Competition is fierce between banks and credit unions for Gen Y consumers born between the early 1980s and 2000s and, it is getting more so as new services, products and technologies seem to change the market environment daily.
How can credit unions take advantage of their traditional strengths to attract Gen Y members? At least three credit unions – the $12 billion BECU in Tukwila, Wash., $2.2 billion Redwood Credit Union in Santa Rosa, Calif., and the $1.7 billion Georgia's Own Credit Union in Atlanta – are successfully reaching out to young people with programs tailored to their needs and lifestyle.
Stephen Black, vice president of marketing, said that younger members make up their largest segment for new auto loans and home mortgages.
“I think younger people find credit union products and services, as well as the credit union story, more relevant than other lending institutions,” Black said. “We are large enough to be solid but not too large, and I think the younger generation likes the fact that we are a more active part of the community that really cares for people.”
The credit union is planning to launch a major initiative to establish what he calls a responsive, multi-channel digital presence with key elements to include an upgrade of BECU's website experience and mobile connectivity as well as a more robust social media presence. But just as important as being tech savvy is sensitivity to how social media vehicles are used, Black said. BECU does not to use its Facebook page for the hard sell in deference to young people who see Facebook and other socially oriented outlets as community and friendship sharing sites.
“We use our site for community outreach and in some cases advocacy for the public good, such as donating to charitable organizations,” he said.
The credit union said it is focusing on attracting members at the very young end of the Gen Y spectrum. Redwood CU encourages money management education with its Youth Accounts: Jr. Rangers for members 12 years and under and Jr. Partners for ages 13-17. These accounts offer dividends, savings milestone gifts, fun financial stories and educational activities through newsletters and access to CUNA's youth-targeted Googolplex websites.
Robin McKenzie, Redwood senior vice president of marketing and communications, said about 80% of the credit union's youth account members continue to be members of Redwood after they turn 18.
The cooperative also reaches out to the younger generation through a free financial workshop for Sonoma County high school students, sponsored in partnership with the schools. The four-day, 16-hour Banking & Finance Academy is based on a program created by the National Endowment for Financial Education.
Georgia's Own Credit Union
“Gen Y consumers are extremely important to us because they represent the future of our membership,” said Laura Sterling, assistant vice president of marketing at Georgia's Own.
Sterling said its Gen Y population is in the 18-32 age range, currently has about 32,000 members in that segment and is also one of the credit union's fastest growing membership groups, growing by 19% over the past two years.
A major factor in that growth is its “i[x] program,” which was created to attract members in the 14-25 age range and is accessed online via a blog-based website (www.doyouix.com).The website is designed to help young people with tailored assistance for setting up a checking or savings account, beginning investing or securing a new car loan. Membership in the program has grown 35% among the 14-25 year age group since its debut in 2009, Sterling said.
Samantha Paxson is vice president of marketing at CO-OP Financial Services. She can be reached at 800-782-9042, ext. 3450 or Samantha.email@example.com.