For Some Small CUs, Ideas Are Good-N-Plenty

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Being small in assets doesn't have to mean being small in vision.

Yet that's often the case with some small credit unions, creating a chicken-vs.-egg question over whether it's limited vision that has led to limited assets or limited assets that are limiting vision. We'll leave that question to the deep thinkers.

In the meantime, there are some small CU leaders who think big,

Take United Health Credit Union in Burlingame, Calif., for instance, which has generated some sweet results with candy bars. The $50-million UHCU, for instance, gave away Take 5 chocolate bars as part of a promotion in which it sought to take five minutes of members' time to explain how it could save them money.

It has also used Oh Henry! bars as part of a promo to ensure the credit union is a place like Cheers, where everyone knows your name. "We gave every employee 20 candy bars that were custom-labeled," explained CEO Linda White. "We said 'If we don't call the member by name during the course of the transaction, we will give that member an Oh Henry bar.' At the end of the two-month promotion, employees who had all 20 candy bars left got a gift card. And they got gift cards of lesser value depending on how many were left."

United Health used Payday candy bars as an incentive and reminder to members to sign up for direct deposit.

"These ideas will work if you have a niche market, as a lot of small credit unions do," said White during a discussion among small credit unions that are part of the California and Nevada leagues' Shapiro Group at the leagues' annual meeting. "These are fun and engaging and just happen to be cheap."

UHCU's marketing isn't completely built around helping local dentists. It just completed a two-week promotion in which it placed jars of money at each teller window with the message, "If we don't talk to you about how to save you money, we will give you a dollar." In addition, members who already had a credit card or loan with the CU were given a dollar by tellers as a way of thanking them for their business.

At end of promotion, all the money left in the jars was combined, with employees opting to use half to buy lunch and to donate the other half to charity.

"It's really about engaging your members," said White. "You can hand these out as your swag to let people know your benefits."

New Life From The Undead

Speaking of engagement, at least one CU is willing to go so far as to use zombies to build relationships, among other efforts. Barbara Bean, CEO of the $12-million Cal Poly FCU, said her credit union, which budgets less than $5,000 per year for marketing, makes every effort to piggyback on events at its university sponsor and elsewhere.

"Whatever is happening in your places of business or communities, get involved," urged Bean. "It doesn't always mean having to give money; we don't have a lot of

At Cal Poly, there is an annual Students vs. Zombies event in which it does a tie-in. As many students participate in Flash Mobs, Cal Poly FCU responded with a Flash Loan in which members had one week to apply in order to get a rate discount.

CPFCU has also worked to leverage an invaluable asset it (and every other CU) already has, and that is its knowledge of financial products and practices. To that end, said Bean, it has sought to be the "go-to expert" on campus on all financial subjects. "Every time someone asks us to talk, we do it," said Bean. "We present to more than 6,000 students per year with financial ed information.  It's not a marketing message. We also do article marketing with topic expertise. We provide training to our sponsor's staff. We author articles for our sponsor's newsletter. You can create a podcast and post it on your website, such as how to improve credit scores."

One trap into which many small CUs fall is letting content on their websites get old, observed Bean, who urged every CU, large and small, to review their sites at least monthly and update them.

"On the website I suggest you give credit cards their own page if you offer credit cards," advised Bean. "Too often it's hidden in the loan link. To most people credit cards are just a payment method. This costs extra, but it's well worth it."

Bean added that for the first time in five years, the credit union has seen an increase in lending volume.
"There are lots of things out there and we try to be relevant to all the things that are going on," she said.

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at

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