Banks? No thanks

Last week, I posted a Young & Free licensing update and Jeffry Pilcher left a simple question in the comments:

Why limit Young & Free to just credit unions?

There's a simple, yet, long answer...

The answer to Jeffry's question is bigger than Young & Free, it has everything to do with what we do and what we believe in at Currency. We have a simple purpose stated on our website:

It is our purpose to help credit unions deepen their relationships with members and to persuade bank customers to become credit union members.

In our principles, we make it clear that we will never work with banks. Not all bankers and vendors that work with banks are bad. In fact, my Dad (who reads my blog) is a very well-respected, now-retired banker. He worked for CIBC for 37 years from the age of 18 to 55. And my Mom (who will read this blog post when my Dad tells her that she is included here) is also a retired CIBC employee. She worked on the frontline for more than 20 years. I know that both of my parents (the ex-bankers) are very good people!

What it really comes down to is picking sides. I have been in business for 18 years. At a certain point, the novelty of creating average work for anyone who asked for it wore off. It became important to me to build a top-notch specialized marketing agency with actual competency. Early on, we had a concentration of financial services clients, but it felt wrong to me to pursue both banks and credit unions. Building a successful business requires hard choices. I chose credit unions.

I needed to believe that Currency could change the world. I became passionate about credit unions and the cooperative principles. I bought into the notion that people helping people is the right thing to do. Many on my team followed along. Others didn't share my passion and have moved on. Today, our clients are all credit unions and our staff are all experts who believe in the credit union movement.

I know that the lines are blurred between banks and credit unions and that there are credit unions that put profits before people. But I need to believe that the credit unions that we work with are the good guys and that we are helping them win the war.

It's also about building an exclusive brand...

My decision to limit Currency (and therefore Young & Free) to just credit unions is not entirely about holding hands and believing in a larger movement. It is also about branding. A strong brand needs to be simple, needs to be focused and needs to stand for something.

If we were to offer Young & Free to banks, the brand would be weakened. It would stand for nothing. It would be nothing more than a slick marketing promotion geared at convincing young people to chose a credit union here and a bank there.

This is also why we are only offering one exclusive license per US state and Canadian province. I feel strongly that it is the right thing to do for our clients and for the Young & Free brand. For Young & Free to remain a highly differentiated and successful marketing program, it cannot be offered by competing financial institutions.

There is a reason that ranchers use branding irons to differentiate their cattle: seared flesh can't be easily hidden or changed. Too often companies employ magnetic-sign positioning. This idea that you can be one thing today and another thing tomorrow in an attempt to appeal to anyone and everyone is flawed. It doesn't work. Great brands pick sides and stick with their decisions.

Young & Free needs to inspire other young people...

I want to see many more young spokespeople discover the difference between banks and credit unions for themselves and to convince everyone around them to become credit union members.

Do you think Larissa Walkiw would have created anything as inspired as her The Difference Between Banks and Credit Unions video series (view Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) if I had told her to go easy on the bank bashing because we have a bank in Toronto that is looking at licensing Young & Free?

And as far as your other question, Mr. Pilcher...

For that matter, why limit Young & Free to just financial institutions?

Now that's just crazy talk. If we won't let banks have it, we sure aren't going to license Young & Free to a farm implement manufacturer or a chain of family restaurants looking to cozy up to Gen Y.

Now off my high horse...

To some this post will come off as naive, high and mighty, irrational or even insulting. I'm OK with that. Anyone that thinks he or she can change the world can't please everyone! Perhaps Currency and Young & Free would be bigger and more profitable if I opened them up to serve both banks and credit unions. I guess I'll never know. I'm also OK with that.

Tim

P.S. Jeffry has a way of innocently dropping these big questions (yeah right)! I think very highly of Jeffry—he is one of the smartest brand strategists working in the financial services industry today. I enjoy the way that he challenges me and makes me state my beliefs. You should be reading his blog, The Financial Brand. Your brain will thank you for it later!