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The past six months have been an economic roller coaster. Public perceptions of the financial industry have been changing rapidly. Within these shaping opinions is a group witnessing for the first time in their lives some of the most historic changes in our country’s financial system at a dynamic stage in their life.Generation Y, the largest demographic group since the baby boomers, is making decisions about who they can trust and who they will conduct financial business with for years to come based on current events. Financial institutions that focus on this group today will be the ones who have them as account holders tomorrow.Here are some current trends, strategies and examples of how your credit union can focus on this group.Trust is in, cool is out. It’s never been a good idea for financial institutions to try to “act cool.” However, now more than ever it’s important for financial institutions to have a message of truth and safety rather than attempt to act like a best friend.Search former Washington Mutual’s “Whoo-hoo!” campaign online for some good satire.Higher unemployment. The unfortunate reality of the current economy is that many young adults have been let go or are having difficulty finding jobs. As of December 2008, 11% of workers under 29 were unemployed compared to 7.2% overall, according to an MSNBC report.A negative situation can be a huge opportunity for credit unions to establish relationships with this age group when they’re desperately in need of financial assistance and other institutions can’t or won’t help.See Arizona State Credit Union’s social network for local job listings at www.helpingaz.com.Lower cost delivery channels. As the largest age group most likely to use online banking services like e-statements and bill pay, it’s important to invest the time and resources to make sure younger members are familiar with your online products and services. Whether you walk someone through online banking in-person or have online tutorials on your Web site, these efforts will be worth their weight in gold, not only in long-term cost savings but also creating greater loyalty and member retention.See Alliant Credit Union’s Web site as an example of a simple and easy to navigate site: www.alliantcreditunion.org.It’s important to note a common misconception-that Generation Y does all banking online and doesn’t require branches. While it’s true this group has the highest propensity to use online channels, they also consider the presence of branches and ATMs to be very important when establishing a financial relationship.Savings challenges and competitions. A number of credit unions have recently been utilizing a variety of savings challenges and competitions to incentivize savings among members. According to The Wall Street Journal, people are in a savings mentality right now: economists are predicting a 5% or higher savings rate for 2009-the highest since World War II.Check out First Tech Credit Union’s U Turn Financial Challenge at www.uturnchallenge.com.People want help with finances. People are more interested in their finances than they have been for years.Credit unions must have financial products, services and policies that appeal to Generation Y whether it’s low-limit credit cards, student loans or higher yield savings and checking accounts. While there are multiple trains of thought on this topic ranging from offering specific products for Generation Y to simply focusing more on universal product values that simultaneously appeal to Generation Y, it is important and necessary to have a product base that appeals to this group.The trend toward online personal financial management and aggregation is in full swing. Helping members track spending, saving, borrowing and investing is the next stage of product recommendations. Some credit unions are doing this in-house, others are outsourcing, and some have formed CUSOs to do the work. No matter how you slice it, online financial tools will continue to grow in importance.Personal finance information and financial education go hand-in-hand with financial tools and online account management. There is large-scale reform coming in the areas of financial education at all levels-local, state and national. While nothing will be finalized until the economy is in order, these changes will provide significant opportunities for credit unions that invest in helping members with financial education and could become a competitive advantage going forward.Regardless of which approaches or strategies you choose to take, it’s critical during tough economic times to invest for future growth. In this case, future growth means attracting and retaining a new generation of credit union members.

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Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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