CUNA Chairman Dick Ensweiler, who in real life is CEO of the Texas CU League, has been popping up as a featured speaker at credit union meetings around the country where he urges his audiences to avoid the word bank at all costs. Only he puts it a bit stronger than that: “Get rid of that four-letter word. There is no reason to compare credit unions to a bank.” His message has not been universally embraced to say the least, especially among some credit union marketers. Those credit unions that employ the word bank or banking in their marketing strategies think he is all wet. They staunchly defend their use of tag lines like, “A Better Way of Banking,” “We are the Un-Bank,” “Bank Smarter Here,” and “Just Like Banking Only Better.” Asks one aggressive CU marketing director, “Can Ensweiler come up with a better word? Would he like us to say, `Credit Union Smarter Here?’ ” Ensweiler’s disdain for the B-word covers the waterfront. He doesn’t even like the term “ home banking,” Like bank and banking, he couldn’t come up with any suggested replacements. Seems like “home credit unioning” just won’t cut it with most members. Let’s face it; even the word check, which replaced the original moniker of share draft, is a banking word. The problem is, admit it or not, the word banking describes what members do at their credit union. Like Scotch tape and Xerox copies, it has become a generic word that everyone uses and everyone understands. Unfortunately, there is no word that says the same thing but is generic to credit unions. On a number of occasions I wished out loud that there was such a word. I even suggested that the very name credit union is a negative name in some quarters. Giving credit is certainly not all credit unions do. And let’s be honest, “union” doesn’t always conjure up positive vibes. Unlike Ensweiler, however, I did come up with a replacement name. It wasn’t very practical. Instead of credit union, I suggested “Credit Union Member Financial Centers.” Nice touch with “member” in the name, but too long. Can you picture federal charters going by the abbreviation ABCFMFC? Me neither. Besides, back to the original problem, MFC in whatever form also couldn’t substitute for old faithful words like bank or banking. In his zeal to advance the cause of credit unions nationwide, it appears that the CUNA (another four-letter word by the way) Chairman has forgotten the practical side of wordsmithing. For example, he says, “How can we tell legislators that credit unions are unique if we don’t market ourselves as different?” Marketing to legislators is called public relations and lobbying. Marketing to members is letting them know that a credit union offers everything that a bank offers, and oh by the way, a lot more like ownership. If the emphasis is reversed, marketing uniqueness and the credit union difference before or instead of telling them what you offer as a financial institution, you will go out of business. Nevertheless, Ensweiler fears that any mention of the word bank or even banking will undermine the credit union trade groups’ efforts to convince lawmakers that credit unions are not banks. Says Ensweiler; we are telling the politicians not to even think of us in the same light as banks. “The only thing we have in common are some products,” he says. Truth is credit unions have a lot more in common than “some products.” Although I, too, cringe every time I see credit unions using the word bank in their marketing programs, or worse, as an integral part of their corporate identification, I can understand why some credit unions choose to do it. The fact is that despite Ensweiler’s pleading that credit unions market the credit union difference, when it comes to operational matters, there is no difference between a credit union and a bank. Banks have branches, tellers, make personal and business loans, have introduced Internet banking, provide drive-up windows, offer a variety of savings products, use computers, are housed in attractive facilities, employ good people, issue credit and debit cards, provide checks, belong to surcharge-free ATM networks, utilize impersonal phone systems, are open longer hours than ever, truncate checks, and compete intensely for more business. So do credit unions. As a matter of fact, most members could care less about much else than those things that are important to them such as rates, products and services, delivery systems, and convenience. In these areas of importance to those doing business with the credit union or bank, it is who does the best job that gets the business. Horrors! Am I saying there really is no difference between a credit union and a bank? Of course not. There are very important differences in philosophy and structure. Credit unions are not-for-profit financial cooperatives that are organized to serve the changing financial needs of the members who own them. Banks are for-profit and organized to make a profit for stockholders. What marketers are saying to people like Ensweiler and me who hate to see credit unions positioning themselves as though banks set the standard, which credit unions are trying to meet, is that the majority of members/customers really can’t be bothered by this distinction. Of much more importance to them is where can they get the best deal in town? That’s why talking about other differences such as having unpaid volunteers and using worn out slogans such as “not for profit, not for charity.” more often than not will fall on deaf ears. Maybe the Australian credit unions have a solution with their new national slogan which tries to marry the credit union distinction with what they actually do: “Credit Unions-A Different Kind of Banking?” Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected].

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Peter Westerman


Credit Union Times

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