CU's Managment Takes The Message On A Bus Tour

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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."

Inspired By Billboards

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

Going on tour also helped call members' attention to the promotion as well. Each time the bus pulled up in front of a branch, members were bound to see that something special was going on, Maddox noted.

"We had a lot of comments from people coming in an out of the branches," she offered. "People enjoy seeing something that they are a part of being represented, when you see an ad and can say, 'Hey, that's my credit union.'"

The Auto Loan Bus Tour is a showy way for Summit's senior management team to stay in touch with its branch staff, but the effort to keep the whole organization "on the same page" isn't just a one-time, big production-the CU also practices this on a day-to-day basis.

Summit's marketing research analyst Craig Sonnenberg sends out daily e-mails to the entire staff letting everyone know how the credit union is doing in terms of reaching its promotional goals.

"What gets measured gets done, as they say," Maddox suggested. "But it's also about getting everyone behind the campaign. It's not just marketing's responsibility to bring loans in, or it's not just the lending department's responsibility. There are things that our mailroom can do, there are things that everyone can do to help us meet our goal. We have incentives that are tied to certain financial benchmarks we've set. It's just good business to have everyone engaged and accountable."

One recent e-mail put the "Loans for Bugs" spring auto loan campaign in perspective for the whole staff: "To put the budgeted origination goal in perspective, we need to average about $210,000 per day. With the average auto loan being about $12,000, this means we need to bring in about 18 auto loans per day."

Summit's goal for the promotion-about $4.9 million in auto loans per month in March, April and May for a total of just under $15 million-would represent a 17% increase on the number of auto loans originated the same time last year.

Forced To Adapt

"The economy has definitely been a rollercoaster ride, and like other lenders out there, we have had to adapt," Maddox observed. "Spring is a very strong period for auto loans historically, but there's been a lot of environmental pressure, between the economy, foreign affairs.consumer confidence it at an all-time low. And the auto dealers are in the same boat, and as a result they have become more wily about extending those 0% financing deals to people, with the 0% rate being good for five years and some of the rebates being higher than I can recall. We're paddling upstream."

Even so, the goals of the Loans for Bugs promotion are ambitious, not just for the benchmarks that have been set but also for some of the less tangible things the credit union hopes to accomplish with it.

"Our niche tends to be the used car market. Our loans are priced to be competitive in the used market, because unless we're talking about a really old car, our used-car rates are the same as our new car rates. But this promotion is really geared to the new-car buyer, so that's a departure for us. We're trying to get a lot of things done with this campaign."

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