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RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif.-Better use of data already available can boost card penetration and usage, one analyst is stressing.

"So many consumers right now are credit-impaired so I think the challenge for credit unions right now is to be very surgical in how they acquire new credit card [adopters]," said CO-OP Financial Services' Caroline Lane. "You can more carefully assess credit quality and that is a huge opportunity for credit unions right now."

With credit risk top of mind today, Lane suggested credit unions zero in on members who may have experienced recent setbacks, such as temporary job losses or foreclosure, but who have also historically been on-time with payments. CUs must constantly re-score their member bases and stay in close contact with credit bureaus and other data-compiling firms to ensure they are not letting opportunities go to waste, Lane said.

"That information is pretty visible in credit reporting. You can tell somebody who has been a long time slow or no payer versus someone who has had a more recent episode," she said. "You can be pretty precise about exactly the type of credit profile that you're looking for [with] a marketing campaign. You can tailor the message even to the point of saying, 'We're willing to give you a second chance.'"

To get on and stay on "top of wallet," Lane implored credit unions to study existing card usage. When a member is using the card frequently and at grocery stores and gas stations, a CU can be confident that its card is the first one that member selects.

"I think the bigger banks are going to start limiting or eliminating their rewards programs. So if a credit union can offer that I think they'll stand out," Lane added. "[But] human beings as a species love choices. You can't offer just one kind of reward and just hope that it is going to fit all of your members needs."

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