A Great Idea for Breaking a 99-Year (& Bad) CU Tradition

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Get ready. Approximately six months from now credit unions across the country will eagerly engage in an annual CU tradition: wasting a lot of money, time and opportunity.

In this case we're talking International Credit Union Week, which will come around once again in October with the added distinction this year that credit unions are celebrating their 100th anniversary in the U.S. CUs with any marketing budget at all will respond with self-congratulatory messages that are largely ignored by everyone and some of the most appalling (and needlessly expensive) newspaper inserts ever published.

Indeed, perhaps the only upside to the cuts many marketing departments have seen in 2009 is that CUs won't be able to invest in those inserts full of "stories" by all the sponsoring CUs about how friendly and swell everyone is down at the ol' credit union and which provide 1) no reason to read them and 2) no reason to act even if the reader were bored enough to plod through it. And let's not forget those cheesey photos of the staff standing next to the credit union's sign!

How about another idea to make International Credit Union Week in 2009 the most memorable-and effective-ever? Pay it Forward. I am hereby encouraging every credit union to steal one of the most innovative and ROI-generating ideas to come out of the CU community in a while.

As has been profiled in Credit Union Journal more than once, in 2008 Seattle Metro CU asked members and its community how they would "pay it forward" if given $10. Make a donation. Help someone out. Buy a homeless guy a meal or two. Seattle Metro videotaped each response, and later placed them on YouTube and let viewers vote for their favorite response, with the winner getting $1,000 for their cause.

I was fortunate enough to be in Seattle on the day it gave away the $10 bills, and the line snaked around a downtown city block. During Credit Union Journal's recent Grow Show, SMCU's Jill Vicente's presentation on its Pay it Forward strategy was among the most popular.

CEOs and CFOs reading this may see just another marketing campaign, but read on: Seattle Metro estimates that for the $13K it spent, it received more than a million dollars in newspaper, TV and radio coverage. (You can read more at cujournal.com).

You may not have $13K to spend this October; but you don't have to. You just have to be smart. Two other CUs in the U.S. are already using Seattle Metropolitan's program (and SMCU is urging others to do the same). This International Credit Union Week, what an opportunity to make that 100th anniversary REALLY count for more than just feel-good kumbaya. Imagine every CU in the country, or with budgets tight, CUs teaming up in every market in the country, to stage "Pay it Forward" efforts of their own. Like most great ideas, it's simple, and the ROI alone is justification.

Pay it Forward could become a new annual tradition for credit unions that instead of having to beg for media coverage and exposure would have more than they ever dreamed possible. Of course, there's still that other option-taking more steps backward.


  • Speaking of great ideas, it isn't often you hear "innovation" and "kids program" in the same breath. Most CU marketing to kids consists of cutesy mascots, bad puns, and little in the way of education about what a CU is (and nothing in the way of cleverly engaging their parents at the same time). So it was refreshing to find one of the most novel ideas I've seen in some time come in a creative new strategy in this category. As the Journal reported in the April 27 issue, the "kidecards" from CU Strategic Planning target two age groups. Credit unions can send the appropriate card to young members (or more likely and better yet, their parents) on their birthdays. When the Wii Generation clicks on the interactive card they are challenged to uncover a dozen fun facts about money, along with a simple explanation of what a credit union is. And since the kids will most likely interact with the card with their parents, mom and/or dad also get a subtle tutorial in the CU advantage.

    You can test drive the cards yourself at www.kidecards.org. Good luck finding all 12.


  • What kind of year has it been for CUs? In its review of two corporates' portfolios, Clayton Fixed Income Service listed the $3.0-billion loss by WesCorp as its "optimistic" projection. Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann@cujournal.com.

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