Wedding-Cashers

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In the past 24 months, five-million weddings in the United States represented $120 billion spent on ceremonies, receptions, rings and honeymoons.

But are credit unions getting a piece of the Happily Ever After?

That was the question posed by two representatives of San Diego-based North Island Credit Union, Geri Dillingham, EVP/COO, and Kelli Cole, VP-marketing.

Dillingham and Cole told the CUES' NEXUS conference that life-cycle events-weddings, births, graduations and retirement - are the key to member satisfaction and lifetime relationships. Dillingham said the wedding event is a particularly good time to get people to join a credit union, as they not only are prime borrowers, they are willing to listen to financial education.

"Couples are actively interested in starting their lives out right and are open to advice," Dillingham said. "Credit unions need to become part of the planning process. If the credit union gets in for the wedding, it will be there for the births, graduations and other events."

One possible strategy that's been developed to tap into the wedding industry is "MatriMoney," a wedding cash registry product developed initially as a project with the Filene Institute's i3 Group. The idea for MatriMoney began as a search for better ways to reach members through financial literacy. However, noted Dillingham, "It started with, 'What can we do that is newer? Or better?' But there are so many financial education materials out there, there is no need to create more. We just need to get people to do it."

Thanks, We Already Have Towels

The first effort to design a MatriMoney product was the creation of a wedding registry account, Cole explained. The average age of a first-time bride or groom has been creeping up in recent years because people are waiting until they are established in their personal lives before getting married. As a result, many people already have the plates, towels, sheets and other "starter" home furnishing items traditionally given as wedding gifts. More and more often, these brides and grooms are asking for, and receiving, cash-for the cost of the honeymoon, home improvement projects and other uses.

The pilot MatriMoney product launched in August 2005 at North Island CU, Cole said. It featured a jointly owned regular share account. Couples were asked to come in together and "register" at the credit union at least 90 days prior to the ceremony. It used an existing share account product with a special code to note a 50-basis point rate premium. The account had a lockout flag until the wedding date to encourage savings accumulation.

The couple was given registry cards to insert in shower and wedding invitations, Cole continued. Gift cards and envelopes were provided to guests to indicate a deposit was made. North Island also offered an incentive-it matched the first $100 deposited by someone other than the bride and groom.

The pilot project ran through Dec. 31. Cole said the assumptions called for 100 new accounts open, with an average balance of $3,000. Instead, 22 accounts were opened, with an average balance of $818.04. "We missed the mark from the initial projections, but we created buzz," she assessed.

What worked with the pilot, Cole said, was the enthusiastic and positive response from members who know about the wedding registry, high acceptance by employees and strong national interest from other CUs. "And, MatriMoney is a great name...if we can service mark it," she added.

The negatives included rushed marketing without sufficient people or money, manual tracking of matching deposits required daily review, and employees often forgot to code the deposit correctly to identify when the matching incentive was earned. In addition, payment by credit card did not get launched, resulting in at least four missed opportunities, said Cole. "We are offline now, gathering ideas, but will be relaunching May 1," she said.

Dillingham said the May 1 relaunch will be done with more planning, marketing and public relations, "Just as we would any new product."

Several changes are contemplated: the matching gift component is being simplified, and the ability to offer credit card payments online is considered a top priority. Cole said North Island has developed a standardized process to train employees on how to offer the product.

"We have been getting feedback and are incorporating it into the changes," said Dillingham. "This is the distinct advantage of credit unions over banks. We are talking to other credit unions and would like to get this into other credit unions. We were not the first credit union to have a wedding savings account. We looked at a couple different ways of doing it. Now, those credit unions are calling us to ask about MatriMoney. It is a very collaborative effort."

"MatriMoney is a relationship builder, not a money maker," Dillingham added.

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