Scary big idea 1: Affinity positioning for credit unions.

This is a new category: scary big ideas. I was going to call it "wild ideas that credit unions will never go for, but should, because these ideas, if executed with courage and commitment, would really fly" but it was too long and wouldn't fit in the category menu.

Think of this new category as a fringe third-year course taught by an eccentric that doesn't have very many students.

Some background on this scary big idea

There is a general consensus that credit unions need to be bigger and need to have an unlimited field of membership to compete. So the once tightly defined fields of membership have given way to the new looser, we-are-open-to-everyone fields of membership.

For many credit unions that have made this jump, there is a sense of surprise and wonder that this new openness has not yielded hoards of new members flocking in to open new accounts and move their mortgages.

So, the next conclusion drawn is to offer better rates, free chequing accounts and free George Foreman grills to compete in these highly competitive multi-credit union markets.

What if there was another answer?

What if the decision to become more open was flawed? What if when an original field of membership is deemed to be irrelevant and unsustainable, we redefined an equally tight, but more relevant field of membership?

What if we defined our fields of membership by affinity?

Here are some dictionary definitions for affinity:

  1. A close connection marked by community of interests or similarity in nature or character.
  2. A natural attraction or feeling of kinship.
  3. A natural liking for or attraction to a person, thing or idea.
  4. A person, thing or idea for which such a natural liking or attraction is felt.

When I think of large groups of employees or even neighbours, there is very little shared affinity. The relationships we have with our coworkers and neighbours are not based on shared passion, they are based on mere acquaintance: "Hey Bob, how was your weekend?" "Fine, Dave, how was your weekend?" "Fine."

Huh? What the heck am I talking about?

Put all of the "it will never happen" thoughts that are racing through you mind aside and think like the CEO of a start-up for a second. If you opened a new credit union today with no members, how would you go about building your business from nothing? This new credit union would have be highly differentiated with a story so compelling that a select group of very passionate early adopters would promote it for you. Your new credit union would need to build around shared affinity.

Here are some ideas for narrow affinity based fields of membership

  1. Ladies-Only Credit Union. Tony Mannor had a discussion going on his CU Hype blog about a credit union based entirely on pink targeting women. This is the type of idea that I am talking about here. However, Tony also suggested "to co-brand a secondary colour like chocolate brown or black to appeal to men." This is exactly what I am not talking about here. You have to deliberately limit your field of membership to appeal to an affinity group. To make our Ladies-Only Credit Union really fly, we could donate 20% of operating profits to fight breast cancer. Wouldn't you take a possible target of 50% of the population?
  2. Golfers' Credit Union. Imagine a credit union only open to golfers? Golf vacation loans. A roaming PGA golf pro on staff available for free lessons. Branches with a club-fitting corner. A rewards program based entirely on golf including vacations, clubs, attire and green fees. ATMs located at golf and country clubs. Member tournaments. The ideas are endless. Golfers are affluent and the word of mouth promotion would be incredible.
  3. Bloggers' Credit Union. Members would have to a have an active blog or podcast. With Technorati ranking more than 10 million active blogs, there are more than enough bloggers to float a credit union. Get a few on side and let the viral nature of the social web take care of new member acquisition. Add in members of MySpace, Facebook or YouTube if just bloggers is too limiting for you.
  4. Emo Credit Union. OK, maybe this is a little narrow (or weird), but music fans have undeniable shared affinity. Rewards could include music memorabilia, concert tickets and back-stage passes. (I stole the emo idea from Brent Dixon and Charlie Trotter).
  5. Vegetarians' Credit Union. Motorcyclists' Credit Union. Adventurists' Credit Union. Naturalists' Credit Union. Parents' Credit Union. Little Peoples' Credit Union. Dog Owners' Credit Union. Save the Earth Credit Union. Nudists' Credit Union.

I could go on and on. My point is that affinity has incredible power, more so than shared geography, shared demographics or a shared employer and affinity has nothing to do with the highest or lowest rates. You products and services would simply have to be competitive, not earth shattering.

Before you cast this crazy idea aside, consider the affinity and passion that Harley Davidson owners share. Or the affinity and passion that Apple computer owners share. Affinity could be the next killer app for credit unions.

Or, you can tell the eccentric teacher to put a sock in it! What do you think?

Tim