Inside Marketing: Which Came First, the Loan or the Member? 

Red chicken looking behind her at a brown egg on wood floor
Oak Tree Business Systems Inc.

6 minutes

Try these tips for growing your credit union’s membership and your lending program.

No doubt you have heard the old philosophical saying regarding who preceded whom. Was it the chicken or the egg? Aristotle was the first to debate the issue (not to pose the question), though he dodged the answer by saying both went infinitely backwards and were always in existence. It was Plutarch who would put the question in its current form, and we have been wrestling with it for ages.

So in that vein, we thought we’d pose our own question: Which came first, the loan or the member? A credit union has to exist in order to offer loans. However, you need members to make deposits or no loans can be provided! Do members choose you because of the loan products you provide, or are they members first and the loans come later? While we are not here to argue those points, we do have some suggestions to build up each side.

How to Attract Credit Union Members

There are many ways to bring in new members to your credit union when you really commit to a creative marketing process. Try these three outside-of-the-box ideas.

Freebies With a Twist
Nothing wins the day like a freebie. Many credit unions have perks and discounts that are available just for being a member. These are great value-added features that offer a bit of exclusivity. 

You could also offer free money and tell the media! For instance, some credit unions have replaced random $20 bills with $50 bills in their ATMs for a limited time or for a special event. How much traffic do you think such a stunt generated for the branches where these ATMs were located? These types of promotions are valuable to future members and offer great ways for you to generate targeted, quality leads.

Savings can be given on services as well, such as discounts on Turbo Tax or even local theme park or movie tickets. $229 million Guardian Credit Union in West Allis, Wisconsin, offers free popcorn in its branches. That’s a nice treat for a member who is running errands, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. One online review states, “Have always received prompt courteous service—AND THEY HAVE GREAT POPCORN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

These added benefits of joining your credit union distinguish you from other financial institutions and should be promoted. Don’t hesitate to market the freebies and promos your credit union already offers.

Stay Relevant
Are you familiar with Pokémon Go, a mobile game that encourages real-world exploration while players collect in-game items? A couple of credit unions capitalized on the app at the height of its popularity through positioning. $1.6 billion Arizona Federal Credit Union, Phoenix, set out Pokémon “lures” at one of its branches to attract Pokémon players, which led to an increase in visits to the CU’s Facebook page. $570 million Verity Credit Union, Seattle, included Pokémon Go in their marketing strategy by adding PokéStops to two of its branch locations to build stronger engagement with millennial members. What a clever way to connect with younger generations! These credit unions saw an opportunity and quickly adapted to social trends to engage with members and make financial institutions fun.

Of course, games fall in and out of popularity, but use your imagination: You could hold a live Words with Friends challenge or a Bejeweled Bash and give away a free prize to the winner. (You could even have some of Oak Tree’s membership documents on standby at the event for new members to fill out.)
Don’t Forget Babies and Fur Babies
You will score plenty of points with parents if you have an area designated for kids to play while the adults are conducting business. A simple spot with Legos or toys goes a long way to show members you care. You could offer candy and non-candy options (like stickers, credit union logo bouncy balls or crayons) for kids as well. Little things speak to members in big ways.

Consider members’ fur babies, too. A water dish and treats for pets will let members know you also care about their four-legged children. Who wouldn’t want to do business with a credit union like that?

How to Engage Members to Sell More Loans

Now that you have a few clever ideas for attracting new members, here are three ways to engage current members. Engagement drives relationships, and those relationships are key to finding good targeted loan prospects.

Be Transparent With Fine Print
Financial institutions often hide their legal speak on forms, websites, etc. Why not be transparent instead? Explain the fine print to your members. They will feel more trust in your credit union because you are going above and beyond to educate them. 

Transparency builds an authentic relationship as you engage with members. Members might be encouraged to actually read the fine print!

Extend Freebies to Loan Promotion
Gift cards and freebies can also be used to promote current rates and loan products offered by your credit union. $183 million Beacon Credit Union, Lynchburg, Virginia, recently offered up to $500 cash back with a refinanced auto loan. In addition, the CU cross-promoted its new member promo, a $50 gift card with a new account opening, with this offer. This is sure to be enticing to non-members considering refinancing an auto loan as well. 

Another example is $166 million 1st Community Credit Union, Sparta, Wisconsin, which gave away a free lawn mower at the time of closing for first-time homeowner mortgages. Including a bonus gift that members can use in the new house that you helped them purchase makes the experience that much more special. What a great way to be there for members during a life milestone!

Scavenger Hunts
Offer members a scavenger hunt experience involving your products and services. Members can participate in such a contest online or at the credit union itself—for example, by searching your website or talking to branch staff about loan offerings and special promotions in order to answer a scavenger hunt question. Winners could get a free gift certificate to their favorite local restaurant and bragging rights, and meanwhile, participants will have learned useful information about your credit union’s offerings. 

So back to the question of which came first, the loan or the member? We have given you several ways to answer that question for your credit union as you see fit. Solid marketing strategies will help you attract new members and engage them. This is crucial to the lending process. As for new membership and loan application forms? We have that part covered, so you don’t need to worry. Instead, start planning your next scavenger hunt or your next freebie. The loans will follow!

Richard Gallagher, CEO of Oak Tree Business Systems Inc., Big Bear Lake, California, is no stranger to the credit union industry, having spent 26 years as senior executive where he oversees forms compliance, credit union merger guidance, expertise and policy considerations. Gallagher is one of the pioneers of digital forms conversion and data linking/integration for credit unions. He is also involved with Credit Unions for Kids.

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