Donning White Hats, Credit Unions Bask in National Media Limelight
"That has been simply good news for all of us," declared Frank Pollack, president/CEO of the $13 billion Pentagon FCU of Alexandria, Va., who with his peers and trade groups expressed delight at the industry achieving what it sees as newfound recognition.
CUNA along with NAFCU were quickest to make sure consumers watching the shows, ranging from finance guru Suze Orman on CNN to New York blogger Arianna Huffington, could easily click on CU locator buttons to join CUs.
Among the most highly quoted and provocative reports favoring the industry over the last two weeks was the "Move Your Money" campaign led by the Huffington Post Web site (huffingtonpost.com), appealing to consumers to switch accounts to community banks and CUs as a way to send a "disenchantment" message to big banks.
But the snowball effect of laudatory comments about CUs-highlighted last week by a "CBS MoneyWatch" report citing Pentagon's 3.99% auto loan rate and low card rates-actually began last fall with a Consumer Reports magazine article, maintained Tim Garner, senior vice president of marketing and strategic planning at the $4 billion Digital FCU in Marlborough, Mass.
"I think what happened is financial reporters picked up what was already in the magazine and on the Internet and simply began repeating it," said Garner whose CU was given prominent mention in the "MoneyWatch" story as offering "one of the best deals" in the U.S. with its variable 8.6% rate on a platinum credit card.
Meanwhile, the $723 million Dupaco Community CU in Dubuque, Iowa, and also featured on MoneyWatch, said it was pleased to get the national and local exposure to its products and the tale told of a local couple denied by a bank for a home equity loan.
"The reporter had been down here to do the interviews, and we had advance warning on when the story would be appearing," said David Klavitter, senior vice president of marketing and public relations.
It was too early to tell, he said, how Dupaco members would respond to the articles, "but we are touting it on all electronic media channels, such as our Web site (dupaco.com), Facebook, Twitter, and internal electronic signage."
Dupaco, he said, "is seizing the national momentum in our local messaging," adding that "we're not piling on" the big banks but "simply standing up and offering a genuine, consumer-oriented alternative." Pollack of Pentagon said his CU was quite pleased at media attention but had no plans to undertake a promotional blitz of the coverage.
But CUNA wasted no time in leveraging the Huffington Post article for widespread industry distribution including a contributor blog message by CUNA President/CEO Dan Mica entitled, "Consumers Are Moving Their Money to Credit Unions, Rising Membership Shows."
Elsewhere, the $1.1 billion Westerra CU of Denver, citing the Huffington article, took out ads last week in the Denver Post referring to the Move Your Money campaign as a "perfect fit to the bank local theme" of Westerra. The Westerra ad had a headline reading "Americans Are Saving More Money and Choosing Credit Unions More Often"
The $285 million Maine State CU of Augusta posted a Huffington article on its Web site (mainstatecu.org) Jan. 8 and was hoping consumers would soon notice.
"We're also on Facebook with the CUNA article because we think credit unions need to get out the message that we're here to help, "said Dan Emery, marketing specialist. "We need to really tell people what credit unions are all about and we need to be louder than we have been."
One downside to the flattering coverage is the prospect of low score loan applications pouring in, said Digital in Massachusetts.
"This is a huge opportunity for us by giving us a lot of attention," said Garner. But, "it also means more work, clogging the phones and e-mails with requests, and we end up turning away people we can't help."
Dupaco said it too was cognizant of the heightened focus noting that "during 2009's flight to safety, Dupaco positioned itself as a safe, sound and insured place for deposits. Also, as federal credit card legislation wound its way through Congress, Dupaco featured its credit card as a no-frills, consumer-friendly alternative to others' credit card shenanigans."
Moreover, the Iowa CU has been offering "free credit counseling, credit reports, budgeting and more," said Klavitter.