Seeking Top-of-Wallet Status, CUs Offer Customized Card Designs
After merging with First Future Credit Union early last year, San Diego-based California Coast Credit Union found itself with a good opportunity to create a more cohesive card design to help promote its brand, according to Vice President of Marketing Rene McKee.
The credit union decided to take a "coastal" approach, buying the rights to images by a local photographer featuring scenes from San Diego and other areas up the California coast, McKee said.
She also explained another feature of the cards: color-coded bands across the top that help members who have several products quickly distinguish, say, their debit card from their Equityline Visa card.
McKee said the credit union has received a number of positive comments from members about the cards. For example, some members, when handing their cards to sales clerks, have heard remarks like, "That's a beautiful picture-what beach is that?" Others have had people waiting in line with them compliment their card or even say, "Oh, that's my credit union, too." McKee mentioned that a branch employee even told her the story of two Cal Coast members who started dating after they met by noticing they had the same card while standing in line together.
Presenting an attractive image to the world was a central concern for Riverset Credit Union in 2008.
After officially leaving behind its former moniker, Pittsburgh Teachers CU, on Jan. 1 of last year, the credit union needed a new look to go along with its new name. Working with a budget of $7,500, Riverset was faced with the task of rebranding.
The credit union allocated $500 toward touching up its logo. It commissioned designs from graphic designers around the world but ended up choosing an in-house design. The logo's final form incorporates the confluence of Pittsburgh's famous three rivers while paying tribute to the credit union's old triangular logo, according to Marketing Director Trent Mason.
Riverset's new logo can be found on its Visa classic and Visa rewards cards, which cost about $1.50 each to print. The credit union's direct marketing campaign for the cards won a first-place CUES Golden Mirror Award. Riverset mailed brochures to a total of about 10,000 member households and was able to meet its goal of increasing the number of credit card households from 1,868 to 2,154 by the end of 2008, Mason said.
Mason has been very pleased by the effects of his credit union's new card design and marketing campaign. He explained, "These days, people have to have something in their wallets that they're proud of, either because the card has a picture of their family on it, or because it has a neat design. That's where we could play, so that's what we did."
Glenn Schechter, director of credit services for PSCU Financial Services, had some advice to offer credit unions that are looking to improve their credit card strategies. He said that expense is the first area to look at and acknowledged that one of the main challenges of today's world is that crooks are getting smarter. When cards are compromised, some issuers automatically reissue. But that is not always the best action to take, Schechter said-credit unions must consider whether reissuing will make them run out of cards for new accounts.
Quantity management is "a science," Schechter said. Credit unions don't want to have too many cards and have to throw some away, nor do they want to pay exorbitantly for an emergency supply of cards. So what should be done? Schechter advised that credit unions look into what PSCU calls "digital plastics." Keeping blank white plastic stock on hand can lead to an "incredible" reduction in cost because credit unions can then have cards manufactured as needed, he said.
When discussing how many stock digital images a credit union should offer, Schechter cited the old adage, "The more choice you give people, the less response you're going to get." Therefore, he recommended giving members no more than five to eight images to choose from. Allowing members to select the image that will appear on their credit card helps move the card to top-of-wallet status because members will feel an emotional connection to it, Schechter said.
The next step from providing a choice of stock images is setting up a "design your own card" program. This means that a member can have one of his or her own personal photos put on the credit card. Schechter noted that most people pick a picture of their kids, their family on vacation or their pet. Personalizing a card fosters a "visceral attachment" to it, Schechter said, adding that, "Once somebody has that card, they don't want to get rid of it." Even if a member receives a competing offer with aggressive pricing, he or she will reject the offer because people don't want to throw out a picture of their family, Schechter explained.
With personalized cards, attrition is about 20% less than with traditional cards, and use is 130% more, Schechter said, noting that, "People are proud to pull out that card." He commented that the more traditional banks have been very slow to adopt this digital technology. That's an advantage for credit unions, he said, explaining that because credit unions are owned by their members, they don't feel the same need to "protect their real estate" as a bank might.
Credit cards that come with the chance to choose from a range of stock images or use a personal image are an excellent marketing tool for acquiring accounts at the branch level, Schechter said. It gives the credit union employee a chance to say, "Look at this card you can have," which creates excitement, he explained. He then rattled off a list of additional benefits: it reduces the cost to acquire a customer, increases the take rate dramatically, increases activation and usage and decreases attrition. All of this "sums up to a home run," Schechter said.
While some credit unions use service providers to put images on their cards digitally, others have equipment in their headquarters or in a branch that allows them to do it themselves. Schechter pointed out that although the latter option is not inexpensive, it does offer the marketing advantage of being able to tell a customer, "I can make your card while you wait." Overall, Schechter considers digital card technology a "tremendous tool for the industry" and likened it to upgrading from a Model-T to a Corvette.
Schechter's enthusiasm for digital card technology springs from his own career. Before joining PSCU, he worked for a defense credit union where he often faced the "astronomical" expense of emergency card replacement. Because a credit card is not exactly the first thing on the minds of service members in the days leading up to their deployment, they would sometimes lose the cards and need immediate replacements, Schechter said. Digital technology made next-day delivery possible and was a tremendous marketing tool for strengthening the relationship between the credit union and its members, he said. After using the technology initially just to avoid emergency expenses, his credit union eventually began using it for new accounts as well.