MADISON, Wis. -- Those who have come into the credit union community in the last decade or so know of CUNA's lobbying prowess in Washington, but CUNA also offers products and services to handle credit unions' ever changing business needs as well.
And CUNA Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Terry Costin is out to make sure everyone in the credit union community knows it. "Over the course of the last 10-plus years, there has been a real focus on Credit Union National Association as the trade association and effectively instilling the confidence in credit unions throughout the country that our responsibility, first and foremost, is to be advocates of the credit union system," he remarked. That is still the objective, but CUNA is also working to provide "organizational development tools" to fit various credit union business needs.
"It has always been a very important, but secondary part of the operations. [I'm] not suggesting at all that advocacy doesn't remain a top priority but I think the organization recognized our ability to develop high quality organizational development tools was a very important part of assisting credit unions in delivering on the business needs they have to address the needs of their members," Costin, a former executive with Chicago-based CCC Information Services, a technology firm in providing software solutions to the property and casualty insurance industry, said.
He recalled, "Actually, three years ago, we really did not have the traditional sales function here. We had a very effective marketing operation here that worked very closely with and integrated closely with all of our product areas and one of the gaps that we felt we needed to close was to introduce and instill a solid sales initiative that worked very closely behind the campaign of our marketing efforts."
So Costin helped establish a sales team to complement the marketing efforts that has gotten demonstrated results. Over the last three years, CUNA has seen 9-10% growth across its products and services, which Costin credited to a competent, three-person team "truly embedded into the product areas." He also said he enjoys the sense of teamwork they display.
The sales exec explained that he has spent the bulk of his career on the for-profit side, but credit unions really are not that different than the property and casualty insurance industry he was in before. "They had many of the same challenges that a credit union has as a financial service provider," Costin said. "To deliver financial services to a credit union member is a challenge in that the basic product lines that credit unions offer versus that of other financial service providers are very, very similar."
After supplementing CUNA's marketing efforts with a sales team who spends more than half of their time traveling to credit unions, the organization was able to put real faces in front of potential clients. When they first started, Costin recalled, the credit unions he met with were confusing CUNA with CUNA Mutual, which they share a campus with, so he began telling them he was from "the Credit Union National Association."
On top of that, many were not even aware CUNA offered such services. "People today are over-informated. There's just a lot of flow of information and it's a question of how do you continue to stay visible and keep the focus as it relates to the product or service that you might have that you believe is going to deliver some value added business need for our client," Costin explained.
CUNA uses segmentation in its efforts to rise to the top of credit union choices for products and services. Segmentation, he said, goes beyond targeting, taking those demographics and analyzing charter types to discover behaviors and attitudes of the various credit unions. CUNA will "mine that data to create...the segment of the market that can best receive value from various products and services we have." This also helps them identify most likely clients and use persistence without being a "pest."
The state leagues, too, have a role to play in CUNA's business successes. "We have really parlayed value in doing this by establishing what I think is a much closer business collaboration with the state leagues. They're a very important key to this," Costin said, because they have a better understanding of the individual credit unions and know their needs.
CUNA's business side is comprised of three units. One is the various distance learning experiences, Webinars and schools CUNA provides. "Within the education/training area, without a doubt, the application that has grown the most is what we refer to as our CPD online program," according to Costin. CUNA actually has certified instruction design engineers working on online programs suited to adult education. They are also cognizant of the diversity of the many staffers at a credit union and are familiar with their individual roles and needs.
As distance learning has evolved CUNA has changed with it, he said, from posting test documents online to using streaming video and interactive capabilities. "These are all things that we believe deliver the experience to that staff model, regardless of what their position is professionally," Costin stated, adding that they have seen "almost exponential growth" of credit unions moving their training online.
CUNA's work is not only about educating credit union staff, but also their members so the organization also offers Web-based member education tools that credit unions can customize and present to their members as their own. Using these tools, credit union member can research anything from what a baby boomer should be considering for retirement to how to purchase a first car.
As credit union membership ages--the average age is 47 now, according to Costin--credit unions are keenly focused on attracting young adults. CUNA has an advisory group made up of 18-30 year olds that help them tailor products in which young adults would be interested. On July 31, CUNA plans to launch its new Money Mix Web link that credit unions can use on their own Web site to reach the younger segment. "Money Mix is a tool that a young adult can go out and literally touch and play," Costin explain, though it provides serious financial management education. "At the same time we've integrated a blogging activity that will be introduced as part of this." He said that one credit union, which he declined to name, has already committed to using the product.
CUNA's research and information unit has also been expanded to meet user needs. CU 360 was launched in February 2006, which brought together surveys, national reports, best practices and white papers, not necessarily all from CUNA, into one place. "It's really delivered another dimension to how credit union senior staff look at and gather information as part of the decision process when they're researching a project, a program, an initiative," according to Costin.
The final piece of the puzzle to CUNA's business unit is CUNA Strategic Services, which includes arrangements with 30 different companies. CUNA performs the due diligence and takes advantage of the 8,000-plus potential users to negotiate various price points for a wide range of members and needs. CSS partners include Freddie Mac for the secondary mortgage market, Datatrac for tracking rates, OfficeMax for office solutions, TraceSecurity for multi-factor authentication and security compliance assessments, and many others.
"We evolve what we think are need-based tools from the Credit Union National Association side that are really focused on the professional development of the credit union staff so that they can continue to more effectively interpret and understand what are the needs of their members and how do they best position the value of those versus what another financial services entity might provide," Costin said.
Looking ahead, he said, CUNA will be focusing on a number of fronts from young adults to the challenges of a community charter conversion to new American outreach. As the credit union marketplace and challenges continue to metamorphosize, Costin said, "I think it's going to be continued on our part to make sure that we have the visibility and the recognition that not only does the trade association provide the highest level advocacy, but we're also positioned to provide them with some of the most effective tools to address business needs."