GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo – Ask a member who uses a CUSO service the name of the CUSO, and the likelihood is they won't be able to tell you or even know the product isn't coming to them direct from their credit union. Should they be able to? NACUSO Director Tom Davis, president of Davis & Company, a management consulting firm that specializes in project management and strategic planning development services for credit unions and CUSOs says that in focus groups he's conducted with members, "when members talk about a specific product or service, they don't talk about the CUSO. They refer to the credit union." It's as if, said Davis, the CUSO is transparent to them. Should credit unions brand and market their CUSO's name? Davis, for one, doesn't think that's a feasible idea. "Given what it takes to establish a brand now, to do that for a CUSO would be an overwhelming task," says Davis. Scott Jentz, an independent contractor for Bellco Credit Union, Greenwood, Colo. who runs the credit union's insurance and investment programs, knows all to well what's involved with trying to market a CUSO name. In 2002, Bellco ran an expensive marketing campaign that included billboards, radio ads, and messages in the credit union's telephone greeting about Bellco First Financial Services and the products available through the CUSO. "We put a good amount of money in to that campaign, but I don't think the name of the CUSO registered with people who saw or heard the ads," he said. Still, Jentz doesn't consider it wasted money. "We still wound up marketing the products," he said. Bellco recently decided to discontinue offering its investment services through the CUSO and instead will provide them through the credit union. Insurance products will continued to come through the CUSO. Jentz said Bellco doesn't plan to make any formal announcement about this to Bellco's members. "It wouldn't make a difference to them," he said. Martin Breland, president/CEO, Tower FCU, Laurel, Md., isn't sure about that. It depends on whether the issue is trust or convenience, he said. Tower has two CUSOs, an investment and insurance services CUSO called Tower Financial LLC, and a shared indirect lending CUSO with 29 other credit unions called CU Auto Loan Network. It was important that the name of the credit union be included in the name of the financial services CUSO, said Breland, because our members think of trust when they think of the name of the credit union, and it's important that they make that link. That's less important he said, with the indirect lending network. Rather it's more important that members know about the service and know that they can go to a participating dealer and ask to arrange financing through the credit union. Tower FCU's Web site has the CU Auto Loan Network logo on it that members can click on to obtain dealer information. "Having the logo on our Web site reinforces the services," said Breland. "Branding is important, but it depends on what the product and service is and what you want to reinforce," said Breland. "It's very important when trust is involved and becomes part of the equation." "At its core, a brand is a promise. It says `when you see this mark, it means something.' What makes a brand stick is whether you fulfill what you promise and claim. If you do, you develop a relationship and build trust, and that's what you want to reinforce," said Breland. -

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