Advice From New Community Charter

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There is a lot more to converting to a community charter than a name change or a new sign.

Deb McLean, vice president of 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."

Charlotte Metro, which had serviced government employees, changed to a community charter. That led to one of its biggest challenges-the need to market and advertise. 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!"

Since not everyone knows what a credit union is, and it is a difficult concept to explain in the limited space of a billboard ad, McLean said Charlotte Metro followed up the "Gone Public" conversion ads with product-related ads for car loans and CDs.

"These ads were very successful in bringing people into the branch. It was a steady growth pattern," she recalled.

Even when a credit union changes its name or charter, it must work at keeping its relationships with its existing SEGs, McLean stressed. "Assure them ahead of time you are not leaving them behind. Be proactive about telling them what you've done for them."

"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."

These ads featured the slogan, "Charlotte Metro Credit Union: Now open to everyone." An accompanying picture showed a smiling man, a smiling woman, and a person in a suit and tie with a bag over his head, with holes cut out for the eyes. Above the heads were the labels "Dentists," "Moms," and "Bankers."

"People loved the humor in these ads," said McLean.

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