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September is 30 things I would implement or consider implementing at my credit union if I was a credit union leader.
Thing 21: Implement a white-label PFM
Just as soon as we replaced that nasty-10-year-old website at my fictitious credit union, I would jump straight to implementing a personal financial management tool (PFM) inside my credit union's online banking site.
If this PFM term is new to you, imagine the desktop software Quicken or Microsoft Money sitting right inside your online banking system with robust budgeting and tagging (categorization of income and expenses) right there, without requiring your members to download or manually enter transaction data.
Sound impossible? Or futuristic? Not only is it possible and available right now, there are a number of vendors clamoring to offer this service to banks and credit unions.
Web service firms like Mint.com have been doing a bang-up job of sucking the data right out of your credit union online banking sites and giving consumers a slick representation of all of their accounts at various financial institutions for a while now.
You can either live with this reality or fight back with a white-label PFM that sits right inside your online banking system and gives your members everything they need without having to rely on a third-party.
I have personal experience with the public Wesabe service, and I would give it five out of five stars. Wesabe is now offering a white-label version called Springboard. In addition, I know of a number of others worth checking out. Jwaala MoneyTracker, Geezeo, FinanceWorks from Digital Insights and a local Canadian company, PennyMinder. I am sure there are more, but this will give you a good start.
I know in Canada, many credit unions are on a standardized online banking system and having a PFM may not be available to you. You need to pressure your provider to put it on their roadmap pronto. There is a tremendous opportunity for credit unions to differentiate themselves if they can implement a robust PFM solution before their bank competitors.
If you believe this is a passing fad for a niche audience, ask yourself, "Why did Intuit, the makers of Quicken, QuickBooks and QuickTax, just pay $170 million for Mint.com?"
September is 30 things I would implement or consider implementing at my credit union if I was a credit union leader.
Thing 16: Be positive and shy away from bank bashing in our branding and marketing
I like positivity versus negativity in life and in branding and marketing. That's why some credit union campaigns that focus solely on bank bashing rub me the wrong way. Jeffry Pilcher recently wrote a good opinion piece entitled, The ugly downside of bank bashing about this practice and I wholeheartedly agree with his take on the subject. The key questions that Jeffry asks are worth careful consideration:
- How can financial institutions rebuild consumer trust when so many of the industry’s own marketing messages say bankers are untrustworthy scum?
- Do consumers really see a difference between banks and credit unions?
- At what point can the financial industry no longer withstand the mockery, self-loathing and shame it heaps on itself?
Matt Davis, the Credit Union Warrior, recently wrote a great post entitled Bringing back optimism. Matt concludes with this, "Swallow your pride. Spend some money. Take some chances on your members. Be optimistic that in doing this, you are being exactly what you promised your members you would be: a financial institution that they can count on, no matter what."
At my fictitious credit union, I would portray a positive and optimistic image and stay away from heavy-handed bank bashing. I would concentrate on the differentiated traits that make our credit union special rather than constantly pointing out what's wrong with banking.
Unless you can toe the line with an entertainment and educational poke at the differences between the banks and credit unions, bank bashing can leave your potential members depressed versus inspired.
Caveat: if you choose to bash banks, do it exceptionally well
After exploring the microsite and watching all of the videos, I had an ear-to-ear smile. It's humorous, exceptionally well executed, the video-script writing is brilliant and the casting of the actors is top-notch. It combines terrific product offers, fun quizzes plus a smart Twitter tie-in. It is bank bashing done right. It works because it is highly entertaining.
Since September has 30 days, I am going to present 30 things that I would implement or consider implementing at my credit union if I was a credit union leader.
Some things will be simple. Some things will not be for you. Some things will be controversial. Some things will only apply to Canadian credit unions and some things, like this first thing, will only apply to American credit unions.
Thing 1: The American Debt Relief Challenge
This is a dead simple concept that just makes sense. More credit unions should get involved. Here is a brief description from the ADR Challenge website.
"Credit unions are providing relief for American families burdened by high interest credit cards. It's not fancy. Just a simple truth. Not-for-profit credit unions have lower credit card rates than big, for-profit banks. When you transfer your debt to a credit union, more of your monthly payment is applied to reducing the debt and less to cover a high interest rate. It's the easy and honest way to save a lot of money."
Jamie Chase and Melina Young from CU Strategic Planning are the folks behind the ADR Challenge. They are good people doing good things for credit unions. They have a very lofty goal of saving Americans $300 million.
If I was a credit union leader, I would consider implementing the ADR Challenge. It's smart, inexpensive, safe and sound and has the potential of attracting new members to your credit union.
I know it seems like I've been slacking, but over this busy summer I HAVE managed to ask three people what it would take for them to become a credit union member (remember this post? Johanne, thou hast not been forsaken!)
And dang it if all three weren't ALREADY credit union members! But here's the ironic thing I found out. My question opened a very emotional memory for one of these people–I'll call him John.
"I recently lost my member number." John told me. He used to have quite a low number, and when his credit union merged they adopted a new banking system which resulted in him losing his low number. Now he doesn't feel special, he said.
Let's forget for now that, after some scoop reporting, I tracked this merger down to find out it happened OVER FIVE YEARS AGO and that he obviously has difficulty with the definition of "recent." This fellow still hasn't gotten over it! I've only HEARD stories of people like him (and they're usually in their 70s. This man is in his mid-40s.)
And that begged another question - why was his sense of importance to the credit union tied to a number? Didn't the credit union make him feel valued in other ways?
His answer? No. Now (he says) I'm just like everyone else. Before it was a topic of conversation, now there's no conversation. This could have been one of those catalyzing moments that had him moving all of his business away, but when I broached this he shrugged in that ambivalent way many consumers do when weighing the aggravation of the event against the aggravation of finding a new financial home and said "I have all my stuff there."
I'm completely unaware of whether or not I have a member number at my credit union. The only numbers that matter to me is my account number and my PIN numbers, because I need them for transactions. Maybe if I had a member number I would feel more like I belonged?
What are your thoughts about numbers?
Why limit Young & Free to just credit unions?
There's a simple, yet, long answer...
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.
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!
We once worked with a credit union client on a complex system of cross-referrals slips to get around barriers imposed by Ficom that keep credit union members separate from the insurance side of the credit union business. It was interesting to see banks have the same challenge.
In a Globe and Mail article titled "A piece of drywall away from being..." Tara Perkins wrote "If a customer walks into the banking side of the RBC location in Oakville and asks an employee if they know where they can buy some car insurance, the employee's likely to squirm. Responding with "we sell insurance," or "next door," or even just pointing to the insurance office, could be breaking the law. They're instructed to hand over a generic brochure about insurance that does not promote RBC."
So I thought, let's test this. My assumption is that even though there are no bank insurance offices near any of the bank branches here in Chilliwack, since it's a Canada Bank Act law, the response to my scenario should be the same.
"I need to buy life insurance on my home equity line of credit and other insurance on my home. Can I get that here?"
Let's see how the big 5 did:
- RBC: They had an insurance brochure in their rack, which they helpfully gave me. The insurance discussion would be handled over the phone, with payments for premiums withdrawn from my RBC account. However there was no hesitation to tell me about their insurance services, and while the insurance brochure was very plain, it definitely wasn't the "generic brochure about insurance that doesn't promote RBC," since "RBC..." is on the top left corner of every page.
- CIBC: I got a pretty blank look at my home insurance question. She didn't really have an answer for that. About home equity insurance, I was told I could only get insurance on their own mortgages. She said she could get me a brochure about it, but the way the desk was attached to her leaning arm, I didn't think it would be soon in coming.
- Scotia: If I bring my mortgage/LOC over they can insure it (life, disability, etc.) I made a point of relating how my credit union has a separate branch for insurance and would I have to go somewhere other than that specific branch, or could they look after it right there, and they assured me they could.
- TD Canada Trust: No life or disability insurance available. They can provide credit insurance on mortgages and lines of credit. I think this is a 'ding-ding' for TD! However, when I visited a different branch, they had wicket posters advertising insurance. Huh?
- BMO: Hey, they told me they weren't allowed to talk about insurance in the branch! And when she tried to find a phone number for me on her computer, there wasn't one. BMO obviously takes this insurance separation seriously. I asked why she couldn't talk about insurance and she replied 'I guess because we aren't an insurance company?' with a question in her voice. She was so nice about helping me, though, that I wanted to reward her with one of the BMO mints hanging out on her counter. But I knew it would blow my cover.
This is obviously a complex subject, governed by complex legal documents written by legislative types intent on job security. Why does it matter whether or not I can buy insurance from my f.i.? Wouldn't that be doing me, the member/customer, a service?
If anyone wants to enlighten me on why this is such a complex topic, feel free. But I'd much rather get a kick-ass no-bake brownie recipe.
I discovered a neat thing today when I checked out my sad little balance at the TD. For those of you who've forgotten, I opened accounts at Canada's 5 major banks to do mystery shopping for this blog.
Anywho, I logged in and found this:
Here's my critique:
- Too much copy.
- Haven't we gotten beyond the ALL CAPS full name thing in (de-) personalizing our offers??
- Use it sparingly, not every time I log in.
- It's brilliant.
Now, I already know that you're thinking two things.
First, you're worried that my boss, Tim, will tear me a new one for spending 3/7 of my time (check out the tabs) on non-work-related internet surfing. Thanks for the concern, but he actually encourages us to use social media, as it will play a big role in the future of marketing.
The second thing you're thinking is, "How can she have 75% of her criticism be negative and yet say it's brilliant? Is she taking Will Ferrell's crazy pills?"
Here's why it's brilliant:
- I took the time to read it.
Do you know how hard it is to get people to read your marketing messages? Very hard. I will clarify, though - the IDEA is brilliant. The execution sucks.
Are you "helpfully interrupting" your members
Okay, maybe "enemy" is harsh. How about "older brother that likes to put us in headlocks from time to time, and when you complain to mom about it, she isn't looking and when she finally looks, he lets you go and she misses it..." You get my drift.
Mid-January a local TD Canada Trust held a grand opening for their newest branch. I received a direct mail piece about their RRSP offering (young boy looking at height measurements charted on a wall) but not a notice about this event. I don't recall seeing an ad in the community newspaper (doesn't mean it wasn't there, just that it wasn't very NOTICEABLE).
They had announced the branch extremely well using a billboard on a main thorough-fare in town, and hoarding signage at the construction site.
The event itself was pretty sedate.
- Put the iconic "Chair of Comfort" (my term) in the branch for the day
- Full branch staff introduced themselves, were very talkative in a non-intrusive way, and seemed genuinely glad to see me
- They treated my chair photo request seriously and cleared the way for a good photo
- For those of you who believe in them, a good grab bag was given to me AND my 12-year-old daughter: eco-friendly cloth bag, TD magnet piggy bank, cool green pen and sticky note-pad
- No outward facing sign that anything was going on. Not even balloons outside! (The branch is at a high traffic location.)
- Staff giggled about how silly it was that the "Chair of Comfort" had a procedures manual 3 inches thick and its own "handlers". Too bad, I gave them the opportunity to build the myth of the chair and tie the "comfort" promise even more solidly to their brand. They missed it.
Tips for credit unions:
- If your new branch is a relocation, consider a VIP event for existing branch members only and dignitaries (mayor, local MP, local MLA). Members should be rewarded for their support. Contact the dignitaries at least two months in advance to allow the date to work into their schedules. A simple phone call campaign works for this.
- For the public grand opening, focus on introducing your brand to the community in a way that points out your competitive difference. Secondly, make sure to tie a giveaway into an account opening. If you have snacks, keep them simple. But make sure you have a good supply of refreshments (coffee, tea, juice boxes, soda).
- Welcome yourself to the neighbourhood with other business by introducing yourself prior to the events with a small baked basket. One of our clients did this with great success, especially in an outdoor mall area where parking for the grand opening was sure to become cramped.
What has worked for you? Let us know by leaving a comment.
"Should our credit union blog?"
That is one of the top questions that I hear in the credit union space these days. Well, for North Carolina's Members Credit Union, the answer is a resounding yes.
Members' blog is the Credit Union Warrior and it is an amazing example of what a credit union blog can be.
Here are the questions credit unions are asking and this is how the folks at Members answered them.
Question 1: What the heck are we going to talk about? Our products and services are pretty boring. Who wants to hear about savings accounts and interest rates?
Members' answer: Let's wrap the content around something we are already doing well, our Football Pick'em contest. Let's not mindlessly drone on about products and services. Let's entertain and include our members in a meaningful exchange. Let's be different!
Question 2: Who's going to do it? We can't afford a social media consultant, an advertising agency or an interactive firm.
Members' answer: Let's get Matt—he'll do anything! We have a talented, motivated, engaging and technology savvy young person in our midst. Let's give him the freedom to be creative and the resources and the time he needs to get it done.
Question 3: How are we going to do it? We know nothing about blogging or what it takes to put this kind of thing together.
Members' answer: Let's use free Web 2.0 Internet services like Blogger and YouTube to host and manage our content.
As an aside, the CU Warrior is hosted using Blogger and uses embedded YouTube videos, but you could easily use other free services like Typepad, Wordpress or, the credit union specific, CUBlogs.org for your blogging platform and other free video hosting services like Vimeo or Video Egg if your blog concept requires video.
I met the Warrior himself, Matt Davis, in Indianapolis at the Partnership Symposium earlier this Fall. Matt is the director of public relations at Members Credit Union and he is a totally great guy who oozes credit union passion.
Here is Matt's latest video. It was posted about a week ago and it already has 1,200 views!
I bet if you look around your credit union there is a young person who is eager, willing and capable of doing something like this. Give him or her the freedom to be creative and you will be amazed with what he or she is able to do for their own self confidence and for your credit union.
Rock on Warrior! Rock on!
P.S. Congratulations Matt on your recent acceptance to the 30 under 30 program from the Filene Institute. You deserve it. Also, congratulations on getting a fancy new Mac Pro to work your video magic on! Welcome to the Apple camp.