The week prior to the official Bank Transfer Day, credit unions were busy encouraging consumers to take action.
Launched by Kristen Christian, a Los Angeles art gallery owner unhappy with her bank, Nov. 5 has been dubbed Bank Transfer Day, when consumers act on their growing frustration with big banks by switching to a community bank or credit union. While many are uncertain how many people will actually change financial institutions, credit unions have been making the most of the media blitz.
Three of Long Island’s largest credit unions, the $4.3 billion Bethpage Federal Credit Union, the $4.1 billion Teachers Federal Credit Union and the $1.7 billion NEFCU joined forces to launch BetterBankingforLongIsland.com to show locals how good banking can be by proving that there is a better way to bank. The microsite encourages consumers to “Take a stand: Join a community credit union today” or on Bank Transfer Day. According to Edward Paternostro, president/CEO of NEFCU, the day provides yet another opportunity for credit unions to educate consumers about the value of credit union membership.
“We are seeing significant, fundamental changes taking place in the banking industry that are transforming the way people do their banking,” said Kirk Kordeleski, president/CEO of Bethpage Federal Credit Union. “These changes, coupled with consumers overall discontent in the financial arena, are creating positive awareness about the advantages of banking at a credit union. We are very enthusiastic about this national movement and are proud to all work together to help promote it.”
"With more and more individuals and businesses getting frustrated with the additional fees they are being charged by banks, people are starting to look at their options," added Robert Allen, president/CEO of Teachers FCU.
The $2.5 billion Wescom Credit Union decided one way to promote the campaign to join credit unions was to play off the “I voted” stickers given out on election day.
So the Pasadena, Calif., CU has handed out “I Transferred My Money to Wescom” stickers to consumers who mention they are opening an account at the CU due to the Bank Transfer Day initiative.
CUNA and the state leagues have also pushed out marketing and advertising efforts for Bank Transfer Day, employing an array of tools, including model press releases, Q&As and management and staff talking points with an eye toward spiking account volume.
Social networks and more traditional means need to be considered, CUNA advised. NAFCU also said it has on the shelf a panoply of new and existing marketing materials to help credit unions get the word out, including posters and inserts.
North Jersey FCU has plans to hold open house events on Nov. 5 at its four branches, offering services and incentives such as free credit scores, credit counseling, $25 for opening an account or taking out a loan, a two-month skip-a-payment every year for the duration of a new personal or auto loan applications, and giveaways and children’s entertainment.
“Often times, the reason why people don’t take advantage of credit unions isn’t because they don’t like what we offer. They simply aren’t familiar with our products and services,” said John Holt, president/CEO of Nutmeg State Federal Credit Union. “We’ve seen more traffic on accounts opened online, but I wouldn’t say it’s a dramatic increase for us. I think the opportunity that Bank Transfer Day presents is that more people are looking for banking alternatives. I think the more we talk about the value of membership and build that understanding that, yes, they can be member, I think more consumers will join over time.”
Holt said the Rocky Hill, Conn.-based Nutmeg State FCU has created an easy switch kit online and for the branches, which requires one signature. The credit union handles transferring everything from direct deposits to automatic payments.
Tampa, Fla.-based Suncoast Schools has also focused on taking the hassle out of the equation for consumers. As part of its “Make the Switch” campaign, the $5 billion credit union has formed a switch team in its contact center to provide the extra attention that some new members may need.
“Feedback we get from frontline staff reinforces what's being reported in the news, that a barrier to consumers moving their checking relationship is the perception that it's a hassle,” said Patti Barrow, marketing vice president at Suncoast. “While it does take some effort to switch automatic payments, direct deposits and other ACH transactions, it's really not that complicated. Our key component is that Suncoast will spend the time necessary with members who need assistance. “
Staffed with five to 13 call center agents, the switch team is composed of supervisors and experienced call center agents who specifically expressed an interest in providing an increased level of help.
So far the effort has been paying off.
“We’ve had a greater increase in checking accounts already this month than during the entire second half of 2010,” said Barrow.
For San Jose Credit Union, Bank Transfer Day will mark the kickoff of its “Be Free” promotion, where each month during November and December, for every 10 debit card transactions, a member will receive an entry to win an iPad 2 or $500 cash.
“Our debit card has always been free, so we’ve been toying with the idea of debit card promotion for a month. With the Bank Transfer Day grassroots effort, we decided what better day to kick it off?” said Sara Holtz, marketing manager at the $125 million San Jose, Calif.-based credit union. “We’re excited to educate and show consumers how convenient credit unions can be and just how easy it is to make the switch.”
For some credit unions, the timing could not have worked out better.
First Community Federal Credit Union will unveil its “Skip the Fee, Swipe for Free” campaign.
Over the course of the three month campaign, the $650 million credit union has committed to give an estimated minimum of $200,000 back to members.
During the months of November, December and January, the Parchment, Mich.-based credit union plans to pay its members up to $5 each month based on their aggregate debit card point of sale transactions. In addition, First Community will hold weekly drawings based on the previous week’s POS transactions to award $500 to 12 members. At the end of the promotion, one person will be randomly selected for a grand prize of $5,000.
“It was our CEO Cheryl A. DeBoer’s idea to show how we’re different from banks. Not only has our MasterCard check card always been free, but we’ll pay members to use it,” said Nancy Loftis, marketing manager.
“Giving back to our members is what we do as a standard business practice,” said DeBoer. “Our recent loan transfer campaign was an example of this, along with our Skip the Fee, Swipe for Free Debit Card campaign, where we are very excited to send this ongoing message to our current and potential members”.
The $269 million OMNI Community Credit Union in Battle Creek, Mich.. took the opportunity to debut a checking rewards and cash-back program tied to debit cards called “OMNI Pays in Many Ways.”
The campaign, which runs through year end and includes $3,000 in prize drawings keyed to usage, encourages current OMNI members who don’t have a checking account at the credit union–as well as those in the community who aren’t yet members–to make the switch with a chance to win $250 in free debit card purchases each month for a year.
“There are both immediate and long-term benefits and we’re paying our members in two ways,” said OMNI CEO Ted Parsons. “One is the chance to win free debit card purchases for a year. The other is to increase their share of the cash-back rebate paid out at year end.”
Despite the marketing push and reports of an uptick in accounts at some credit unions, some industry analysts remain skeptical about what the actual results will be.
“Much like the Occupy Wall Street movement, Bank Transfer Day feels like it wants to be a full-blown revolution, but in the annals of history, this event will probably be regarded as little more than a minor bank customer uprising,” wrote Jeffry Pilcher of the Financial Brand, in his blog titled “4 Reasons ‘Bank Transfer Day’ is Silly.”
He compared Bank Transfer Day to the Huffington Post “Move Your Money” efforts, which drew little new business to credit unions.
“The challenge for credit unions is this,” maintained Bill Handel, vice president-research/development at Raddon Financial Group, the Chicago consultancy, “If indeed consumers do begin to migrate their accounts to credit unions, the credit unions have to be willing to take the bad with the good. The bad is the single-service, low-balance checking accounts which will need to be subsidized by the rest of the membership.”
The good part, said Handel, “is the accounts where relationships are built. But if too many bad checking accounts are attracted and the credit union is not successful in cross selling, then at some point I believe they will need to move away from free and move toward a relationship-based pricing structure.”
Research, said Handel, does show clearly that consumers detest additional fees, but surveys also show that big banks “no longer have as much of a concern with the mass market for checking. They will not impose debit card fees on valuable accounts.”
Handel urged CUs to shy away from claims, statements or oaths that “we will never impose fees and never do evil.” Statements like that “can come back to haunt us two or three years later,” he warned, adding that includes “throwing so much mud” against big banks.