Credit unions are working harder and harder these days to grow. Every week it seems we have articles on credit unions net interest margins tightening, overall membership growth declining, mergers, or success stories regarding credit union growth. To be successful, growth must be viewed as a multi-faceted concept.
Bolstering the depth and breadth of membership is a key piece. Credit unions must embrace all segments of their membership.
Gen Y is important because they are the future of credit unions; much of what this generation does will guide credit unions going forward in their product mix, marketing, and delivery among other things. This group is important to snatch up not only for membership but also for future employees and leadership, both professional and volunteer.
We've run oodles of stories regarding how to market to them, where to market to them, how they prefer delivery of services, and how to provide them financial education. All of these aspects are important to offering them the services they want and need, whether it's student loans car loans or even beginning individual retirement accounts. They also can't comprehend a world without debit cards and are perfectly comfortable receiving statements online, both generating and saving money for your credit union.
These younger members and potential members are the ones who have the potential to generate a great deal of income for the credit unions through their borrowings. And in five or 10 years when they go to buy their first home, they'll remember who gave them that first car loan; you can cross sell that with GAP insurance too.
There has also been a lot of talk about serving the baby boomers who stand to inherit substantial sums from their parents and others. Credit unions need to come up with ways to attract those deposits.
When they sell their homes and downsize, they may not need another mortgage, but the might want an RV loan. Additionally, after so many years of saving for retirement, they are also going to need to learn how to spend those funds wisely once they are retired--this is a different kind of financial education you don't often hear about.
A lot has also been said about providing low-dollar loans and offering wire transfers and cashing checks to bring more of the underserved into the financial mainstream. All of these are admirable efforts, and credit unions will reap many returns from them in the form of new members, new revenue streams, good will and political capital.
These are good vehicles for not only adding new members but getting your hands deeper into the wallets of existing members, both avenues of growth.
Something, however, I don't often hear about is efforts to serve Gen Xers like myself. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe we're the unfortunate proverbial middle child, sandwiched between Gen Y and the baby boomers. I can't imagine we're not profitable--ask my credit union and other financial services providers.
I just got a home equity loan a few months ago from my credit union, which was a great deal for me in two ways. The interest is cheaper than that on the credit cards it paid off. And the HELOC actually reduced my heating bill by paying to replace my home's leaky 40-year-old windows. The credit union is not only earning my interest payments but also my gratitude so that next year when I go to buy a car, I'm going there for the loan.
But I don't only borrow. My son has a savings account there, and I plan to open one for my daughter for her upcoming third birthday; my husband and I also have savings accounts there.
We also have retirement accounts and college savings accounts with another provider, but these are all services credit unions can provide to expand their membership and strengthen ties with existing members.
Some credit unions are also looking for growth via mergers, which has been a touchy subject on some fronts, particularly after the Wings-Continental fiasco last year. I think mergers have generally strengthened the industry as a whole. As Dollar Associates principal Dennis Dollar has pointed out, there are about one-third the credit unions there were in the 1970s but with far greater membership figures, capital and assets. Some credit unions decide on a merger strategy for growth while others are unable to find leadership or change with the times and so merge in the interest of serving their members; it's classic Darwin or Adam Smith.
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