College CUs Use Many Means to Lure Students
Sorting through a hundred or so applications from University of Missouri students to fill five internship spots at Tigers Credit Union has become a common occurrence for Laura Kogut, program director.
Since positioning itself as the banking alternative on campus and enlisting its 15 to 20 student staffers as advocates, students have been buzzing about the Columbia, Mo.-based branch.
“We realized that in order to reach the younger demographic, we couldn’t just do the typical avenues of radio or billboards,” said Kogut. “What we’ve found most effective has really been that peer-to-peer communication. Let’s face it. banking doesn’t come up too often in conversation. So our advocates just talk with friends and other people on campus about their experience interning here and how much fun it is. It’s an effective way to spread the word because then it becomes ‘Oh, a guy in my dorm works at Tigers.’ It’s how we’ve been getting our most solid student referrals.”
She added that the staffers also act as a focus group, gather feedback from what they hear around campus to help Tigers CU develop and deliver products and services targeted to meet students’ needs and expectations. The Gen Y insight has also been a boon to St. Louis-based West Community Credit Union. Tigers CU merged into the over $134 million credit union in 2006.
“With US Bank here on campus we’ve got some prominent competition,” said Kogut. “Add to that the common industry challenge of many still being unfamiliar with the credit union difference, our student staffers help make it more relevant and easy to understand. Our position as the alternative credit union resonates because it is a cause in itself that a lot of students believe in and want to be a part of. So we also partner with other cause-related groups or events on campus.”
As far as alleviating member pain points, Tigers CU has made it easier for freshmen to open accounts online. Not only can applications be taken on site during Welcome Week/Freshman Orientation, but the credit union provides the incoming students with a backpack with information about the CU’s shared branch locations in Chicago, Kansas City and St. Louis and instructions on how to open a Tigers CU account online when they get home.
“It has been huge for us. Absolutely everything is done online and that is what they expect of their financial institution,” said Kogut. “Usually about 100 new members per event apply later online, and that's 100 people we wouldn't have been able to capture before. It really is all about timing so they get the information with their parents while they are here for orientation and they can sign up in their own time.”
According to Kogut, the orientation, which is required for all new students and parents, includes about 5,000 students in the months of June and July.
With $115 million in assets, Pocatello, Idaho-based ISU Credit Union has leveraged its relationship with Idaho State University to offer students the BengalCard Plus a branded student identification and debit MasterCard.
The credit union went through the standard competitive bidding process required by law before being selected by ISU to offer the debit card, which serves as the official ISU picture ID card and provides access to a range of campus services. In addition, the card offers users discounts at local merchants and entries to free drawings and giveaways.
According to Richard Cheatum, vice president of marketing at ISU CU, the one card solution has been a win-win for all parties.
“Because the BengalCard Plus is only available to staff and students so we can really target market that card and the university helps us do that to get as many involved with it,” said Cheatum. “We share a portion of the interchange income with the university that’s dedicated to future scholarship and student services at ISU. It also helps show the economic power of ISU in the local community. Every time that bright orange card is pulled out to make purchases, it’s a visual of ISU as an economic engine that drives our town. Whether you are a large or small university credit union you need to get on board for a program like this because everyone benefits.”
It has also helped ISU CU develop and deepen its existing relationships within the university across all levels from the decision makers to the gatekeepers as well. The credit union will now be a part of the student orientation process and will offer four 20 minute sessions for each orientation class on financial management.
“It’s a great opportunity to get face time with every student,” said Cheatum. “We had our first earlier this summer and had about 12 to 15 students in each session. As the summer progresses. the classes will get bigger to include 50 to 100 students per session.”
With a tech-oriented membership, Cheatum has implemented QR codes to help roll out the BengalCard Plus that links to a list of merchant discounts available.
Recognizing that most students already have an established relationship before entering college, ISU CU has plans to develop a debit card aimed at area high school students age 13 to 17.
“It’s one of the ways we’re trying to reach them before they’re college freshmen,” said Cheatum. “Kids today have money, whether given by relatives or they’ve earned themselves yet still don’t have a way to manage their funds. We want to give them the tools to start managing their money before they leave the house.”
At the University of Kentucky Federal Credit Union in Lexington, building its connection with younger members has evolved over the years and technology has been a big part of it.
“Just in terms of communication there’s a lot of technology that just wasn’t around before like Facebook, which revolutionized how students interact with one another,” said Greg Baker, vice president sales/marketing at UKFCU. “A few years ago we started advertising on Facebook and we can set a target dollar amount to spend and upload our own ads or commercials to specifically reach a certain demographic within Facebook.”
The credit union also offers text message account alerts, which has been a very popular feature among students.
“We’re doing everything we can to communicate with them and share information they value in a way they want,” said Baker. “Our slant is always financial literacy driven so if they aren’t getting that money management knowledge at home we’ll deliver it via our financial blog where members can like content or not, on campus Financial 101 classes or even our live chat function on our website. We just want to keep them connected.”
Topics covered range from information about renters Insurance and credit score basics to how to pick your first automobile. Baker also uses the UKFCU Facebook page as a way to promote the credit union’s unique value proposition.
To help check the pulse of students needs, the UKFCU marketing team meets quarterly with a mix of students and graduates age 18 to 26. The group averages 12 to 15 individuals, and over lunch they share their financial service frustrations and ideas they’d like to see implemented.
“The agenda ranges from products and services they use now and what’s the coolest thing they’ve seen in the financial services arena to tackling their questions on why we even bother to offer xyz product or service,” said Baker. “It helps us clarify what’s most important to them, how we can make a process more efficient and create solutions aimed at resolving their frustrations. If we don’t take a look at it now we risk alienating them more as we move forward.”