Talking About That Generation: Listen First
It's time for the credit union industry to stop viewing Gen Y as an alien species.
Or at least Tara Bross, marketing specialist at Linn Area Credit Union in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, thinks so.
“Every generation, including baby boomers, has certain expectations and wants, but the label Gen Y stirs up negative connotations,” said the latest Trailblazer 40 Below, who admitted it is one of her pet peeves. “They are just people. A generation of people who want information like any other generation.”
As everyone talks about the challenge of reaching young adults, Bross suggests that simply talking to them and listening removes the biggest barrier.
“The biggest myth is this idea that young adults are all irresponsible. Replace that with they are early adapters and trendsetters. They want the new smartphone, newest app. They are eager to try new things,” Bross said.
“There's so much to learn from that perspective. I think sometimes so much focus is on the concern, about the risk involved in investing in young adults that overall we miss that these are the people who move our world forward,” she said.
Bross said that given every region has its own idiosyncrasies, the conversations should start locally simply with questions ranging from “what can we do to keep you happy and what do you want, to what are your greatest frustrations in banking?”
“We can hear from all the experts, and that information is great, but if we’re not asking our members then how do we know what's most important to the people we serve,” she said. “There's no magic bullet. You can't just create a Facebook page or Twitter account and expect teens to come be a part of your financial institutions, because they’ve already moved on to Snapchat.”
As for the argument that the next generation wants everything for free, Bross again suggests a shift in mindset and said people will pay for what they believe adds value. It's a matter of credit unions figuring out what that is and delivering. That begins with fewer assumptions and more actual interactions, as an employer and a financial institution.
Like many, Bross didn't start out looking for a career in credit unions, but once in the industry she said she can't imagine being anywhere else.
She got her start in newspaper advertising and sales and then shifted gears, working in the corporate legal world in contracts. While she enjoyed her three years in the legal world it wasn't challenging her creativity. That's when a position opened at the $317 million credit union and with more than 100 applicants, it kicked Bross’ competitive nature into overdrive.
“I felt like I had to fight to get this position and I’m so grateful they took a chance on me and welcomed me. It's hard for me to imagine doing anything else,” she said, crediting her background in contracts as possibly giving her an edge. “It helped me think about not just the end result but the process involved to get there and how it all fit in the bigger picture.”
She urged all young professionals to take on as much responsibility, opportunity to learn and network as possible. Be positive and always say yes. She learned that the second day at Linn Area CU when she had the opportunity to attend a chapter meeting of the Iowa Credit Union League.
“I was terrified. It was the biggest meeting of the year filled with board members and top level executives from all these credit unions but they made me feel so welcome and were so supportive,” she said. “Right away I knew I was part of something bigger than a business.”
It also demonstrated to Bross that Linn Area CU as an employer walked the talk in their motto of “We are family”. More importantly, it underscored the belief that every employee has something valuable to contribute to the success of the organization.
“You’ve got to bring a positive attitude to work. It was my second day and all I was thinking was how amazing that my credit union wanted me to go meet with industry leaders, connect and build relationships as a way to help me learn and live the credit union difference,” Bross said. “For me, that support in my development is everything. I love the ability to be able to come together and turn an idea into something tangible that not only affects the bottom line but changes members’ lives.”
She added for a young professional, the ability to network and be a trusted partner in helping the organization make a real difference in its community is one of the most powerful draws credit unions can offer.
“People say work hard, play hard, but the follow through is usually lackluster. So I think I’m lucky to work where they are dedicated to supporting a culture that is committed to their employees being lifelong learners. It just drives us all as a team to work harder,” she said.
It's not about being cool, but giving real opportunities to do more and a willingness to explore beyond the status quo, she said.
“It's like how everyone talks about wanting to be innovative. We hear it all the time at conferences, which is great. But how many are scared to follow through on what that entails – doing the research, taking chances, allowing for the possibility of learning from failure,” said Bross, who believes innovation is a work in progress. “For example, if your credit union still isn't on social media or offering online services, are you really striving to be innovative?”
With the possibilities that technology affords, it's an exciting time to be a credit union marketer. She said if credit unions focus on truly differentiating themselves by doing right by the member, it would make a big difference in standing out from the competition.
“For me, if I’m obsessed with what the competition is doing, then I won't have time to focus on what we can do,” she said. “Our marketing, whether traditional or on social media, has to be unique to who we are as a brand. If we focus on doing that well, the rest will fall into place.”