Adding A Little 'Lemon Zest' To Your Seminars

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If you think credit union seminars, like credit union newsletters, are stale, boring and no longer relevant, then maybe you are the problem, one credit union expert told attendees of The Credit Union Journal's SEG & Business Development conference.

"Is it that newsletters are no longer an effective medium, or are you producing an ineffective newsletter," asked Marty Kelly, VP-marketing and business development at US Federal Credit Union in Burnsville, Minn. "The same goes for seminars."

Consider this: the National Summit on Economic and Financial Literacy survey found that personal finance is not taught in most schools; NCUA Board Chairman JoAnn Johnson has urged credit unions to make financial literacy a top priority; First Tennesee Bank has launched a banking education program for Hispanics, and the Citigroup Foundation awarded $500,000 to the "Banking on Our Future" program.

Clearly, Kelly suggested, financial literacy is a top issue, and offering seminars is one way to tackle financial education efforts.

"It's not that seminars are no longer relevant, they just need some retooling," he suggested. "Think of this as the Extreme Seminar Makeover. Or, we could go with a different reality television show and call it 'My Big, Fat, Obnoxious Seminar.'"

Repackaging Effort

US FCU went through a process of completely repackaging the seminars it offers to its SEGs to breathe new life into an old credit union tool. Along the way, content was tailored, too, but what it really came down to, Kelly said, was the packaging.

"That's why I renamed this session, 'New, Improved, Reduced Fat, Low-Carb SEG Seminars...with extra lemon zest,'" he explained. "Packaging is everything."

The first step is to evaluate the credit union's current group of seminars. "You DO offer seminars, right," Kelly asked. "Think about your current seminar line-up. How many demographics do you target? Can you name them all?"

Part of the problem with many credit union seminars is that they are too broad, attempting to appeal to too wide a range of demographics or touching on too many different topics in one fell swoop, he said.

Just by narrowing seminars down to address specific demographics or to address just one topic is a step in the right direction, he offered.

"How timely or relevant are your topics," Kelly asked. "You know, if you've still got the Y2K bug on your list of seminars, you can probably strike that one."

Hot Topics

Instead look for the topics that are hot right now: identity theft, credit reports, youth financial literacy, Kelly advised. "Go home and list out every seminar you have, then decide what stays, what goes and determine the gaps that you need to fill," he suggested.

"How do you promote your seminars to SEGs, and how often," he asked, noting that credit unions often fall into the trap of offering certain "seasonal" seminars the same time every year, allowing the program to get old.

"Are you holding seminars on your terms or theirs," Kelly asked.

Instead of having a set schedule of seasonal offerings, Kelly suggested creating a seminar shopping list for SEGs, allowing them to pick and choose whatever seminar they might be interested in at any time of the year. They must be convenient to the SEG, and preferably held onsite.

They must be concise and to the point-30 to 45 minutes, maximum-to the point, he suggested, adding that it is advisable to ensure that attendees are comfortable and that perhaps even refreshments are served.

Consider the resources you have at hand-the experts, Kelly commented, are right there at the credit union: the loan officers, the collections department.

If the credit union doesn't have financial planners or financial counselors, consider partnering with groups like BALANCE that do have such resources to offer.

Other resources to tap include any partners you work with, such as CUSOs, real estate agents, etc.

"Develop an outline for each seminar and then develop an overall curriculum, a course catalog," he advised. "Before, we had about 21 seminars. After we repackaged the program, we now have 32 seminars in five distinct categories: financial solutions, insurance, college funding, investments and retirement."

The Need To Market

But it's not enough to have a strong line-up of seminars-they have to be marketed.

"Yes, your SEG program deserves its own brochure, at a minimum," he advised. "Give the program a name, an identity. If you go through this repackaging process, then you should have a product to brand and promote."

US FCU calls its seminar offering the Learn At Work program and has a slick, one-page menu listing all 32 of the seminars that can be sent as a flyer to each SEG.

But is it really worth all the trouble and effort it takes to create a specialized series of seminars aimed at employees of a credit union's SEGs?

Absolutely, said Kelly, who noted that in addition to creating a program around which an entire marketing effort can be wrapped, it opened up new opportunities for the CU.

"When we went through our seminars and created Learn At Work, it breathed new life into our relationship with our SEGs," Kelly related. "It can help renew relationships with SEGs that have gone cold. When they saw we had something of value for them, now we're their best friend. And of course, it adds value to existing SEG relationships and gives you another selling point when recruiting new SEGs."

PR Opportunities

The Learn At Work program has also created numerous PR opportunities for the credit union. "Our employees have gotten into publications, schools, chambers," Kelly commented. "In fact, the chamber wants to co-brand the program and offer the seminars to their membership."

To ensure US FCU doesn't fall right back into the same trap of having a stale seminar program, the CU has implemented an annual review of seminar content and will change its brochure each year.

While the credit union wants to ensure Learn At Work continues to be viewed as a special benefit just for SEGs, Kelly said he is looking at creating a package of seminars for the community any may look at other community partnerships.

"Remember, you have to promote this," he concluded. "This is your competitive advantage."

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