The ‘Give and Take’ of Credit Unions

Yes, I know you give them excellent products and services: online everything, mobile this and that, P2P, 24/7 call center, ATMs galore, rock-bottom rates, etc.

by. Mike Lawson, DML Communications & CUbroadcast

Yes, I know you give them excellent products and services: online everything, mobile this and that, P2P, 24/7 call center, ATMs galore, rock-bottom rates, etc. But do you give them any financial guidance or are you just a teller transaction? Do you make yourself a resource or are you simply an ATM exchange? Are you their go-to money expert or just a monthly statement?

For most members, your credit union simply being their financial transaction depot is just fine with them – which results in a perfectly fine, superficial relationship. And isn’t that what many people have these days in our passive/aggressive online world? Your credit union now fits that surface-only, social media network mold. Hopefully not.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big proponent of social media. But how close can your credit union get to your members via Facebook and Twitter posting low interest rates and mobile remote deposit service promos? Social media channels are fantastic announcement tools and conversation starters, as you can connect and provide members with valuable information that can help them in their financial lives. But there’s a lot of online noise with which to compete, as the digital divide keeps your members at arm’s length. To truly help people, give them something they can use that’s empowering.

In the financial realm, that’s educational guidance, practical advice, “how to” steps – useable information that changes behaviors. What do you do now when a consumer signs up to become a new member? Perhaps the status quo:

  • here’s your checking account
  • here’s your savings account
  • let’s refi you auto loan at a lower rate
  • here’s where all our ATMs are located
  • here’s our other services

That’s all fine. But, again, these services are mostly transactional activities. They aren’t life changing. Although, for many, having a checking account and/or savings account is a pretty big deal, so I won’t belittle that point.

The real point, however, is that many people need financial guidance – along with getting that checking or savings account. It’s not just low-income folks who may need assistance (and many don’t by the way); even the on-the-surface, white-collar individuals who seem to have it all together need help. Many of those upper-crust folks are up to their earlobes in debt trying to maintain a lofty lifestyle. In reality, they need help.

It’s safe to say that a lot of people out there in any asset category need financial assistance. I would say a vast majority of us do (me included!) – especially when you have federal and state governments positioning themselves as over-spending, debt-laden role models. Remember that Nike commercial with NBA star Charles Barkely proclaiming: “I am not a role model”? Perhaps, the government should have one of those spots, as well, proclaiming it is not a smart financial role model for Americans.

But I digress – but not much. Perhaps your credit union can play a role.

One credit union, for instance, that has taken a proactive role is Pelican State Federal Credit Union in Baton Rouge, LA. Pelican State’s CEO Jeff Conway has taken it upon himself to have all his employees certified as financial counselors, so they can spot and help members who may need financial assistance. Since his entire staff is trained, any employee at any touch point within his organization can help. This step is what I mean by playing a larger role in helping your members. Through this training, Pelican State is giving its members tools that will empower them to succeed. The credit union is now a primary financial resource (PFR) – not just a PFI.

But you don’t have to go to the lengths of putting your entire staff through a financial counselor training program to make a difference – although, it would be nice. It can be as simple as providing practical information to help a member get out of debt, get a mortgage loan, investing advice, insurance options, etc. I rarely see this helpful information from financial institutions. What I do see is “bank with us” type of messages. In other words, “let us take your money and keep it here”. Many FIs simply promote loans, credit cards, debit cards, etc. that prompt consumer spending and generate money for the FI … take, take, take.

Conversely, let’s look at a few easy gives:

  • Imagine a consumer signs up – online or offline – to become a member at your credit union (take) and you provide them not with a “thank you” but with a “thank you” and “by the way, here are “5 Steps to Build Wealth” article or video (give). Now, that’s cool. That’s something valuable I can use right away and prompts me to look to my credit union as a bonafide PFR – not just a financial transaction venue.
  • Imagine when a member applies for an auto loan at your credit union (take) and you provide them with all the loan information but also give them “10 Rules on Risk-Free Car Shopping” article (give) or a “5 Reputable Repair Shops in Town” list (give).
  • Imagine when a member applies for a mortgage loan (take) and you provide them with all their loan information but also give them “8 Tips to Get Pre-approved for a Mortgage Loan” or “6 Ways to Get the Best Mortgage Loan You Can Afford” articles (gives) or lists of reputable, local realtors, inspectors, movers, area schools, etc. (gives).

It’s all about creating added value. Most anybody can do transactions. But when you provide your members with a simple, practical financial guide/article or go to the lengths of training your staff as financial counselors, that’s the extra “giving” step that develops a lasting bond between your credit union and your members. That’s what keeps them coming back. You have gained their trust for future business because you are a reliable resource.

There’s a reason why financial self-help books and magazines are so popular today. People are looking for answers. Why can’t your credit union give it to them?

Let us know what you’re giving your members?

Mike Lawson

Mike Lawson

Mike Lawson; principal of the marketing firm, DML Communications (, and host of the credit union industry’s only online video talk show, CUbroadcast; has more than 20 ... Web: Details