'Second Chance' Offer Means First-Rate Opportunity

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WestStar Credit Union believes in giving people second chances.

And, as evidenced by the jump in new checking account business, members have no qualms about taking them.

This is Las Vegas, after all, a place where the lure of winning big money can destroy a person's credit with the roll of the dice.

In 2002, WestStar launched a Second Chance Checking product that has helped it stand out among a sea of competitors, including community-chartered credit unions. It was part of a broader campaign to brand itself as "The gaming employees credit union since 1975."

Keryn Marlatt, SVP-strategic planning and services with Westar, will share with The Credit Union Journal's 5th Annual SEG and Business Development Conference how the program helped WestStar increase its new checking activity to 900 per month from 400 a month and secure its niche in its market.

The conference is scheduled for March 4-5 at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando, Fla.

"How do you stand out among all the other choices for potential members and business groups?" Marlatt said. "All these credit unions and banks are pitching them with all these different benefits."

Marlatt, who's talk is titled, "Finding Nemo -How to Differentiate Yourself in A Sea of Competition!" believes there is a way.

For WestStar, the fourth largest credit union in the state with $140 million in assets, it involved creating a new brand, spreading the word in a big way via billboards and television advertisements, and "tweaking products" to make it clear the credit union was there for its members.

"Our name had been out there for quite some time," Marlatt said, explaining that the relatively new credit union was founded in 1975 for Howard Hughes' casino employees. And, while most of those casinos have been imploded and replaced with others, the field of membership remains within the gaming industry.

Marlatt pointed out that Nevada has "loose" FOM rules that allow it to serve employees of the gaming industry, any place that has a gaming industry license (gas stations, convenience stores, etc., that offer slot machines), and anyone related to or living with any of the above mentioned. "It's almost as broad as a community charter, but we chose to do it this way," she said.

She said the in-house team chose bold colors for a logo and tagline that was first introduced via billboards and on large signs that credit union officials hung in employee break-rooms during visits to sign up and serve SEG members.

Marlatt said television ads created by an outside agency followed. They included nighttime aerial views of the Las Vegas Strip and copy that stressed WestStar's "Real Help" program and promise-"The service you get is the service you deserve," she said.

However, long before the public became aware of the new brand, CU employees were undergoing intense customer service training with a consultant trained by Disney.

In addition to that, Marlatt said, the CU changed the way it interviewed potential employees and talked up importance of good customer service at every meeting.

The response to the campaign was overwhelming-literally, Marlatt said.

"We started growing very quickly," she said. "Our new accounts went from 400 a month to 900 a month."

Admittedly, the staff wasn't prepared for the rush, which resulted in longer wait time for the members. That was solved by hiring more front line, IT and back office employees.

Now, "we have almost 100% penetration on direct deposits and 79% on checking accounts," she noted.

And what happens should the member botch the second chance. "Sorry," Marlatt said. "We don't give third chances."

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