Superior Credit Union has taken its pet-friendly policy to a new level. Whether they have fins, feathers or fur, pets can have accounts at the Collegeville, Penn.-based credit union.
"We wanted to offer members something different to stand out," said Joseph Gimble, vice president of operations. "I'm an animal lover and there are lots of people who treat their pets like kids, so why not have a savings account for them? From veterinarian visits and kennel stays, to food, toys and other supplies, it can get just as expensive as when you have kids."
The CU's research revealed there were more than 200,000 registered pet homes in the county-a huge base of potential new members. Recognizing this was a niche that hadn't been served, Gimble and staffers started brainstorming just how the $37 million credit union could help meet the pet lovers' niche. The result is an array of pet products and services including a savings account with a 5% APY on the first $500, PAWS loans and pet insurance offered through Nationwide Insurance. In addition, the credit union has launched a microsite, BankWithBella.com, that features Beagle/Labrador mix Bella-who is not only the credit union mascot and face of the line, but is also Superior CU Lifestyle Adviser Kim Miller's pet.
Gimble explained how Bella came to be in Miller's life.
"Most of our staff are pet owners and we didn't want to have any hurt feelings because we all think our pet would be great to represent the credit union. The fair solution was to buy a mascot," he said. "Luckily Kim was in the process of looking for a dog that would be no bigger than 25 pounds for her kids. So we paid for Bella, Kim's kids got a new pet and Bella got a great home."
Bella accompanies Miller to work and has been a hit with members as they visit the branch, Gimble said. It helps that the entire staff is onboard with the CU's pet-centric culture, he added.
"We've always encouraged members to come in with their pets and we even give out dog treats. So this is who we are, not some marketing promotion."
Though opened by the owner, the accounts are in the pet's name with the pet's picture serving as identification to help ensure the accounts are used properly.
"Our system allows us to open the account with the owner's social security number and their pet's name is listed as a joint owner so it appears on the statement," Gimble said. "We remind members that these accounts are for their pets, and it's not limited to just dogs and cats. It can be horses, birds, turtles-any animal they consider their pet."
The pet ID photos are featured on BankWithBella.com, where members can also find discounts for local pet-related services from area businesses, Bella's Blog and updates on the progress of Superior CU's efforts to open Bella's Place, a puppy park on its main branch campus.
"We've got about two acres of land that we can't build on so rather than waste it we thought why not do something for the community by fencing it as a puppy park," Gimble said. "We want this to be a real community initiative so we're working with the Lower Providence Township and are in talks with local businesses to see how they can help make the park a reality."
He added that several plans are being discussed, including the credit union possibly forming a nonprofit organization to maintain the park.
To generate some buzz that pets are welcome at Superior CU, in addition to branch banners, billboards and a wrapped car, staffers will sport colorful BankWithBella.com t-shirts in the branches and around town this month. Gimble has also started connecting with local veterinarians to alert them to the new products and services.
"We've got a $5,000 promotional budget so we've got to be creative in getting the word out," Gimble said. "Since we started promoting it we've opened about 20 pet savings accounts, which is great for us. More importantly we're filling a need in the community that we hope to build on."