Once upon a time, credit unions were built to serve select, small groups. Most were often chartered to provide a financial alternative to banks for employees of a certain company or industry. They thrived, for a time, fulfilling that role. However, as times changed credit unions changed as well.CUNA - 1

To keep new members coming in the doors, and to ensure their own future financial solvency, many credit unions turned to community charters. These new community charters, however came with their own unique marketing challenges. It certainly wasn’t the case of “if you get a get community charter, they will come.” After 30 years, it can be said the community charter movement has failed to meet its full potential.

A new white paper (Developing Strategies for Community Based Credit Unions) published by the CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council addresses the challenges community-based credit unions are facing related to marketing and business development (note: I’m biased on this white paper because I’m the author).

Matt Purvis, Principle with Purvis Management in Eugene, OR, noted in the paper that credit unions transitioning from a SEG (Select Employee Group) focus to a community charter may find the new waters a little murky. “The transition from a SEG-based organization to a relevant and competitive community-wide organization with integrated marketing strategies has proven to be very complicated,” he said. “Many credit unions are still struggling with the implications of this shift.”

The paper explores multiple strategic issues relating to maximizing your community charter’s full potential, including:

  • The evolution of the community charter marketing
  • Determining your credit union’s market niche
  • Becoming an active community partner
  • Creating unique member experiences
  • Case studies

Noralynn Grindstaff, Marketing and Communications Manager with Champion Credit Union in Canton, NC ($185 million assets, 23,000 members), noted, “As a community chartered credit union, your competition is not only banks but other credit unions. You are having to market to members and potential members who can get the same products anywhere else. At that point,
your message sounds just like everyone else’s so you have to find new and innovative ways to reach your target markets.

“We have been established for 81 years so you would think that our niche market is set. We have seen over the years that as society and times change, our niche changes. We determine our niche by listening to our members and the community to see where their needs are.”

Some of the key insights from the paper include:

  • Be clear, be focused and be tailored with your marketing messages.
  • You can’t be all things to all people in your community; the most successful community charter credit unions find their niche and market heavily to it
  • Community-based credit unions must work to create opportunities for member interaction that are more experiential and less “let’s just hand out stuff at events
  • Credit unions must consider the return on investment of their community involvement
    time and funds and how to best leverage them to drive membership growth.

Marketing to the community is more than attending an event here and there or doing a mass
marketing awareness campaign. Community marketing takes a strategic approach. As you look for a growth strategy, read the “Developing Strategies for Community Based Credit Unions” white paper and make sure your efforts include some of these tactics.