How to create organic member growth, even with a small budget

by Sarah Marshall, North Side Community Federal Credit Union

Organic labelling – it’s a development that has evolved slowly and quietly across the nation, and has caught mainstream attention in the past few years.  Consumers want organic produce and meats, farmed nearby and without pesticides.  ‘Locally sourced’ is now a notable label and upscale restaurants boast about farm-to-table menus.  Organic implies healthy and natural, and in the credit union world, organic growth indicates you are doing something right.  Credit unions want organic growth because it means people become members because a real market need is being met. In a world where competition grows fiercer and larger every day, organic member growth can seem difficult, if not impossible to achieve.  It is not impossible.  Marketing dollars help, but even with small marketing dollars growth is possible.  Here are some strategies that have worked for our $9 million credit union in Chicago. In the last nine months these strategies have helped us completely reverse a three year decline in membership.

Be relevant and community based, even if you aren’t a community charter:  Credit unions are by definition, cooperative organizations founded on the principles of people working together. It doesn’t matter whether your charter is SEG or employer based, mutual common bond, or community chartered. Anywhere there is a group of people there is a community.  All communities have unique needs. Identify where your credit union can meet needs of your community, even those that extend beyond financial products and services. Don’t pass up the simple solutions that promote good will toward the credit union. Some employees at our office noticed many female members walk in with young kids, and opened up a space in the credit union lobby for a Little Free Library book exchange stocked with children’s books. Another employee noticed traffic flow was not member –friendly and reorganized office space to make the area more conducive to relationship building. Over time, long-time members noticed the changes, and new members get a positive first impression when they walk through the door. That is the type of place members will refer their friends and family, and word of mouth growth is the best type of growth to attract. People now join because they learn about your service, not your low rates or the most up to date technology. They join based on your reputation for caring about their needs personally, and that is a community a credit union can help.

Everyone is in member services:  Rare do you find a credit union that doesn’t adopt this philosophy. The member comes first, and every employee’s job is to help the member.  Whether that means picking up the phone to help a member with an account question or going above and beyond in service, credit unions have that down.  However, and just as importantly, some of your best strategies may not come from the top of the organization. Listen to the ideas your employees have about member services, and be willing to implement. Have conversations with people at every level of the organization about member service. Not every idea will hit a 100% home run, but each employee touches a different aspect of the member experience.  Having a wide angle view of the organization is a huge advantage, and never discount an idea just because it originated from a new hire or a back office employee. When employees believe their ideas make a difference, employee engagement goes up as well.

Reassess your products:  A crucial question to consider, particularly if you are running a small or medium size credit union, is whether you and your employees are utilizing your institution as their primary financial institution or to access loans or both.  If not, it is time to assess the barriers to accessibility. It is a reality that many credit unions can’t compete with larger financial institutions on rate or technology or convenience, but rarely does that mean there is nothing to compete on. Sometimes one or two small adjustments can be an investment in long term growth.  Loan growth and member growth go hand in hand.  Review your policies to see whether your rates or credit criteria can be adjusted to serve more people while managing risk. Look at your technology and see whether a simple change in a process or a product might make a big difference.  You may not be able to add every technological advance that becomes available, but automating one or two manual processes may free up time to focus on bigger picture projects.  There is significant insight in your own internal utilization, and employee access is a great place to start your organization’s self-assessment.

Get creative! People everywhere still want community and personal service and will come a long way to use your credit union if they recognize you truly want to make your products affordable and accessible.

Sarah Marshall

Sarah Marshall

Sarah Marshall is a consultant in the credit union industry, and can be reached for partnership and speaking opportunities through Your Credit Union Partner. Her background in community development includes ... Web: Details