Why Community CUs Must Keep Pampering Their SEGs

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Conveting to community charter may be all the rage, but SEG expansion is hardly passe, according to one expert who suggested community converts must work even harder to make sure their SEGs stay happy after a charter change.

In remarks entitled "How to Make SEGs Feel Special When You Go Community," Gary Lanier detailed why some SEGs feel alienated after a community conversion, and what credit unions must do to keep that from happening.

"Everyone thinks that after you convert to a community charter you can just forget about your SEGs," said Lanier, SVP-sales and member services. "But you can't. You do that, and the first time you have any sort of trouble at the SEG, you're going to hear, 'I never had this problem until you changed,' even if what they're complaining about existed before you converted."

Fighting A Two-Front War

Instead, credit unions will have to take their already-strapped resources and fight a two-front war.

"You cannot abandon the SEG strategy, it must be a dual strategy between SEGs and community expansion," he offered. "And that takes money. And that means going to your board. But remember, most of your board came in through the SEG ranks, so appeal to that side of them."

One of the first things a credit union needs to do to reach out to its SEGs during a community conversion is to let them know they won't be abandoned in the process.

"Notify your SEG members about how you will continue to offer them special services, stuff that is just for SEGs," Lanier suggested. "Then explain to them that converting to the community charter means you will also be able to offer even more products and services than before. They have to see how it benefits them if the credit union changes to a community charter."

In addition to enhanced products and services, credit unions should point out that as a community charter, they will be building more branches and more ATMs, and that means added convenience for SEG members, too.

SEGs Ask, What's The Point?

"The biggest question you get from SEGs is: what's the point of being a SEG if my employees can now join the credit union through the community charter anyway," Lanier explained. "They want to know not only what is the point of being a SEG-but also what is the benefit of being a SEG. So create a benefit. Offer SEG coupons that are just for them. Anything that allows you to say, 'I don't offer this to anybody else, this is just for my SEGs.' Continue direct mail to your SEGs. Have a SEG Appreciation Week, feature a SEG in each newsletter."

One of EFFCU's SEGs is the Carnival Cruise line. The CU determined which of its branches was most likely to be serving Carnival employees and put up a big "Thank You, Carnival" banner. Any Carnival employee who visited the branch that day got a special gift, just for being a SEG member.

Lanier suggested creating events at SEG sites themselves, as well, such as holding a car show day on the lunch hour at the SEG site. And get involved in events being held by the SEG, such as the company picnic.

"Don't forget about the retirees at your SEGs," he commented. "They have some great stories, and as some of the long-time employees retire, those stories are fading away. You can help the SEG remember its history. Our credit union was started to serve employees of Eastern Airlines. We had members who retired from the airline who could remember the days when you would find alligators on the runways. These are great stories, and you become a resource for your SEG."

Showing SEGs The Light

Of course, it's not just about making sure a credit union's existing SEGs feel special-it's convincing would-be SEGs that there's still ample reason to join the credit union as a SEG, even though employees can join individually under the community charter.

"Find out what their charity is," Lanier recommended. "Offer to help out with whatever their charitable effort is. We had a group we wanted to add, but we just couldn't get our foot in the door. We found out they were doing a fundraiser for a new hospital wing, and we offered them tickets to Marlins opening day for their auction. Next thing you know, they're signing up as a SEG."

Taking care of your SEGs often equates to taking care of whomever your contact at the SEG is, most commonly the HR person.

"Make sure you take care of your SEG reps," Lanier advised. "You can't get your foot in the door if you don't take care of the SEG rep, because they are the gatekeepers."

EFFCU purchases a tent for the local air and sea show and invites its SEG ambassadors to come get VIP treatment at a private tent on the beach for the show, including private parking. "It's a big investment, but it's really cool to them," he noted. "If that's too big for your budget, partner with other credit unions and do it together."

Credit unions are familiar with "once a member, always a member," but Lanier suggested they also adopt the "once a rep, always a rep" policy. "When your SEG rep leaves the SEG, odds are, they're going to another company that might make a potential SEG," he said. "Maintain that relationship, and you might get another SEG out of it."

Be very careful about turning down a SEG rep for a loan. "We did that, and the doors have been locked to us at that SEG for five years," he related. "If there's a way to make that loan, make it."

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