For many credit unions, Bank of America’s failed attempt to charge a $5 monthly debit card usage fee sent their membership numbers up the charts.
The $1.3 billion Arizona State Credit Union likes to think that its recent uptick in new members is more connected to the way consumers are starting to view their relationships.
“We have been seeing a swing in buying habits to more local choices in doing business. Consumers see the real value in doing business locally, whether it’s buying produce from local farmers or choosing a credit union,” said Paul Stull, senior vice president of strategy and brand at Arizona State CU.
Nearly 2,000 members joined the credit union in October, according to Stull. That’s 1,000 more new members than what Arizona State CU normally added each month. Since September, there has been a 25% lift in new accounts, and Stull expected this effort to continue up to Bank Transfer Day on Nov. 5.
Founded in 1951, the credit union serves more than 128,000 members and has 21 branches across the state.
Stull said while the Bank of America proposed fee increase was the catalyst for some of the membership growth–one branch reported half of its new accounts were caused by the backlash toward the national, multibillion dollar bank–securing those alliances may prove to be the real, long-term test.
“Local deposits mean local loans and that creates jobs. Consumers are looking for that kind of value,” Stull said.
Generally, Arizona State CU seeks to exceed the 3% industry average when it comes to membership growth, Stull pointed out. That being said, it still would target higher numbers in growth markets, he added. With less than two months left in 2011, the credit union is ahead of its growth goals. Still, focusing on reaching a certain percentage does increase prospects. but the credit union tends to look inward to build.
“We would rather look at our ability to penetrate existing members and markets than track membership as an indicator of success,” Stull said.
As for Bank Transfer Day, Stull said the credit union didn’t plan any specific links tied to the call for consumers to switch their financial institutions. For several months prior, Arizona State CU ran a major media campaign with the message “I Don’t Bank, I Credit Union!” He said the message had perfect timing, and the television spot resonated very well, leading to an increase in awareness of what the credit union had to offer.
Over the past 10 months, Stull said Arizona State CU also loaned out more than $227 million to help businesses and members through a still troubled economy. The credit union also touts not having any restrictions on debit card use and its free electronic services.
“Banks have done a good job of showing how different they are from credit unions. Consumer sentiment around too big to fail banks is clear,” Stull said. “They are tired of higher fees, less service and billion-dollar bonus packages at the same time banks are posting record earnings.”
On the other hand, not-for-profit financial cooperatives “are easy to understand and promise an outstanding value proposition that benefits both the consumer and the community,” Stull offered.
In a market where Arizona State CU competes with banks such as BofA, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase, Stull said in the midst of so-called anti-bank sentiment, credit unions have once again become an alternative for consumers.
“Credit unions are an important part of the American financial system. They have provided an opportunity for consumers to make choices and have served as a way to balance the unilateral decisions of the too big to fail banks,” Stull said.
He called on credit unions to highlight how they are valuable local resources that offer alternative fee choices and other benefits to the community.
“These are the new values that continue to deepen among many key consumer segments,” Stull said.