Results Lead Penn. CUs To Extend 'iBelong'

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HARRISBURG, Penn.-With statistics showing consumer awareness of Pennsylvania credit unions up and growth at levels above those in recent memory, this state's league opted to extend its iBelong cooperative advertising campaign at least another year.

The Pennsylvania Credit Union Association said it plans to spend $1.1 million on the effort that will once again lean heavily on statewide TV commercials. That decision was not based on a gut feeling, stressed Mike Kaczenski, PCUA board vice chairman and CEO of Sun East Federal Credit Union in Aston, Penn. "For some 20-plus years, performance numbers of Pennsylvania credit unions always lagged the rest of the country. Now, for the first time in history, our numbers are better that the U.S. average."

The results, in part, are from the iBelong awareness campaign, contended Kaczenski, and from individual credit unions increasing their marketing.

Ray Brunner, PCUA chairman, and CEO of the Beaver, Penn.-based West-Aircomm Federal Credit Unin, said the board made the decision to extend the campaign in late September.

In light of the economic challenges faced by credit unions, the decision to continue was not easy, he said. However, Brunner noted, "It was clear the campaign was successful based on a variety of metrics."

As of June 30, 2010, growth rates among Pennsylvania credit unions over the previous 12 months outpaced national averages in membership (2.2% vs. 0.9%), assets (8.9% vs. 3.8%), and loans (5.4% vs. -0.9%). When the campaign started in mid-2007, the growth rate of total Pennsylvania credit union members was just 0.6%.

The league also leaned on the Polk-Lepson Research Group to determine the campaign's effectiveness. Periodic recall studies among non-credit union members noted awareness of credit unions has increased (see chart), particularly among the campaign's target market, women aged 25 to 49. "There is greater awareness of credit unions as member-owned and offering low or no fees," Brunner added.

For the first time since iBelong was unveiled, last years' campaign took a small swing at banks. PCUA did not say if next year's advertising will take a similar tack, but agreed the banks' problems likely pushed the statistics higher. "The press gave credit unions a lot of coverage last year," said Kaczenski .

In August, PCUA conducted a survey among member credit unions to gauge support for iBelong. Eight out of ten credit unions indicated they wanted the campaign to continue into 2011, although the majority of those credit unions indicated they wanted lower assessments to fund the campaign.

Both requests were answered. In 2011, the assessment rate this state's credit unions will decrease by 33% from the 2010 assessment. The assessment rate is tiered based on credit union asset size, with credit unions under $20 million in assets paying the lowest rate, just $7 per million of assets.

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