Credit unions and prepaid cards: A match made in relationship heaven

Consumers have widely adopted prepaid cards as the “go to” gift during peak shopping opportunities such as holidays, birthdays and graduations. But the versatility of gift cards and their reloadable prepaid cousins in other payment situations makes them a valuable staple on many credit unions’ menu of financial services. The popular cards are great relationship builders and help credit unions engage members who are not eligible for a more traditional credit union account.

Long-time PSCU Member Owner credit unions Vantage Credit Union (Bridgeton, Mo.) and Y-12 Federal Credit Union (Oak Ridge, Tenn.) each offer PSCU’s prepaid gift and reloadable cards to their members. The credit unions have seen first-hand the value that prepaid cards can deliver when it comes to building relationships and serving their members’ needs.

A Member-First Approach to Service

According to Mary Dickens, Manager of Deposit and Electronic Services at Y-12, the credit union has a great relationship with PSCU for its credit and debit programs, so transitioning its prepaid card processing to the CUSO was a logical move. The credit union initially offered PSCU’s prepaid gift and general, travel and student reloadable programs to members and then added their prepaid reloadable EMV program in 2013 to meet the needs of members traveling outside the U.S. The prepaid cards also satisfied a need for some of the credit union’s members who were concerned about potential fraud when making purchases online. In this situation, the prepaid reloadable cards have served as an alternate and lower risk payment method.

The average dollar amount loaded by Y-12’s members on both the credit union’s gift and reloadable prepaid cards is well above PSCU’s averages for other prepaid card issuers. Some of the credit union’s reloadable cards have had as much as $50,000 loaded onto them over time.

Additionally, Y-12 wanted to serve a segment of its membership that did not qualify for the credit union’s checking account product. The prepaid reloadable program allows those members to better manage their balances and offers them the convenience of a payment method that is accepted virtually everywhere. Sales of reloadable prepaid cards have more than doubled for Y-12 since 2009.

Vantage’s initial approach to serving the under banked segment of its membership centered on a “fresh start” checking account for members. When the credit union decided to end that program, the reloadable EMV prepaid card served as a natural replacement service. Katie Bendyk, Card Services and ATM Manager for Vantage, said that it worked especially well for members who set up direct payroll deposit as a source for the funds loaded on the account.

Hard Work Deserves a (Prepaid) Reward

Both Y-12 and Vantage integrate prepaid cards into their employee recognition programs. Y-12 uses some of its reloadable prepaid cards to deliver spot rewards to recognize employees for outstanding performance. The prepaid cards enable Y-12 to express its gratitude for a job well done, and give employees a reward they can use immediately. Similarly, Vantage uses its gift cards in its employee rewards program, which includes a gift card reward for “Collector of the Month.”

Spreading the Word about Prepaid

Y-12 and Vantage both cite member demand as a driver for offering their prepaid programs. The credit unions created awareness among their members about the programs through a combination of digital signage on their websites, content in their newsletters, and in-branch posters, table tents and plasma TV screen displays. For Vantage, the majority of prepaid and reloadable card sales result from in-branch inquiries from members.

Gift card sales for the credit unions usually spike noticeably during the holiday and graduation seasons. Y-12 features its gift cards as ornaments on the Christmas trees it decorates in its branches.

Training and Program Support Keep Staff Informed, Members Happy

Both credit unions took advantage of the in-person and online training PSCU offers for its prepaid gift and reloadable programs. The training was helpful for ensuring credit union branch staff was knowledgeable in how to load funds onto the cards and teaching members how to use and navigate the prepaid self-service website. About 75 percent of loads on reloadable cards are performed in-branch for Y-12; the other 25 percent are managed by members on the MyAccount (prepaid) website. Vantage uses a “train-the-trainer” approach to staff education and conducts periodic webinars with its employees to keep them current with how the cards work and any new features.

The Best Deal in Town for Prepaid Cards

Y-12 and Vantage allow their members to reload prepaid cards with little to no fees, unlike most prepaid card issuers. Neither credit union looks at prepaid as a profit center; instead, they view prepaid cards as a value-added service and relationship builder that meets a need for some of their members.

Because of the credit unions’ member-first approach to pricing prepaid cards, the credit unions’ members who live in the communities they serve have access to prepaid cards at lower prices and fees than their communities’ big box retailers and national chains. As long as they are at or above a breakeven point on the product line, Y-12 and Vantage are happy to continue providing a service that members value and that allows them to be competitive in the market.

Denise Stevens

Denise Stevens

Denise Stevens leads PSCU’s Product Management, New Product Development, Digital Experience, Innovation and Strategic Vendor Alliances teams. Prior to rejoining PSCU in 2015, Denise served as the Executive Vice ... Web: Details