Credit unions have a lot of explaining to do.

That was a key takeaway CUNA President/CEO Jim Nussle told credit union professionals during the final general session of the Southeast Credit Union Conference in Orlando on Friday.

Nussle revealed what he called “interesting” findings that came from CUNA’s consumer and member research. The national trade organization is using this research to develop a national campaign for creating credit union awareness that is expected to be ready for launch by the 2018 GAC.

CUNA’s research revealed that the word member is confusing to consumers.

“We use it as a part of our value proposition and we throw it around as though it is completely understood,” Nussle said. “What we are discovering from the research is that particularly, the younger you get, the less you understand what it means what a member (is). They actually see it as a barrier, not as a benefit.”

So how can credit unions overcome this barrier?

“One of the things we’ve learned already is that we can’t just throw words around like member without explaining (it),” he said. “We’ve got to explain why that benefit exists and not just assume that word in and of itself is self-explanatory.”

CUNA’s research also found a consumer perception is that credit unions are not big enough or sophisticated enough to handle financial problems that people experience as they go through their lives. Nussle also indicated this perception exists even among people who understand what a credit union is.

“This is one of the myths we just have to bust through,” he said. “We have to explain why we are big enough to handle all of their problems. We know how to get in the same mud puddle as you because we’ve been there and we know how to help you.”

Another consumer perception is that credit unions only serve the poor, according to CUNA’s research findings.

What’s more, Nussle indicated there is an additional perception that if credit unions are just for the poor it must mean they are “kind of taking from members” who are not poor to ensure credit unions can continue to help poor members.

“I say this as a very delicate issue because we are there to be an access point, particularly if you’re a community development credit union or if you have lots of different ways to help people,” Nussle said. “But if that’s the only perception, again, we’ve got to explain it in a way so that we are connecting.”

Another perception challenge is consumers have concerns about whether they can get fast access to their cash through ATMs or mobile banking. Nussle indicated some consumers questioned whether credit union operate ATMs or offer mobile banking.

“So as we are thinking about creating awareness for the future, we’ve got to bust through (these) myths and explain the credit union difference for a whole new wave for generations that have never heard of us before,” Nussle said. “We’ve got to stop assuming that everybody ought to just know. I know. You ought to know. We can’t be arrogant about that.”

In addition to educating non-members about credit unions, Nussle also noted that credit unions need to educate their own members about the value of the credit union difference and leverage them as “ambassadors” to promote credit unions.

He also said the national rollout of the new awareness campaign will not be a one-size-fits all solution.

“We live in a social media environment (in which) you don’t have to do it all the same,” Nussle said. “I come from Iowa, and we used to say the best advertising is word of mouth —- leaning over your back fence talking to somebody —- is the best advertising you can get. Well now, the back fences are Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat. So it doesn’t have to be one size fits all.”

Nussle indicated the national awareness campaign will be focused on sharing information with credit unions without interfering with its local brand messages that supports and promotes its authenticity.