Reach Gen Y or Die: Combine Strategy, Tactics to Reach the Young
I'm in shock. On our youngest daughter's birthday next month, my wife and I will officially have two teenage daughters in our house. That's right, a house full of teenage girls. Once that reality hit my personal life, I started thinking about what teenagers mean to me professionally. And not just teenagers, but the entire Generation Y group.
According to Strauss and Howe, the leading demographers of our country, Generation Y comprises those born between 1982 and 2003. So they are currently between the ages of 7 and 28. The reality is if credit unions don't reach this age segment our movement will die.
CUNA's Environment Scan notes that credit union members' average age is 47. What's worse, the E-Scan says, "the percentage of members age 18 to 24 is small and getting smaller-6% in 2006 and 4% in 2008." In other words, while credit unions have been saying for years that we need to get young, the reality is we're going in the wrong direction.
So how do credit unions lower their average membership age? We have to combine both strategy and tactics to reach the young.
It starts at the top. That means young board members.
What is the average age of your board members? Odds are it's significantly higher than 50. It's going to be extremely hard to reach Generation Y if the majority of your board isn't even from Generation X. Please note I'm not suggesting that teenagers or current college students serve on the board. However, it's imperative that credit union boards understand and get the youth market. Some credit union boards are even giving up some of their seats for younger members.
It continues with the staff. Put young people in key leadership positions.
It's not just about hiring Generation Y people to work in your credit union. You must also put them in key positions. This means management and even upper management. How many people in their 20s are on your management or executive team? Sure, they don't have experience, but they do bring a great deal of fresh ideas to the table.
It helps to not cater. Drop your senior programs.
I recently had the opportunity of facilitating Linn Area Credit Union's strategic planning session. They are a $250 million credit union located in Iowa. While they are a top performer in many areas (loans, growth, ROA, etc.) I was most impressed with their approach to staying young. As mentioned previously, the national average for credit union membership age is 47. At Linn Area Credit Union it is 37. You read that right-10 years below the national average. So how do they do it?
Here's what Alice Hagerman, Linn Area Credit Union's vice president of marketing said: "A big contributor to keeping our average age low is what we don't do. We don't focus on attracting certificates of deposit (preferring to attract funds through a high-yield checking account), and we don't put a lot of emphasis on the senior club. We avoid doing the bus trips, senior lunches and things that other area financial institutions do that attract savers instead of borrowers."
It involves the family. Reach Generation Y through Mom and Dad.
The easiest way to reach Generation Y is through their parents. In other words, get them before they are in college. According to CUNA's E-Scan, two-thirds of credit union members who have children at home haven't signed any of them up for credit union membership.
Apply that to your credit union: 75% of your members have kids in the house but those kids are not members of your credit union. Do you want to grow your membership? Instead of doing a community marketing campaign, perhaps you should do a membership drive and incent your existing members to sign up their kids.
It takes a commitment. You must plan well and plan strategically.
Successful credit unions conduct strategic planning sessions on a regular basis. If you are not taking the time to discuss how to strategically get younger at your credit union, it won't happen. When was the last time you held a long range planning session? Reaching the youth is a long-term play. You may not see immediate overnight results. But as my CEO, Chet Kimmell, said recently when we were discussing our partnership with Six Flags Over Texas, "Our goal is to get younger; these new members will eventually see us as a loan option; reaching young people is an investment in our future."
As we think about the future of continuing to parent two teenage girls, my wife and I know we must be intentional with our time and efforts. It's no different with your credit union: If you want to successfully reach Generation Y, you must be intentional with your strategies and tactics.
Mark Arnold is a senior vice president at Neighborhood Credit Union, Dallas. He can be reached at 214-748-9393, ext. 1113 or firstname.lastname@example.org