Old Fashioned Effort New Members

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While Meriwest Credit Union has the capacity and the assets to track detailed financial data, business development officials at the $1-billion CU say it's old-fashioned community effort, hitting the streets and personal contact, that remains the primary generator of new members every single day here in the Bay Area.

Meriwest Business Development Manager Tanya Edwards said the credit union visits its SEGs every quarter, holds financial seminars, constantly attends community events such as fairs, and pays particular attention to the IBM and former IBM employees who form the core of what was once an IBM credit union. Edwards said the credit union's business development philosophy is simple: the more chances the credit union gets in front of the public or an employee group, the more likely it is to bring more members into the credit union. It then uses the regular return visits as an opportunity to cross-sell Meriwest's products.

"I think sometimes we forget the grassroots. It's really old school," she said. "We're trying to penetrate members when we go back (to SEGs)."

Setting Monthly Goals

Meriwest CU sets monthly goals for its business development account managers and walks the extra mile with client service with gifts, tickets to professional sports games, and even mailing birthday cards on the right day. When a company joins with Meriwest to offer credit union services to its employees, they become part of its "Five Star" or "Star" program that offers a personal "P.R.O.M.I.S.E.," which stands for professionalism, reliability, opportunities, mentorship, integrity, stability and education. Edwards said that no credit union business development program can work without close, personal and dedicated attention to clients.

Promises aside, Edwards said the two "Star" programs provide a wide array of benefits to business partners: quarterly luncheons for new client representatives, annual awards luncheon, annual HR/Admin appreciation mixer, company and representatives of the month awards, financial seminars, intranet link, new hire orientations in addition to the quarterly visits and personal account managers.

"If we don't live by this day to day, we're not doing our part," she said.

Monthly Goals

Edwards said at Meriwest CU, the business development division has one immediate goal: get new members. She said expanding those relationships with new members can be handled later when she returns to her 150 business partners or when a new member is comfortable enough with their credit union to take on a mortgage or auto loan.

Edwards said Meriwest had a previous goal of adding 3,000 members per year, but reduced the target quota to 2,400 when an account manager quit, leaving only two to bring in new members. Edwards said the target number of 200 per month is high enough to bring in steady growth, but still attainable for account managers.

As for the debate over whether greater values lies in recruiting new members or expanding walletshare among current members, Edwards said real business development is both. Even with a huge credit union, membership penetration will eventually plateau and stall, requiring the addition of new members, she said. Plus, Edwards said the original IBM membership is still a strong voice within Meriwest, and CU officials know it.

Meriwest changed its name from Pacific IBM Credit Union when it obtained a community charter in 1999. Far from ignoring or overlooking its original field of membership, she said Meriwest offers them different marketing material or specific products to their liking.

"We never forget who our core is. They're our lifers," she said. "It's all about serving the community. We live that by example."

On-site Visits Key

A key aspect of making return on-site visits is having something to do and talk about when you get there. Edwards said Meriwest holds financial seminars on buying a home, refinancing, living trusts or securing an auto loan. If a topic requires a legal opinion, Edwards said Meriwest will hire a speaker such as a CPA to provide the proper expertise and background for the audience. She said seminars on ID theft and how to get and make sense of your credit report been most popular.

Regular contact with employers and employees breeds trust in their new credit union and makes them more amenable to expanding existing checking accounts into high-end products and services. Edwards said whenever a company holds a health fair for its employees, Meriwest CU takes part by further aligning itself with employee benefits. Edwards said HR managers love the attention as it makes them look good and makes their jobs easier, too.

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