When Small Thinks Big

When Small Thinks Big

Kaison Darden, 20, from Wetumpka, Alabama, has just been announced as the Young & Free Alabama Spokester for Guardian Credit Union. And while her four-week journey from submitting an application, to becoming a finalist, and finally winning the role of Young & Free Alabama Spokester is an amazing story, more amazing is how a credit union with $250 million in assets brought such an involved program to their staff, members and community.

Kaison Darden, Young & Free Alabama Spokester for Guardian Credit Union

Kaison Darden, Young & Free Alabama Spokester for Guardian Credit Union

How small is too small?

It's not a question of size, it's more a question of achieving your credit union's growth strategy for the 18- to 25-year-old market, and determining an appropriate budget for that.

"I knew we needed to make an impact with youth and grow that demographic to offset our aging membership," explained Heath Harrell, CEO of Guardian Credit Union and champion of the Young & Free Alabama program at his credit union. "I also knew we are in a strong market with huge opportunity to grow this age group. The Young & Free Alabama program was exactly what we needed, for many reasons."

Ready to go right out of the box

Heath went on to explain the challenges he faced with this growth strategy for youth, explaining, "We have a two-person marketing department that already had a full plate of projects. I didn't have time to brainstorm new ideas, neither with staff nor an outside agency. We needed something that was proven and could be up and running within weeks. This program is a big check mark on both counts."

There are two additional aspects of the program which apply to any market. The first aspect is the program's ability to rally staff around an exciting initiative that they all feel good about. In Guardian's case, they'd just been through a merger and wanted to make all the staff feel like they belonged to one entity. The Young & Free Alabama program—strengthened by the fact that it originated outside any of the former credit union entities—is a "neutral" program that everyone could get behind without bias.

The second aspect is that it's a completely attention-grabbing and news-worthy event. Nobody in Guardian's market is doing anything like it, so Guardian was able to capture media and public attention in a unique way that the competition couldn't.

But what about the cost?

We asked Heath if he had concerns about the cost when he was considering the program, and he replied, "I wasn't overly concerned with it. We knew that what we wanted—a proven method to reach young people, with set-up and support by a 24/7 team—was not going to be a cheap solution, that we needed to look at this as an investment. It's just under half of our marketing budget for the year, but the need to move the needle on our membership age and take advantage of the market opportunity easily justified the investment for us.”

Heath knew the discussion with the board would be challenging, but because he had the board's trust he only had to explain why the program was needed and show the proof that it worked. "My role as CEO is to make decisions that help us achieve our strategic goals," Heath told us, "and since the Young & Free Alabama program is in line with the overall strategies of the credit union, it was just a question of filling in the educational blanks."

How do you know if your credit union is a fit?

The very first step is to confirm that strategic growth in the 18- to 25-year-old market is a priority. Following that, these questions will help you decide on a Young & Free program for your credit union:

  • Do you need to stand out from your competition in a way that will get you noticed?
  • Do you have a small marketing team that would struggle to manage a long-term program without outside help?
  • Do you feel your staff would benefit from a credit union-wide program to build morale?
  • Do you need help determining the right product mix that will appeal to the 18-to-25 crowd?
  • Do you feel you really need to start seeing results in your youth membership next year (2014)?

If this sounds like your credit union's situation, call or email me to further explore how a Young & Free program could work for your organization. 


P.S. We have early results back. After four months into their Young & Free program, Guardian Credit Union has increased their member share of 18- to 25-year-olds by over 2%. Those are excellent early results!

Sandy Pitkethly is the Vice President, Marketing for Currency Marketing and manages new business development and overall client service. She has over 20 years of marketing experience, and will stop at nothing to turn you into a curling fan. If you are interested in Young & Free, Money Mom, or finding out what curling is all about, Sandy's the one to talk to. 

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