Putting You First

young woman in mask delivers box of groceries to elderly man during pandemic
By Kyle McDougal

4 minutes

From brand campaign to philosophy in action during the year of COVID-19

We had everything lined up and ready to go. Our new omnichannel “YouFirst” campaign, scheduled to kick off in Q1 2020, was slick, sharp and well-planned. So much time and energy had gone into developing it. The elements were all there: new video spots, fresh copy, updated branding, advanced digital elements and platform strategy, print collateral, event plans—the whole nine yards.

We had managed to distill the essence of our mission as a credit union down to a highly relatable message. “YouFirst” is a simple way of saying that no matter who “You” are, our goal is to put you, the member, first—not stockholders, sales goals or quarterly numbers. You and your goals come first, above all else. What could be easier to understand than that? We were so excited to roll out this campaign. We just knew were going to reach many new prospects and really show them who we are and what we do.

Unfortunately, we all know what happened next: COVID-19 shut down the whole country in the spring, and suddenly we at AmFirst had to reevaluate all of our plans. But amazingly, dealing with the impact of coronavirus on our members became the most sincere and effective demonstration of the YouFirst message we could possibly have imagined.

We quickly realized the deep financial impact of the pandemic and worked as fast as we could to help our members, local businesses and the community at large. The YouFirst messaging changed from “here’s what we do” to “tell us what you need.” We used the omnichannel approach of the campaign to reach out directly to our members in need, wherever they were, and they responded.

We provided hardship assistance in the form of individual loan adjustments and deferments. We introduced a special low-rate balance transfer to help with debt. We became a PPP lender in order to help keep local businesses running, many of which were overlooked or unable to get assistance from big banks in the area. We worked overtime and extended our drive-thru hours. We even dedicated spaces on our website and all of our digital platforms to provide additional information and resources, such as how to apply for state grants.

Eventually, we realized that the impact went far beyond just financial matters. The pandemic had caused food shortages and immediate hunger needs for many families in our area, so we collaborated with the local ABC affiliate station and Community Food Bank to conduct a food drive at all of our branch locations throughout the month of July.

Adapting our YouFirst campaign to deal with COVID-19 has yielded some astonishing results:

  • We have completed more than 2,000 loan modifications for a total of nearly $50 million.
  • We processed 600 balance transfer requests for a total of $2,216,474.
  • We waived minimum credit card payments for May and June, allowing our members to skip their payments for those two months without a fee.
  • We closed 166 PPP loans for local businesses, totaling just under $2.5 million, with the average size PPP loan around $15,000. We are especially proud of these loans because they went directly to keeping local businesses afloat.
  • Our employees and members raised $26,675 and collected 20,672 food items—roughly 222,626 meals for the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama.
  • Throughout it all, we maintained higher than 95% member-satisfaction survey scores, despite having our operations severely impacted by the pandemic.

This year has been wildly different than we planned. Did we make all of our lending goals or hit our new checking account number target? Nope, but we got close. Honestly, our campaign metrics and production goals wound up being a lot better than any of us would have anticipated back in the spring.

Sometime around April, the YouFirst campaign went from being a standard omnichannel brand campaign to a pure and unselfish expression of who we, as credit union people, are at our core. The scope quickly changed from new member acquisition to individual financial hardship assistance, keeping local businesses open and making sure local families had food to eat. Through it all, we had to adapt and be there to meet the needs of our members and communities as best we could.

2020 has been a tough year, no doubt. However, dealing with it gave us a better opportunity to show members what we are all about than we could have ever imagined. We were able to “walk the walk” and in doing so, continue to build our brand in a much more impressive way than we set out to back in Q1. I have worked on many marketing campaigns in my career but never one like this, and never one I have been as proud to be a part of. I have never seen a group of people work harder than our employees have this year to help our members. The convergence of our YouFirst campaign with the COVID-19 pandemic allowed us to truly put our credit union philosophy into action—and the results were nothing short of spectacular.

CUES member Kyle McDougal is brand management officer for $1.8 billion America's First Federal Credit Union, Birmingham, Alabama.

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