Summit Credit Union wants women to realize stepping into their first million can be a reality –all it takes is Red SHOES.
According to Kim Sponem, president/CEO of the Madison, Wis.-based credit union, the program represents the latest move in what’s been an almost three-year evolution of targeted efforts to focus on women between the ages of 20-50.
“We always hear there’s a need to differentiate and be more targeted, yet we as an industry tend to try to appeal to everyone or be all things to all people. So we looked at what market has not been served effectively and based on our research to a large extent, particularly with financial services, it was women.”
Working with Holly Buchanan, president of Richmond, Va.-based consulting firm Buchanan Marketing LLC, which specializes in marketing to women, the $1.7 billion credit union has found that effectively serving the women’s market is about subtly.
“First, just because you are female doesn’t mean you automatically know how to market to women,” said Sponem. “It’s not as much about looking feminine as it is about a subtle change in how we phrase things, offer to help and our conversations. Women have a long list of things that are important to them that many times might be as important to men, so our approach has been to focus on that list of what women care about.”
To that end targeted marketing efforts have been more about appealing messaging and placement where women like to spend their time than featuring women in ads. A small example along the lines of creating unique ways to insert a bit of fun into the banking experience, written on the mirrors in the women’s restrooms at all branches are encouraging phrases like, “You look great.”
After 18 months of research, collaboration and development resulted in Red SHOES. Taking a cue from the Weight Watchers model, the fee-based program has been designed to provide well-defined steps, tools, encouragement and support for women to make smart money decisions and take control of their financial lives. Some program features include a workbook that has the look and feel of a women’s magazine and an online financial boutique complete with interactive tools, inspiring messages and education. In addition, members have access to a Red SHOES coach. A free three-month pilot run of the program last fall took less than 72 hours to fill 100 spots. According to Sponem, so far the response from participants has been overwhelmingly positive. Plans are underway to incorporate their valuable feedback before the official program launch slated for the first quarter.
“Financial education has always been at the core of what we do here so we felt compelled to design our own program,” said Sponem. “It was important that it be engaging and provide different ways to connect with us and each other to have that support and celebration of milestones to keep everyone motivated and focused on stepping into their first million. The best part is the workbook is designed for wherever you may be financially so members pick and choose what they need to meet their goals. We found with so many of the financial service books spent 90% of the time convincing people to plan. This program, our workbook is based on the assumption participants are already convinced it’s a good thing to do, are ready to take action but need help with the process of where do I begin or what steps do I need to take now?”
Wanting active, dedicated members was also the driving force behind the decision to charge for the program.
“It’s not ingrained in the credit union culture to charge, but that is the direction we’re moving. As long as it provides an added value, members won’t mind an enrollment fee,” said Sponem. “We want committed people who are focused on improving their finances. If it were free you may get more members but they may not do the work. We still offer free financial planning but this program is more involved and comprehensive.”