After 100 years and with 90 million members, you'd think lawmakers would be bowing to the pressures of the credit union movement. Not hardly. Credit unions are still regularly left out of legislation pertaining to them, such as the Consumer Financial Protection Agency provision regarding federal preemption-or the lack thereof. Further, the good actors are being caught up with the riff-raff when it comes to overdraft legislation, the CARD Act and other reform matters that have a negative impact.
Worse yet, the vast majority of potential credit union members, and even existing members, don't know what a credit union is or what it does. I'm not talking about emphasizing the nonprofit, financial cooperative status because financial consumers might like those ideals, but they're going to chase the services and rates. Credit unions, collectively, need to better explain what they do, not their structure. No one cares that credit unions are nonprofit cooperatives if they don't provide the services consumers want and the rates they want. Or if they don't even know they exist. Different facets of the credit union community have studied the issue of recognition, but nothing is being done on a national level to fix it.
The opportunity that credit unions are missing with the 100th birthday bash and the bank-carcass buffet they should be having is a real national presence. What is needed is a more cohesive marketing effort among all credit unions, trades and even the agencies, now more than ever. There will be no more opportune time for a national branding campaign. Get some fairly big name celebrities or young, socially-conscious entrepreneurs to plug credit unions in a national ad campaign across all media.
Some credit union folks decry the costs, while others are concerned about their own marketing efforts. Certainly there are costs associated with a massive national campaign, but I ask what is the cost of anonymity for the next century? Without broader awareness of credit unions, that might not matter in 2109. And I truly don't see a nexus between a national branding campaign and interference with a credit union's individual branding efforts.
The national trades really need to head up this effort as true advocates of the credit union movement. And it's not as if they'd have to reinvent the wheel. A handful of states have implemented branding programs, some even funded by mandatory contributions as a condition of membership, which is a good idea. As far as marketing material, there's no need to look further than bankerspank.com. The ads are creative and professionally done. Obviously whoever created the site and campaign is a fan of credit unions and would likely be willing to share. The swag's already created. The message is simple, fun, catchy and timely even years after it was created. It can easily be used for TV, electronic and print media, billboards, or radio. Contact should be made and funds allotted. Credit unions cannot afford not to get themselves noticed.
Murmurs in the halls of conferences in recent years have concluded that credit unions are not collaborating as they once did; the environment is too competitive. However, credit unions, large and small, will not garner the attention they need to thrive as credit unions without cooperation. The spirit still exists. I've experienced it recently when I visited MECU in Baltimore for a business development roundtable it hosted. A handful of credit union business development executives from credit unions located around the area joined together to discuss what worked or didn't work for them during 2009 and their plans for 2010. Not only did the group openly share how they marketed to potential SEGs, but they also explained that they do not go after a SEG if they discover another credit union is already serving it without consulting that credit union first. The larger credit unions even said that they turned away SEGs if they thought it would damage a smaller credit union already serving that group. Meanwhile, the big boys didn't shy away from a little healthy competition between themselves.
This attitude is the bedrock of credit unions and what will carry them into the next century. A national organization of credit union advocates just needs to figure out how to put it all together for a nationwide, long-term multimedia blitz.
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