Our time to shine: Redefining consumers’ perceptions of credit unions

Like me, you’ve probably been hearing the same phrase over and over again these last few weeks – “nothing is going to be the same following COVID”. For many credit union leaders, the notion has likely caused a few grey hairs, or at the very least a stress line or two, especially considering all the work your team has put into marketing initiatives and brand development over the years.

While it’s difficult to anticipate what the exact outcomes of this crisis will be, the shift we’ve seen in consumer sentiment toward corporate social responsibility will likely prove to be an important and defining moment for credit unions and the movement as a whole. In particular, the actions your team takes to reposition your credit union and brand in your market following COVID-19, have the potential to redefine people’s perceptions of credit unions forever.

Stake a claim to our authentic difference

A key to building long-term success following COVID-19 will be in your credit union’s ability to build relevancy, trust, and brand loyalty among your members and community. This is especially true as consumers are increasingly taking note of and responding positively to brands who have taken an active role in supporting their employees, customers, and communities during this time of need, according to a new study by Twitter.

This gravitation toward generosity and purpose-driven business practices isn’t likely to end following COVID-19. Businesses and financial institutions will likely be expected to provide more of the same, or else risk alienating their customers/members.

As your leadership team thinks about the long-term strategy of your credit union and how you might pivot your strategic plans to best serve your members, I would encourage you not to lose sight of the unique values and business practices that make credit unions different – our cooperative principles. Now more than ever, it’s time to prove that credit unions are the genuine, authentic advocates we’ve always claimed to be when it comes to consumers’ financial health and wellness.

As Mary Beth Spuck mentioned in episode #75 of The CUInsight Experience podcast, credit unions missed their chance to market their unique differences and expand their market share following the last recession. This time around, credit unions would be wise to market and communicate the hell out of those differences.

Set the gold standard for good business

While staking a claim to our differences is a key priority when it comes to brand strategy and membership development, credit unions as a whole must also remain diligent and steadfast in putting their members’ needs above their balance sheet. This crisis, as well as the recent protests, will likely only exacerbate the demand for public accountability and transparency in business operations and diversity, equity, and inclusivity in employment, and credit unions will need to respond accordingly.

As businesses, especially financial institutions, given the recent Wells Fargo scandals, are increasingly being held to a higher standard of conduct, credit unions may find it worthwhile to take a few notes from the purpose-driven playbook of Certified B Corp. An increasingly popular distinction in the businesses world, these for-profit organizations, which include the likes of Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, Danone, and New Belgium Brewing, have been able to elevate their brand status and popularity to near fanatic levels simply by taking actionable steps to create, implement, and share a better, more ethical business model with the world.

With more than 200 factors taken into consideration to become a Certified B Corp, where do you think credit unions would rank? While credit unions most certainly won’t satisfy all of the factors (no business currently on the list does), the designation provides an admirable business objective and mode of operation that credit unions as a whole should strive toward. In doing so, credit unions will likely see an increase in long-term brand recognition, trust, and loyalty, just like Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, and so many more.

I encourage you to learn more about the value Certified B Corps are adding to the global business economy in this great article from Harvard Business Review.

Aligning your impact goals with your financial goals

Creating momentum for your brand in this new, post-COVID age isn’t going to be easy. While your team’s focus right now is likely on shoring up perceived technological, lending, or service gaps, it’s important to remember that those objectives should fit within the context of your members, mission, and long-term strategy.

Instead of obsessing over short-term product and service offerings or returning loan volumes to pre-COVID levels, credit unions would be smart to first reevaluate where they fit within this evolved marketplace. Specifically, who they are, how they operate, and where they can and should grow in this new business landscape.

Credit unions should make sure they’re meeting their members’ and communities’ basic financial needs, before spending a ton of their members’ money implementing unnecessary new services and promoting expensive loan products.

With nearly 9 out of 10 Americans saying this crisis has caused stress on their personal finances, according to a new study by the National Endowment for Financial Education, credit unions would be wise to implement strategic plans, services, and branding/marketing initiatives that can help their members start living healthier financial lives. This will likely require credit union leaders and boards to think strategically about the demographics of their field of membership, the day-to-day financial struggles of consumers in their service area, and the social and cultural needs of their community.

Among the many things COVID-19 has taught us, we’ve learned that clear goals and focused efforts can lead to amazing results. Credit unions now have an opportunity to apply those lessons learned to redefine consumers’ perceptions and start building positive, well-intentioned relationships in their communities.