Bethpage Federal Credit Union has found a way to harness all that bad bank publicity to its advantage by demonstrating the credit union difference.
In response to the banking trend of restricting or eliminating free checking accounts, the Long Island-based credit union launched Bethpage Bonus Checking, a free checking product that earns interest.
"The credit union advantage is genuine and real so it is a matter of using it where it works best," said Jerry Schmitt, Bethpage FCU vice president of marketing.
Members who sign up for online banking with e-statements, arrange for monthly direct deposit into their account and have 15 point-of-sale debit card transactions per month will automatically earn interest each month with their Bethpage Bonus Checking account. The credit union has put an emphasis on the product being truly free-if transactional requirements are not met to earn interest for a particular month, there is no penalty, and interest for the next month will be based on the next month's activities. In addition, playing up the convenience factor, the credit union automatically seamlessly converted a large number of existing free checking members to the new account without changing their account numbers.
"Some of the products out there are a little disingenuous. There's a big rate promise yet they punish consumers with a fee if they're not using it," Schmitt said. "Especially in the current environment, we wanted to offer a great free checking product that provides a bonus incentive. Any given month you can earn interest and if you miss a month, no harm, no foul."
Schmitt said the account is just one of the ways the more than $3.7 billion credit union is positioning itself as the convenient alternative to traditional banks. Its focus on growth by increasing member benefits has delivered results. Last year, Bethpage FCU saw a 15% growth in assets and had a membership increase of 20,000 for a total of 165,000 members by year-end. Bethpage also had more than $1.7 billion in loans last year, representing a new milestone for the credit union.
"Growth is always our overriding goal and it drives our activities," Schmitt said. "We market on three levels: overall brand, products and services, and community outreach at the local level. The combination of all three are needed to achieve growth.
"A lot of it is quickly seizing opportunities much the same way we did last year when we continued to lend, including commercial and residential loans, even when other financial institutions were unable to."
Bethpage has also made inroads in building brand awareness by taking a page from Progressive Insurance and Apple's Mac vs. PC ad campaigns by launching a multimedia campaign this past March that revolves around two new personalities, Beth and Paige. As the personification of the credit union's service and value, the personalities are designed to help keep Bethpage at the top of consumers' minds.
To make the most of social media, Bethpage has launched a summer vacation photo contest challenging locals to take a downloaded image of Beth and Paige with them on vacation and snap a picture. They can then post their most fun, unique or creative photos to Bethpage's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/lovebethpage by Sept. 10 for a chance to win $1,000. Fans can submit as many photos as they like, but only one photo is eligible to win. The best photos of Beth and Paige on vacation in each of six categories will be announced on Sept. 13.