Kick the ‘Best Kept Secret’ Message to the Curb, Make Some Noise

By Sarah Snell Cooke, Principal, Cooke Consulting Solutions

Getting members involved at credit unions is difficult, and touting the ‘best-kept secret’ line is doing far more harm than good.

“Credit unions continue to be the ‘best kept secret’ out there, and we need to do a better job of sharing how we impact our members at every turn,” SCE Federal Credit Union Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Shelton said following the Member Activation roundtable she led with SCE FCU Board Member Michael Maxwell at the May 8 Underground Collision.

“We spent a lot of the time discussing the importance of the employees in being active and engaged with the credit union movement,” Shelton explained. “We also discussed the importance of members understanding what they belong to – not just that they are part owners. They need to know how their values align to those of the credit union.” No one will stand up for you or engage if they don’t know your credit union exists or what credit unions are about!

This point is particularly critical when trying to engage younger members with the credit union, Maxwell added. On one side, credit unions are having a difficult time recruiting new board members because the current board members are entrenched. Term limits were suggested, but the challenge is that existing board won’t implement policies that would eliminate existing members of the board.

Don't miss this earlier content from the May 8 Underground Collision on collaboration and mergers.

Some are finding ways around that through youth advisory boards so they can learn more about credit unions and from veteran board members. “I got the impression,” Maxwell said, “that most CUs want to have a younger voice, but struggle to attract volunteers. We talked about ways to reach out to these members, mainly by using existing mentors who are in leadership roles.” Additionally, the roundtable discussed how some credit unions distribute generic call-to-action bulletins to solicit candidates, and that they might not attract the diversity needed to represent their membership. These announcements need to be shouted from the rooftops!

“Credit unions are the original social enterprise—people helping people—and that is a big focus for the younger generation,” Maxwell added. “They want to put their money where it will help the most and with an institution they support.” To gain that trust, credit unions must make some noise!

A great opportunity exists, Shelton said, to share stories of credit unions’ social good that will also help raise awareness and member engagement among credit union members. It’s difficult, however, to have one voice for all credit unions, because there are so many different ways to be a credit union.

Maxwell agreed, “By being prominent in the community, people will see that good work they do and it well help garner the trust needed. If members continue to share their positive stories with others, it opens more doors for the credit union to engage and attract members.”

Shelton said of SCE FCU, “We are continuing to develop our story and who we are in our market. At this point, we are active with our SEG development and in the infancy stage of member onboarding. We are also beginning to get ‘noisy’ with our marketing – leveraging larger and more expansive sponsorship opportunities.”

She continued that at the table, “We discussed the need for everyone to have a clear and crisp elevator speech that shares the emotion with those we come in to contact with.” Without a brief and clear explanation of why credit unions matter, and your credit union specifically, you’ll lose interest quickly.

Financial literacy is something all credit unions can get behind. The discussion at the Underground Collision, Maxwell highlighted, focused on financial literacy not just for members, but for the employees. “Everyone agreed that the employees should understand a multitude of financial problems and be there to help serve members. The lack of training showed through, and we agreed that a credit union employee should instill confidence in the member, not doubt. This confidence would, in turn, lead to more loyalty to CUs as they will be a financial partner, as opposed to a bank.”

Together, let’s make credit unions the least-best kept secret!