21 Ideas Strategies & Attention-Getters

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Looking for a good idea? How about 21 of them!

Credit unions continue to demonstrate that budgets that pale in comparison to those of the banking industry are no hindrance to good, creative thinking. Indeed, it may well be that the lack of budgets drives the need to be more innovative.

The Credit Union Journal frequently profiles some of the most imaginative ideas for getting more bang for the buck. For credit unions looking to launch a new initiative this Fall or perhaps next year, below is a compilation of some of the best.


San Antonio Proposal An Idea Worth Shredding

SAN ANTONIO, Texas-San Antonio Federal CU held its first "Shred Day" to help protect members from "dumpster diving" identity thieves during tax time.

For four hours on the Saturday before the tax-filing deadline, community members took their piles of old mail, credit card receipts and tax preparation papers to SACU's main branch, where four commercial shredding trucks in SACU's main branch parking lot devoured them.

"At this time of year, especially around tax time, everyone is overrun with excess paper,'' said Chris Jacobs, SACU first vice president. "Much of the material is sensitive and needs to be shredded or destroyed to keep it out of the hands of those who might use it inappropriately.''

With identity theft on the rise, throwing paper in the trash is not the wisest move, she said. And, while home paper shredders are valuable tools, they don't always shred to the point of no return.

"If someone really wanted those documents, they could piece them back together.''

Jacobs said the free service was coordinated with the help of the local chapter of the Association of Record Managers And Administrators and two shredding companies-Global Shred and Iron Mountain.

The non-profit ARMA typically partners with Office Max to conduct shred days across the country, Jacobs said.

But, because the date scheduled for San Antonio conflicted with a popular community fiesta, it had to reschedule.

Jacobs said there were no out-of-pocket expenses to the credit union, which donated the use of its parking lot and mailed press releases to broadcast and print media to advertise the event.

"It was a freebie and it was absolutely good for the community,'' Jacobs said. In addition to giving people piece of mind about their sensitive information, there's another benefit.

"Our landfills aren't getting any smaller,'' she said, noting that the documents that are shredded are then recycled.

While the turnout wasn't as good as she had hoped due to the quick deadline, Jacobs said the 50 or so people who participated expressed their gratitude.

"Some people hang onto this stuff for years because they don't know what to do with it,'' she said. "Others try to burn it.''

After a bad experience with a company SECU thought was shredding its documents, the credit union now hires a truck to do all the shredding onsite. "We handed our documents over to a company (whose staff) said they were shredding our documents,'' she said of the previous arrangement. "Instead, the documents were being bundled and sold to a recycling place in Canada.''

She said credit union officials found out after someone from Canada called and said they had some cancelled checks from SECU.

During the CU's Shred Day, one of the trucks was equipped with a camera and a television to watch the shredding process.

With its first Shred Day come and gone, Jacobs said she is already thinking of ways to improve next year's event with newsletter announcements, statement stuffers and fliers for members who pass through the drive-thrus.

"Shredding is becoming so much more important,'' she said. "If you are going to get rid of something, you better make sure you're really getting rid of it.''


Headed To The Mall-The Credit Union Mall

RICHMOND, Va.-Call Federal Credit Union, Connects Federal Credit Union and Richmond Federal Credit Union have officially opened what they believe is the first "Credit Union Mall."

Featured in The Credit Union Journal while in the planning stages, the three distinct credit unions are sharing the same building, but have their own lobbies that branch off a common entranceway, much like a "mall."

None of the credit unions have overlapping fields of membership. The idea originated with Call FCU, which serves Philip Morris Employees and other SEGs and has been growing quickly. After outgrowing its facility, the board felt that if it were going to go to the expense of building a new branch, it would be nice to offer space to two smaller credit unions that may not otherwise have been able to build a branch at the time. Connects FCU, which serves Verizon employees, and Richmond FCU, which serves Richmond federal employees, were approached and accepted.


Financial Family Fun Day

ORLANDO, Fla.-Fairwinds Credit Union held its 2nd annual Financial Family Fun Day, that included carnival games such as debt busters, penny pinchers, credit quack attack, Wallstreet plunko and many more.


USPS Office Gets Stamp of Approval

TUCSON, Ariz.-In an unusual twist, Pyramid Credit Union is leasing new branch space to the U.S. Postal Service for one of its retail stores.

Maureen Shields, marketing director of the $50-million Pyramid Credit Union, noted PCU recently expanded its FOM to include 17 zip codes.

For space leased at $1 a year, postal employees provide outgoing mail and retail services such as mailing packages and selling stamps to community (and CU) members from customized counter space within its office.

"When you walk in, to the left is the typical financial institution and to the right are offices and a waiting area,'' Shields said. "The far corner of the right was going to be another office, but instead we set it up as a postal counter.''

Shields said the arrangement came after plans by the U.S. Postal Service to build its own facility adjacent to the new credit union branch were squelched just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

To cancel the plan would have come as a huge disappointment to the residents of the isolated area who were looking forward to the new convenience. Shields said while the area is steadily growing, when plans were underway, it only had one grocery store, pizza restaurant and pharmacy. While not an income-generator for the CU, she said, the benefits are mutual. In addition, the arrangement is just another example that separates credit unions apart from banks, according to Shields.

"We probably still have more traffic for the post office than we do for the credit union,'' she said, adding that she expects a new community education push and joint direct mail marketing campaign with the postal service will eventually even things out.


One State Tracks The Time CUs Donate

WESTBROOK, Maine-Credit unions frequently point to the amount of time their employees and board members give to the community. But few can point specifically to just how much time is donated. Maine's credit unions now can. In the first year of a program championed by the Maine league called Credit Unions Share for ME, credit unions contributed more than 15,000 volunteer hours (worth more than a quarter-million dollars) to communities in the state.

The league reported that the award-winning program, which has attracted national interest, was developed to recognize and track the thousands of hours that credit union staff and volunteers at Maine's credit unions contribute to their local communities during the year.

"This program recognizes the tremendous commitment that credit union personnel have to community-service," said league spokesperson Jon Paradise.

Paradise noted that until Credit Unions Share for ME, much of the volunteering that credit unions did was anecdotal and hard to quantify. Under the program, the league said that 1,499 credit union volunteers accounted for 15,343.25 in volunteer hours, an average of 1,278.60 volunteer hours a month. "According to the most recent statistics compiled by the Points Of Light Volunteer Foundation, each volunteer hour is worth $16.54 making the value of the hours volunteered by Maine's credit unions total $253,777.35," the league said.


Garage Sale Is Certainly No White Elephant

DUBUQUE, Iowa-For the 10th year running, the $320-million Dupaco Community CU organized a community-wide garage sale that has grown to include more than 400 families, neighbors and civic groups-and which generates significant awareness for the credit union.

Several local radio stations joined Dupaco in sponsoring the event that Dupaco President Bob Hoefer has turned into a "perfect" match with the CU's philosophy.

"From a credit union perspective, we're about people, thrift and the community," he said. "That's also what the Community-Wide Garage Sale is about."

CU officials said the event has progressively grown throughout the years. The first one in 1994 had 50 family participants. Most recently, said Dupaco's Mike Weber, there were about 425 sales, but many more multi-family sales than in previous years. The purpose of the sale is to stimulate economic activity while promoting recycling and positive social interaction among area residents, he said, adding that "close to $100,000" would be a conservative estimate of how much money changes hands during the event. The CU spends about $5,000 each year to collect information and hire an agency to design a 16-page directory and map that lists all the garage sale locations and some of the items available at each. The publication which also includes advertisements about CU products and services, is inserted into a local free publication and delivered to about 35,000 residents.

When people register their garage sale with Dupaco, they get a listing on the CU's website that includes items to be sold. Shoppers are then invited to surf and search. Since adding the new online feature several years ago, Weber said web traffic has increased up to 20,000 hits during garage sale month. The typical average, he said, is anywhere from 50,000 to 60,000 page views per month.


Old Office Donated For Use By 3 Non-Profits

APPLETON, Wis.- Community First Credit Union has created a new Community Partnership Center that is offering a home to three local non-profit groups.

Located next door to Community First's headquarters, the former credit union branch is now home to the Volunteer Center of East Central Wisconsin, the Soleburner Run/Walk (benefiting the American Cancer Society), and the Community First Fox Cities Marathon. CFCU, which retains ownership of the building, is offering the office space rent-free to all three groups.

The building, which previously housed only the marathon offices, recently underwent a $40,000 interior renovation, with several area contractors making contributions of materials and labor. "We see the Community Partnership Center as an incubator for exchanging ideas and connecting volunteers from throughout the Fox Cities for the events we sponsor...and other community activities," said CFCU CEO Catherine Tierney.


Helping The Unqualifed To Get Qualified

PEORIA, Il.-Citizens Equity First Credit Union (CEFCU) has partnered with eFunds Corporation and Consumer Credit Counseling Services to offer "Get Checking," a program designed for individuals at risk of losing their checking accounts.

Community members identified by credit bureau reports are invited to attend a three-hour class on the basics of balancing a checking account, reconciling a check registry and establishing and adhering to a household budget.

To show their commitment, they must pay a $35 class fee to the local Consumer Credit Counseling Services agency to cover its costs. "This is a great way for us not to have to say 'no'," said Charla Buchanan, checking manager. "It puts the ball back into their court. If they are serious about having a checking account, they will take that class."

Once participants complete the class and pass a minimum competency test, they receive a certificate of course completion and the opportunity to open a checking account at the $2.4-billion CEFCU or any of the three other participating financial institutions in the Peoria area.

Each of the financial institutions donated $250 to get the program started and agreed to open checking accounts for class attendees who met the course requirements. In its first two months, Buchanan said, CEFCU has been able to open or retain 52 checking accounts.


Management Takes Bus Ride To Branches

MADISON, Wis.-Seeking to demonstrate its commitment to credit union staff, the senior management team at Summit Credit Union piled into a bus emblazoned with the CU's latest auto loan promotion to take it "on tour" to all the branches.

"With 10 branches in six cities, it's not always easy to talk to each staff person and show them first-hand what the marketing and senior management teams are doing," said VP-operations Nancy Kalsow. "In appreciation for the work they do everyday, we wanted to deliver this campaign to our staff-personally."

Like countless other credit unions that have flourished from smaller beginnings, Summit was looking for a way to bring back some of that "everyone knows everybody else" feel to the $519-million operation.

"We did an organizational feedback survey, and what we were finding was with all the growth and expansion, not all our staff knows the senior management team," explained VP-Marketing Maureen Maddox. "It used to be that everyone knew everybody else, but now that we're bigger and so spread out, it's hard to make that happen. We decided it would be a good idea to do some face time with the staff, especially as a team. I can go to branches by myself and deliver the loan promotional materials, but it's so much more powerful, much more tangible if the whole team does it."

The Auto Loan Bus Tour, as it's come to be known, was inspired in part by the credit union's use of advertising on the sides of Madison Metropolitan buses. Summit rented one of the decorated buses for a day and chartered it to all of the branches that are in the Madison Metro's territory. For branches outside of that territory, management formed a convoy to visit the staff there.


Calif. CU Takes Moves Into Payday Loan Market

LONG BEACH, Calif.-Payday lenders prey not only on the poor and immigrant communities, but also the middle class, according to one credit union here that is attempting to do something about it.

Ken Peterson, manager of member services for the $61-million Long Beach Postal Credit Union, said when the credit union saw the checks to payday lenders-some members were writing multiple checks-it began researching the industry.

"We were surprised to find that it was not just the poor that were using payday lending," Peterson said. "Our members are postal workers, so they make a decent salary and many are homeowners, but sometimes they get in a bind between paychecks. Our research found that our membership really fit the niche of those who go to payday lenders."

According to LBPCU, payday lenders typically charge $15 for every $100 borrowed-which adds up to a hefty annual percentage rate. To counter that, Long Beach Postal is offering a financing program under which members pay a $15 fee, then a fixed, 20% APR on the amount borrowed. Members can borrow $100 to $500, in $50 increments.

"Members must pay back the loan within 30 days, so the cost is about half of what they would pay at a payday lender," said Peterson. At first, Long Beach Postal Credit Union made approximately 15 to 20 payday loans per month. It now underwrites 30 to 40 per month.


Calif. CU Drives Home The Point About Service

SANTA ANA, Calif.-Two employees at Orange County's Credit Union will be cruising Southern California's famous freeways in style for the next year after winning a competition for delivering exemplary service to the credit union's members.

Lynda Hill, the senior vice president of retail services for Orange County's CU, said Margo Wassenaar, an information systems specialist, and Member Service Representative Christina Williams each won a one-year, credit union-paid lease on a new vehicle, plus additional money for gasoline and insurance. Wassenaar is behind the wheel of a Jeep Liberty SUV; while Williams took home a Chrysler Sebring convertible.

"It is quite an innovative incentive," said Hill. "It shows our commitment to recognizing and rewarding our associates."

Last year marked Orange County's CU's first annual "Members First Awards" competition. Each month during 2002, approximately seven to 10 associates were nominated. The $640-million, 72,000-member CU has 220 employees in its six branches.

Both managers and peers submit nominations for the monthly awards. Hill said this demonstrates that "everyone realizes how important member service is." Each month, the CU chooses one winner from the service side (people who deal directly with members at branches or in the call center) and one from the support side (which includes personnel in accounting, facilities, marketing, human resources and technology).

The two monthly winners each receive a $250 cash reward, and then are in the running for the respective annual awards.


E-Mail Reminder Marketing Pays Off For NY CU

BETHPAGE, N.Y.-Loan and deposit money has been pouring into Bethpage FCU, and an advanced e-mail-marketing tool is partly responsible, according to Robert Schwartz, assistant vice president for e-commerce.

Using a web-based e-mail-marketing program with campaign testing and tracking capabilities since 2001, the $1.5-billion Bethpage Federal "can see what the response is to every piece of mail in real-time," Schwartz explained. "We can see how many e-mails were sent out, how many bounced back, which members opened them, what days and times they read them, and what links they clicked within the message."

The 118,000-member credit uses one2one WEB, provided by Roseville, Minn.- based Liberty Marketing Services.

More than 15% of the 27,000 members who opt to receive campaign e-mails click on the links that take them to the promotional or educational content behind the message. Schwartz said those clicks instigated $2.2-million in deposits and $650,000 in loans in 2001.

Successful e-mail campaigns contain a blend of promotion and information, Schwartz continued. "We're using e-mail as a soft-sell, and we're also providing information for members to get the most out of their membership. We've learned that the content of the message should give members something of value."


Wash. CU Gets Involved In Low-Income Housing

SPOKANE, Wash.-Numerica Credit Union has played a pivotal role in the creation of a low-income housing project here by guaranteeing future financing for a local non-profit organization. And, it is helping the credit union's bottom line.

According to VP-Lending Gene Fitzpatrick, Numerica is not the lead lender- which he described as a local financial institution that wishes to remain anonymous-but said it played a key role in brokering the deal. The other participants include the City of Spokane, the state of Washington, the Federal Home Loan Bank and a non-profit organization called Spokane Housing Ventures.

"Spokane Housing Ventures needed to nail down all of its costs before it could make a bid, and it couldn't gamble on interest rates on a two-year project," explained Fitzpatrick. "Numerica worked with the Federal Home Loan Bank in Seattle-of which we are a member-to work out a low rate over two years. We saved the project over $100,000."

Numerica paid $6,000 to lock in a low interest rate during the rehabilitation period. In return, it will begin servicing a $1.4 million loan with becomes effective in September 2004.

With its future financing secured, Spokane Housing Ventures was able to purchase the property, and is in the process of rehabilitating the units. The anonymous lead lender supplied the funding for rehabilitation costs.


CU Puts Horsepower Into ATM Installation

BELLINGHAM, Wash.-Most credit unions use a delivery truck to install a new ATM. Not Whatcom Educational CU. When it installed a new machine at Western Washington University, it used a team of horses and a wagon driven by its CEO.

"It was fun,'' said Joan Martin, VP of marketing for WECU, adding that she was surprised upon arrival to find that campus officials and students had joined in the celebration, including a roll-back by the cafeteria in the price of coffee to 25 cents.

"College staff also handed out Payday candy bars to students who wore Western clothing,'' Martin said.

Martin said the idea came from President/CEO Wayne Langei after using the same theme in three community parades to draw attention to the $300-million financial institution.

She said while it took some wrangling to organize the event, the process was simple and smooth. "We had to coordinate the event with the city and with Diebold because they were the installers,'' she said. "They delivered the ATM on a big truck with a hydraulic elevator to put the machine into the wagon. I don't think Diebold ever delivered an ATM like that.''

Martin said once a staging location was arranged, zoning laws were checked and key staff synchronized their roles, CU staff and their borrowed team of horses were off and trotting to the college, which is located several blocks from WECU's main office. The local newspaper gave the event front-page coverage.


Name Change Much More Than A New Sign

SAN DIEGO-There is a lot more to converting to a community charter than a name change or a new sign. Deb McLean, VP-marketing for Charlotte Metro CU, said her credit union has learned many of those lessons over the past few years, especially in the wake of the passage of HR 1151. That's when the credit union discovered it was no longer just competing with the big money center banks that make Charlotte home, it was scrambling to respond to credit unions that were expanding, as well.

"These credit unions, which had a lot of capital, went after large employers. Charlotte Metro decided to go after small businesses," said McLean. "Our goal was 100 SEGs, but we got 263."

In the late 1990s when Charlotte Metro changed its name, many private companies were seeking to go public and capitalize on the surging stock market. Charlotte Metro responded with newspaper ads and billboards announcing, "We've gone public!" At the same time, it worked to reassure SEGs.

"The No. 1 challenge is perception," she said. "People wonder-what are you going to do? Our answer was a series of 'banker-in-a-bag' ads." Those ads indicated anyone could join, even a banker. The accompanying illustration showed a man in a suit with a bag over his head.


The Small Things Have Big SEG Payoff

SAN DIEGO-Increasing SEG penetration is all about developing relationships- first with the company, then with your contact at the company, and, eventually, with the employees who become members, according to Connie Capuano, VP-business development and marketing for BMI FCU, Columbus, Ohio.

Capuano's credit union has achieved a 42% penetration rate in its SEGs. As credit unions have learned, the gatekeeper at many companies is the HR director. That person's openness to the credit union can dictate everything. Capuano said an HR director wants three things from a relationship with a credit union: no additional work for him or her; for the CU to make him or her look good in front of his or her boss and staff, and for the credit union to make him or her feel important.

The most important thing a CU can do to satisfy the first requirement is to develop a one-piece, self-directed credit union guide for the HR director to hand out to employees. This guide should give an overview of products and services, with information on locations, hours, phone numbers and a web address, Capuano advised.

In addition, the guide should contain membership and loan applications, a return postage-paid envelope, new member coupons and the business card of the contact at the credit union if the new member has any questions.

"In return, all the credit union asks is for an endorsement of the credit union from the HR director to the new staff member," Capuano said.


SACU Gets To The Heart of Matter

SAN ANTONIO-San Antonio Federal Credit Union (SACU) is doing more than just saying it has heart-it has also purchased and installed Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) in all of its full-service branches and on all floors of their corporate offices. Employees at each location are being trained to use the equipment, which is to assist those struck by cardiac arrest. The equipment was manufactured by Cardiac Science.

"We are doing this because we know it is the right thing to do," said CEO Jeffrey Farver "These life-saving devices are safe, easy to use, and a vital part of an emergency response process that the American Heart Association estimates could save 50,000 lives every year."


CU Showcases Art

ANKENY, Iowa-Deere Community Credit Union here is showcasing the work of young artists from its community through two programs. As part of its ArtShare program, the work of more than 40 students at Ankeny High School is on display in its main office. The work includes drawings, paintings, photography, jewelry and pottery. The credit unions has the two-dimensional pieces professionally framed and matted and displays all artwork for six months, before bringing in new artwork for display.

Deere Community also makes a $1,000 donation to Ankeny's Dollars for Scholars program, which supports the development of outstanding local high school seniors who excel in the arts and who plan to pursue a career in the arts.


Attention, Non-Geeks!

LAFAYETTE, Ind.-Purdue Employees Federal Credit Union said it boosted requests for information in its electronic services by more than 50%, thanks to a promotion themed, "You Don't Have To Be A Geek Week."

The goal was to raise awareness of the credit union's new high-tech branch in which three employees are able to service five exterior drive-up lanes and three remote teller stations inside the branch by using video links. "Making fun of the high-tech image helped lower the fear factor and encouraged people to give our high-tech equipment a try and find out how easy it is to use," said Marketing Manager Kristy Robb.

According to PEFCU, the Geek Week promo also doubled lobby traffic, increased drive-through volume by nearly 100 transactions, and generated more VISA sign-ups, IRA deposits and share certificates.


Instant Messaging With A Twist-Billboard

ERIE, Penn.-Erie School Employees FCU has signed on to a unique billboard campaign with instant messaging capabilities controlled by a computer at its main branch.

The $155-million credit union is one of only two companies in Pennsylvania, so far, to take advantage of the technology offered by Lamar Advertising Company, of Baton Rouge, La.

Mary Beth Wilcher, chief marketing officer of ESEFCU, said the billboard is located at the end of a major highway with a traffic light. "If they stop at the red light, directly ahead of them is our billboard," she said.

The top two-thirds of the vinyl sign, which will remain the same throughout the year, shows a lending representative at her desk with a member. To the left, a message reads: "Financial Solutions from Local People You Trust," with the CU's logo just below it. The bottom third of the board is covered by an LED unit with a black background that can display short messages in red, lighted letters. "We have an actual schedule of messages," Wilcher said. "At different times of the day and different times of the week, we change them."


Burger, Fries And A Membership Application

SANTA ANA, Calif.-If you feed them they will come. That motto seemed to be at the heart of a promotion by Orange County's Credit Union here, which reached out to select employee groups (SEGs) by offering a free lunch from popular burger chain In-N-Out. The lunch was served at the credit union's new 6,000- square-foot branch adjacent to the new corporate headquarters here.

The credit union reported that with burgers in hand, more than 1,000 existing and potential SEG members learned firsthand about the credit union. While waiting in line at the In-N-Out Cookout Trailer, guests were given membership applications and offered warm, freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies delivered by the credit union's business development staff.

"Our main goal was to reinforce our member commitment in a way that was fun and festive, and I think we did just that!" commented Lynda Hill, Senior Vice President of Retail Services.

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