The cannabis / credit union partnership: $3 billion and counting

Whether it’s used medically or recreationally, the taboo of cannabis consumption is fading at a dramatic pace. More than 40% of the American population lives in a state where cannabis is legal for recreational use. 

And analysts agree that this number will only continue to rise.

Now that the CUNA-supported SAFE Banking Act has been introduced in the Senate, there’s a strong chance that tight restrictions on financial institutions serving legal cannabis businesses will start to ease up. If your credit union is interested in providing services for these organizations, taking the time to understand this industry on a holistic level is crucial.

Besides staying up to date with regulatory requirements, you also have to consider your marketing strategy. This is a brand new industry that is often misunderstood by newcomers, so starting off on the right foot makes all the difference. With thoughtful marketing and communications strategies in place, your credit union can get a jump start on forming relationships inside a sector hungry for your expertise.

Advantage: You (For Now)

Usually, it’s the Forbes A-listers who are the first in line for new business opportunities. Not this time.

Since large commercial banks operating on a national scale were initially barred from doing business with MRBs, many cannabis organizations have turned to locally-focused financial institutions for help. Since the Goliaths of the financial world don’t have a stranglehold on this sector, your credit union has a unique advantage to get in on the ground floor with an industry that has exponentially grown in a matter of years. 

According to FinCEN, 185 credit unions across the U.S. already provide financial services for Marijuana Related Businesses (MRBs), meaning that credit unions currently manage money for almost 25% of this $15 billion industry. Since credit unions’ main competitors for MRB partnerships are small community banks, the discrepancy in who does business within the cannabis industry isn’t just a numbers game. It’s about community banks’ willingness to rise to the occasion faster than credit unions.

More likely than not, restrictions on banking with MRBs will be eased at the federal level one way or another. Once that happens, the floodgates will open. Before the market gets saturated with more credit unions, local banks, and larger financial institutions, start looking into MRBs now.

Design Takes Center Stage

Some of the biggest international names in design have flocked to the cannabis industry, and it shows. It can be hard to tell the difference between a couture storefront on 5th Avenue and a dispensary in Colorado. 

This may sound surprising, but think about it—emerging sectors rely on public approval to thrive. Every detail counts.

In an industry that faces an uphill battle against negative stereotypes, image is everything. Even in states where cannabis has enough public support to be recreationally legal, MRBs must go through rigorous approval processes on municipal, state, and federal levels just for the mere chance to get their dreams off the ground. It takes discipline, patience, and a keen eye for detail to work in their industry. 

For this reason, MRBs are notoriously picky about who they choose to do business with. If you’re looking to gain the trust of MRBs, you need to follow their lead and look at what first impression you’re giving to audiences, too.

Is your messaging clear, or is it disjointed? What about your logo, your website, or your Instagram stories? The devil is in the details when it comes to design—especially when you’re courting a brand new industry. If this is uncharted territory for your team, consider getting an opinion from an outside source. Brand audits are a great way to get insight into what you’re bringing to the table. 

Deep Roots

Sure, one might prefer a suit and tie while the other may go for Silicon Valley casual, but credit unions and MRBs have more in common than you think.

When legal cannabis debuted in Colorado, it was a credit union executive who noticed that MRBs were sitting targets for any cat burglar looking to make a quick cash grab. Safe Harbor Services was created to keep communities, businesses, and employees safe by connecting MRBs with credit unions and community banks capable of caring for their money. Now, it’s the go-to matchmaker for MRBs and financial institutions across the country. 

This credit union-cannabis connection shouldn’t come as a surprise. Both industries started as grassroots movements, as a way to put power back into the hands of everyday people. These two industries understand the importance of community organizing and steady progress. 

To make a connection with MRBs, you don’t have to know the science behind hydroponics or root systems. You just have to stay true to what credit unions are all about. Embracing this with your messaging can show cannabis groups that your organization understands their goals on a deeper level than most.

Knowing exactly what differentiates your brand from competitors isn’t just about attracting new business. It’s a mindset that you can apply to all marketing initiatives. By priming your organization to dive into new industries, you’re ultimately strengthening your brand for anything that comes your way.

Ben Prager

Ben Prager

Prior to forming Prager Creative, Ben worked with design studios, branding firms and advertising agencies to push great strategy and design for all his projects. His experience with all aspects ... Web: Details