The Rundown

  • Last year, Bank Transfer Day sparking an unprecedented national movement that inspired hundreds of thousands to become members.
  • Some industry leaders say there’s an excellent opportunity to build on the BTD movement.
  • Other credit union observers contend that BTD was just a one-off event that will fade away.

Monday, Nov. 5th, marks the first anniversary of Bank Transfer Day, a national grass-roots social media movement that motivated 664,000 consumers to join credit unions, leaving their rising big bank fees behind. What’s more, Transfer Day’s unprecedented and widespread media coverage told the story of credit unions as a better alternative to banks.

But will credit unions be able to build on the movement’s momentum and expand its positive message to keep attracting new members and grow deposits and assets?

Some credit union leaders say Transfer Day one year later still represents an extraordinary opportunity to craft a central and continuous marketing message that will keep the positive credit union brand in front of the public for years to come.  But others argue the day was just a one-off event that will eventually fade away.

But the momentum did seem to carry through 2012. Last month, 56% of credit unions said members’ growth in the past year has exceeded expectations, and 55% of credit unions said accounts have been increasing among new members, according to a survey by NAFCU.

“BTD has been a game changer longer term because it increased the awareness of credit unions as an alternative to big banks,” said Jerry Schmitt, vice president of marketing for the $4.8 billion Bethpage Federal Credit Union in Bethpage, N.Y. “We had incredible numbers on BTD and throughout that week. This year we decided to continue leveraging BTD in our marketing during the anniversary. We see it as another opportunity to remind people about the credit union difference that helps us attract new members.”

Since Transfer Day last year, Bethpage FCU has added 35,800 new members. Though Schmitt is not sure how long the mojo will last, other credit unions leaders see a rare opportunity to keep the underlying message and conversation alive and well in the marketplace that can benefit all credit unions.

Troy Hall, chief operations officer for $1.3 billion South Carolina Federal Credit Union in North Charleston, S.C., said he believes that through collaborative marketing efforts, credit unions can reap the benefits of using a simple call-to-action tagline, Every Day Is Bank Transfer Day.

“Kristen Christian [Transfer Day founder] said credit unions need to own BTD, so we ran with it,” said Hall. “Why is the trademark valuable? Because we have received more publicity on this topic than on anything we have ever done before in the history of credit unions.”

Hall led the efforts to trademark Every Day is Bank Transfer Day earlier this year. He transferred the trademark to CUNA so that it would be available free for all credit unions to use at a tagline for their marketing campaigns.

Leveraging the Every Day is Bank Transfer Day tagline, Hall said, is similar to the concepts of other cooperative and successful taglines such as Got Milk?  Pork, The Other White Meat, and the Incredible Edible Egg.  Reportedly, the long-standing marketing promotions have substantially increased consumer consumption of these products, boosting industry profits.

But unlike the milk, pork and egg industries that spent millions in national marketing campaigns, credit unions wouldn’t need to invest a fortune to promote Every Day is Bank Transfer Day, and it would allow many of the industry’s small and midsize credit unions participate, Hall said.

Hall proposes that credit unions in common geographic areas collaborate and share resources to coordinate marketing campaigns that would highlight the trademark message, Every Day is Bank Transfer Day.  For example, some South Carolina credits unions used the tagline throughout the month of October on their print, social media and Web advertising as well as radio and TV spots. Samples of these coordinated marketing promotions are on www.btdnow.org.

“If we already understand that Everyday is Bank Transfer Day is a viable conversation in the marketplace, then why wouldn’t we do it?” asked Hall. “That is the whole idea–to leverage the conversation, the message that is relevant and valuable in the marketplace. This is the opportunity for us to make this voice really loud and powerful in the marketplace.”

But Ron Shevlin, an Aite Group senior analyst of the banking and credit union industries, said the problem is that movements like Bank Transfer Day tend to have a short shelf life. 

Aite Group research that found 10% of banked consumers switched from their banks to credit unions in 2011. When asked what factors influenced their decision to switch, 8% cited Transfer Day.

In his June 18 blog, Shevlin called the result “less than a rousing success” in part because “for the most part, credit unions themselves did diddly-squat to create or promote BTD. Which means that their ROI on BTD with 8% influence rate was huge,” he wrote. “It’s always a great marketing tactic when you can get someone else to do all the work while you reap the benefits.”

“As far as I’m concerned, BTD 2011 was a passing phenomenon. A one-time shot,” Shevlin wrote. “The pieces came together at the moment in time in 2011, and those pieces aren’t there in 2012.”

What more, when Credit Union Times contacted more than a dozen credit union leagues and associations around the country–New York, Texas, California, New Mexico, North Carolina, Virginia, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Florida, Georgia, Oregon, Washington, South Carolina and Ohio–most of them reported there were no planned events among credit union members to promote the first anniversary.

“Most of our credit unions right now from what I’m hearing are concentration what they are doing for Credit Union International Day and Week,” Bonnie Sklar,  public relations coordinator Credit Union Association of New York, said in last month. “A lot of them promote around that. The banks also use it as an appreciation day for their members and to get the word out about what they are doing.  That may be why there hasn’t been a lot of buzz about BTD.”

Nonetheless, a few credit union leagues have been observing BTD’s first anniversary.  For example, South Carolina Credit Union League has been featuring Every Day is Bank Transfer Day news items on its site. And the Southeastern League of Credit Unions is hosting Transfer Day founder Kristen Christian at its Leadership Development Conference Nov. 6-9 in Point Clear, Ala. She will be speaking at two breakout sessions: Making Every Day Bank Transfer Day and Marketing to Millenials.

In an email interview with Credit Union Times, Christian said that we’ll likely see the effects of Transfer Day for years to come.

“I sincerely hope that credit unions continue to share their individual approaches to the people helping people mission to perpetuate the dialogue about viable banking alternatives,” Christian said. “The next two generations of consumers, dubbed Millennial and Homeland, will be receptive to and supportive of this mission. Whether through Bank Transfer Day or other channels, I plan to share the cooperative message and commemorate the anniversary for many years to come.”