In today’s competitive environment of financial institutions, it’s difficult to stand out from the crowd – especially for the little guys. Big multibillion-dollar credit unions have healthy marketing budgets, marketing teams, business development professionals, sponsorship opportunities, advertising campaigns across multiple channels, commercials, and a strong social media presence. But how do the small credit unions compete and have a voice in such a saturated market?
Be a differentiator. Do something unique that shows you value your members and your community and then tell the world about it!
Some of our credit union clients have implemented very “outside the box” ideas to make them just a little bit different.
Many credit unions offer scholarships. That’s nothing new. Even the small credit unions are able to offer scholarships. But what makes your scholarship different? At a credit union’s strategic planning session last fall, we discussed their scholarship and how they could put a unique spin on it. They’re currently revamping their program to specifically target students attending a vocational school instead of a college or university. Their community has several vocational trade schools, so their objective is to fill a void that a “traditional” scholarship might overlook. Higher learning has become more of a challenge for many. The cost of a college education and no guarantee of a career upon graduation have some students looking for alternatives. This credit union recognizes that by continuing to give back to their community with a unique scholarship offering, they are helping local students follow their dreams!
- One-on-One Home Buying Seminars
Another credit union client has a very unique approach to attract first-time home buyers. The Mortgage Specialist (MS) offers FREE one-on-one mortgage classes to anyone interested in learning what they need to know about buying their first home. Mortgage seminars aren’t that unique, but hers are, because she conducts them individually, one-on-one with a member. Her sessions include reviewing credit scores and the importance of an accurate credit report; how to determine “how much house” they can afford; what costs are involved; and how to be prepared for the application process. The MS personally meets with members at least once, but she continues to work with them as needed. Each “session” is tailored to the individual need of the member. The MS discusses specific details about what they need to do to qualify for a loan, and that might include an additional follow up meeting months later to assess if their credit score or income has improved. This program has been in place for a little over a year, and the credit union is proud to report that one of the first participants is currently living in their purchased home…with a mortgage from the credit union!
- Hand-written Note Cards
Personally, I’m a fanatic about hand-written note cards. Whether it’s a “thank you” note, a “get well soon” note, or a “how are you doing” note, I’m always writing notes. I think it’s a lost ritual in our society of texts, emails, and emoji communication. However, a few years ago at a strategic planning session, we were discussing how a credit union could better onboard new members. What could help the experience? How do we show the new member that we value their business? We came up with the idea of sending hand-written note cards to every new member. The credit union has note cards with their logo on the front and blank inside, and every new member gets a hand-written “thank you for joining the credit union” note card within 45 days of opening their account. Of course, other staffers use the cards for various purposes, but this credit union is hand-writing over a hundred note cards every month to new members!
- Pay It Forward
Another credit union was doing charitable projects throughout the year, but they wanted to develop a strategy for what they were doing and how they were giving back to the community. So they formed a committee of various staff members, and they balance their activities with planned charitable deeds as well as surprise events. We “branded” the group with the name “Sharing & Caring Squad” and designed a logo, and the credit union purchased t-shirts for various events. Regularly, the Squad transports food from local restaurants and grocery stores to the local food bank. Last summer, the credit union hosted a free Shred Day, and they collected voluntary donations for a local charity. This past Halloween, the Squad dressed in costume and visited an assisted living facility. And, they have been known to drop in at the local McDonald’s and hand out $5 gift cards to patrons to “pay it forward” for their coffee or breakfast at their next McDonald’s visit. The activities vary between surprise goodwill gestures and charitable projects and contributions within their community. They have actually had members comment about the Squad’s activity around town!
- Credit Builder Loan
Credit unions are always looking for creative ways to help members build or rebuild their credit. One of our clients offers a Credit Builder Loan up to $1,000 with a term up to 18 months. Loan proceeds are deposited to a special Share Savings Account with a loan pledge for the full loan amount. After six months, the member may apply to have the loan pledge reduced, equal to the outstanding balance of the loan, and can obtain the funds to pay other debt. At the time of application, members are strongly encouraged to add a $10 savings deposit to their loan payment, which most do, to reduce the pledge amount as well as build savings. If a member’s payment is seven days delinquent, the credit union can transfer the loan payoff from the savings account and close the loan. This credit union has helped several members rebuild their credit history with this unique loan product!
Small credit unions are constantly trying to find ways to position themselves differently in the financial institution space. It’s an ongoing struggle for those with limited resources and increasing operational demands. People still want to work with people. Consumers come to credit unions because they’ve heard about the differences between credit unions and banks. They want the personal attention, the recognition, and the feeling of being treated like a person and not a number. Implementing any of these ideas will help reinforce the credit union difference in your members’ eyes.
The power of collaboration and idea sharing has been known to light the fire of motivation to try something new. Hopefully, I’ve given you a little spark to be a DIFFERENTIATOR.