Understanding What It Means To 'Know' Members Is Key

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SAN ANTONIO-Credit unions are well positioned to help members climb back from the financial valley many have fallen into in recent years, provided CU leadership is willing to learn more about their members and the best products and services for them, according to one person.

CUNA Mutual's Heather Thiltgen told America's Credit Union Conference last week that knowing members will be key to getting them back on track. Thiltgen, VP-consumer marketing, said the good news is that credit union members are "overwhelmingly confident, positive and self-reliant" based on research CUNA Mutual conducted this year on consumer financial needs.

Thiltgen said the research shows credit union members are hard-working, middle-aged, family-oriented and have annual household incomes averaging between $55,000-$60,000 to $100,000.

Other attributes include:

• Do business with credit unions because of trust

• Modest in their lifestyle

• Less familiarity/confidence with finances and investing

• Family most important; want to protect them

• Want help facing multiple life stages' challenges

• Want to see basic near-term progress

• Price sensitive, but may spend more for value

• Busy and will just 'bail' if it gets difficult

• Sensitive to being over-marketed or sold anything

"The advantage of trust means members are likely to purchase more products from you in the future," Thiltgen said. "Credit unions focus on helping their members first. Considering consumers have been burned by mutual fund scandals and the housing bubble, doing business with the right financial institution is important to them, making credit unions uniquely positioned in this regard."

Thiltgen recommended credit unions know their current product penetration and offer a broad set of products to meet their needs. Recognizing that members are seeking value and crunched for time, products need to be simple and affordable, she said. And once in place, products and services should be widely marketed.

"You're known for your great loan rates; advertise them and make your loans easy to get," said Thiltgen. "Make it easy for members to get pre-approved online and even print a check they can take to the dealers. Think about how to eliminate points of inertia in every step of the process."

Providing members with their preferred channel is also important, she said, encouraging credit unions to "build toward multiple integrated channels by rapidly developing your website, online banking and email functionality."

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