younger generations see them as providing the service that other financial institutions are not. But not every service is as helpful as it appears.

Take for instance BNPL. It seems fast and easy, but as time has gone on, we continue to see alarming headlines like, “The Not-So-Obvious Costs of ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ Plans” and “Buy-now-pay-later apps like Klarna left me in a ‘vicious cycle’ of debt.” Instead of seeing these competitors as “something we could never compete with,” you must change your mindset. Ask yourself, “How can we keep our members from using these services in the first place? How can we help them avoid these mistakes?”

3. Ask, listen, and act

The third step is to just “ask, listen, and act.” Ask those in the age demographic you wish to serve what they want. Actually pay attention to what they say, and then act on it. John Legere, the former CEO of T-Mobile, grew T-Mobile from last in their industry to a strong number 3 that put Verizon and AT&T on defense. About his success, he had this to say: “Listen to your customers, shut the f*** up, and do what they tell you.”

I often see credit union leaders begin the process and “ask,” but then complain about what they hear. “We can’t do that!” they say. “It’s too much money” or “too much risk!” And then it’s back to business as usual, which unfortunately is typically wondering how to increase or retain membership. If you want to ensure your credit union will still exist for the next generation, you must find ways to remain relevant in serving that next generation.

I say again, we must remember that we were young members once. As a credit union leader today, you are likely in a different, probably better, financial position than you were at 21. When I run into a board member or credit union leader that is stuck on the way things used to be at the credit union, I ask one question: “Tell me about how the credit union helped you when you first joined.” I always get amazing stories of many firsts that made a huge difference in that person’s life. I reaffirm that story and then ask why we are so dead set against allowing that same opportunity for the next generation of credit union members.

If we truly love our credit union, we must embrace change and give the next generations those very same opportunities we had as young credit union members. Louise Herring got it right when she said, “We must remember what we started out to do and then find ways to do it with the modern techniques available.” Let’s not forget our mission and the work we have done for decades, but instead let’s continue to evolve to remain relevant to the needs of current generations, so they can enjoy the same benefits we did as young credit union members.


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Bo McDonald

Bo McDonald

Bo McDonald is president of Your Marketing Co. A marketing firm that started serving credit unions nearly a decade ago, offering a wide range of services including web design, branding, ... Web: yourmarketing.co Details