Ignorance Is Not Bliss; It’s Negative Growth
Among nonmembers, awareness has always been low. We were disappointed it fell.”
Those were the words of Jon Haller, CUNA director of corporate and market research, when discussing the results of two new CUNA reports with me.
In the report, “Survey of Potential Members,” Haller wrote, “Certainly, scores of credit unions acted, took advantage of [waning trust in banks] and registered dramatic growth. But for the industry as a whole, history will record the last two years’ events as a grand opportunity missed. Many credit unions–hit by the economic downturn and corporate-stabilization costs–cut back on marketing, research and awareness-building activities that could have helped them benefit from a seldom-seen opportunity.”
Often trade association members get upset when their advocates deliver them sour news. They’re supposed to be your cheerleaders, right? Perpetually looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, even when the evidence is in plain sight, is harmful. Don’t shoot the messenger when they’re just trying to educate. Ignorance is not bliss; it’s negative membership growth.
One problem CUNA faces is trying to serve everyone from the multi-billion, multi-national credit unions–which foot much of the bills–to the $100,000 church credit union. Many credit unions that need this report can’t afford it and might not even be able to figure out where to begin with all the data. Others can run their own reports that are specific to their service areas, but it’s always good to follow national trends because they can affect vibrant CUs, too (think NCUSIF and reputational risk).
So when discussing membership growth for example, in the 1980s it was up 3.9% but has steadily declined since then hitting 0.7% in 2010, according to CUNA’s “National Member Survey.” The credit union community as a whole is unsustainable if this trend continues. Consider too this is a national average.
There are credit unions like $1.7 billion Texas Dow Employees CU that achieved more than 6% membership growth last year and on its way to matching that this year. You don’t have to be one the really big guys for strong membership growth; the $198 million North Jersey FCU experienced nearly 2% membership growth last year, and June Call Report data annualized show nearly 4%.
That means on the other end of the spectrum, a lot of credit unions have serious questions to answer about how to right the ship.
Even though it’s much more expensive to acquire new members, they are crucial for new funding. The good news is that CUNA found CU members' satisfaction with their CUs beat out members’ satisfaction with their banks by more than 20 percentage points.
Once members are in the door, CUs convert them to net promoters far more than banks do. CUs' net promoter score reached 32% at the time of the survey this year. On the other hand, banks’ net promoter score was negative 5%, but up from negative 31% in 2009.
This is where CUs can take a page from the banks: CU member satisfaction dipped two percentage points while member satisfaction with banks jumped 10 percentage points. Banks have been marketing hard core to improve their image, and it is working on your members. The bank statistics came from CU members who also use banks.
During the economic crisis, members’ distrust of banks boosted CUs as primary financial institutions from 42% of members considering the CU their PFI in 2009 to 57% in 2011. At the same time, members considering a bank their PFI dropped from 56% to 42%. This is good news, but Haller cautioned, “It’s dangerous to assume they’ll continue to use credit unions at the same or higher level.”
However, once in the door, these members can become strong promoters and exponentially bolster your marketing efforts. Of course, you have to deliver the goods once they’re in because more promoters use the CU as their PFI and have the sticky checking and online banking products with the CUs.
They also can earn you more money as 42% of promoters hold credit union loans versus 30% of nonpromoters and the average loan amounts are much higher for promoters than nonpromoters.
So how is it possible that CU loan market share dropped across all major loan products between 2009 and 2011 when they increased across the board between 2006 and 2009?
Could CUs as a whole have pulled back on credit just as much as, if not more than, banks? Or is it that marketing budgets have been slashed, magnifying credit unions’ already existing awareness problem?
CUNA’s data showed that credit union members age 18-24 increased from 6% to 9%. Among nonmembers, consumers 18-24 comprised 14%, so credit unions are penetrating that age group.
Still demographic shifts in the population have created a smaller group within prime borrowing age. Fortunately for CUs, boomers, “sandwiched” between assisting aging parents’ financial needs and paying college tuition for their children, may end up borrowing beyond historically normal prime borrowing ages.
Top that off with a poor economy that could further delay retirement and CUs have another window of opportunity to serve a segment of its members that would be dangerous to miss.