It's a Wonderful Life Really Does Still Exist in Tucson

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It's the 80th Annual Dinner meeting for Pyramid CU. A member, a man in his 30s, raises his hand to ask if he can say a few words. He shares that he's been a member of the CU all his life as were his parents. He compares Pyramid to the famous movie, "It's a Wonderful Life," because CEO Ray Lancaster is their own version of George Bailey. The crowd agrees in the form of loud applause, shouts and cheers. (For the few people who've never enjoyed the movie, an angel shows George Bailey the positive impact he's had on the people in his small town.)

I've been working with this CU for a year now, initially rebranding them and then managing their marketing efforts. I've seen firsthand that CEO Ray Lancaster, the board and the people that work at the CU have a profound commitment to taking care of their members. Pyramid CU runs the way we all want our CUs to; as a caring not-for-profit institution that exists to make members' lives better generation after generation.

This 80th Annual Dinner meeting is a fun, relaxed, cheerful occasion where members, the board and staff mingle as one big family. A slide show features current staff and members enjoying events and branch visits throughout the year. Historical memorabilia of the credit union lines one wall. The Tucson High School student Mariachi band serenades us as guests file by dozens of newly acquired member testimonials lining the wall on the way to the dinner buffet and dessert table.

After dinner CEO Lancaster acts as emcee with his usual genuine and welcoming manner. Ray talks about member values and benefits, then reads some testimonials and gives awards. Gifts go to the oldest member attending and the newest. Ray stresses the importance of volunteerism and remarks on the generational depth in attendance. Over half the guests stand to show they are second to fourth generation members!

After election results are announced prizes are given out, including a gift for every child (there are more than 20). There are even six babies there getting an early start on membership! One 6-year-old girl at my table is overwhelmed when she opens her gift to discover $10 she can add to her savings account. The look in her eyes is priceless! Talk about your brand connecting-and she's a fourth generation member.

The graphic artist who created Pyramid's brand update is my guest at the meeting. We're both touched by hearing members talk about shared values and the way this CU touches their lives. This trip will help us capture that emotion in their brand identity. We meet the newest members who joined only 48 hours ago. They're a couple in their 30s who just moved to Tucson from Springfield, Mo. They shopped online for a new financial institution and selected Pyramid CU because they offer the best e-bill pay system. Then they had car trouble and the local mechanic gave them a glowing testimonial about his "bank"-Pyramid Credit Union! That's the power of word-of-mouth and having the right e-services in place.

After nine years of consulting with credit unions and CUSOs in 32 states I've learned that getting staff, board and members together at least once a year is good for your brand, your staff and your members. It re-educates everyone on the value of the credit union.

I can tell you that every member in attendance at Pyramid's meeting came away true believers that the CU offers a slice of "It's a Wonderful Life." And that's branding at its best.

Paul J. Lucas is a national marketing and branding consultant. For more information log on to or email

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