Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Once again, credit unions, through no effort of their own, are finding themselves in a position of strength. We’ve seen it happen recently with the Move Your Money campaign, which as I just saw in the trades, continues to make a dramatic contribution to credit union membership levels, particularly at BECU.

This time around, credit unions are being given another great opportunity to steal the show. The United Nation’s observance of the International Year of Cooperatives is providing credit unions with an ideal opportunity to educate the masses on the fundamental difference between their cooperative business model and that of their banking counterparts who observe a shareholder-based, for-profit model.

Even more important with this observance comes the opportunity for credit unions to dramatically influence the public’s perception of who they are as financial cooperatives. I see it as an opportunity to grow and nurture the credit union brand to a level never experienced before.  

But, are credit unions willing and ready to support an effort that promotes a collective identity rather than one that focuses exclusively on their own image and business? Putting all politics and egos aside, such an effort will require all credit unions to speak with a unified voice in a common language the masses can easily understand.  

Yes, you’re correct! We’re back to the topic of a national branding campaign. Well, this time around, let’s not kid ourselves.

We all know it’s more important to gaze at one’s own navel and focus on the distinctions of one’s own individual credit union rather than on the values and principles all credit unions collectively share. Since members always come first, it’s obvious that we shouldn’t expect a sudden move away from local campaigns to support a national agenda. Or, can we?

Guess we’ll have to turn to CUNA, NAFCU or the Association of Credit Union Leagues to develop some common message points that can be consistently used by all credit unions in the way they present themselves in the marketplace during 2012, no matter what words precede “Credit Union” in their name.

On second thought, I’m not sure we all may even agree on message points. Perhaps we can limit it further.

Maybe we can collectively come up with a simple list of credit union-friendly words and phrases that can be used to build a more common and consistent public perception and understanding of coops. That’s it! And if we’re lucky, maybe we’ll hit a 45 percent participation rate.

To get us started, here are a few thoughts that readily come to my mind.

Since credit unions are cooperatives owned by their members, doesn’t that make a credit union a People's Bank? The concept certainly distinguishes the credit union image from banks that are more aligned with big business, profits and shareholders. I don’t think anyone in this day and age would consider them to be a “people’s” bank.

Of course, I’m of the opinion we keep “bank” and “banking” in the credit union lexicon. Why waste energy trying to get the public to use a different word that encompasses writing checks, depositing money into a savings account, or securing an auto loan? I say use language everyone understands and put the energy where it’s better spent, associating the concepts of bank and banking with adjectives and phrases like Banking You Can Trust from the New Jersey League, ownership, understanding, the Little Guy, and the People’s Bank

We ought to be finding ways right now to use these words and phrases in member newsletters, presentations, news interviews, and yes, even ad campaigns. By using them consistently and at all credit unions, we influence perceptions and build common brand recognition.

And let’s not forget, "financial cooperative." Now, some may say that there is a lack of understanding among the public of what a cooperative is. Well, isn't that also true of "credit union" in many ways? While I’ve seen reports that suggest the public’s understanding of a cooperative is not as far off track as you may think (and even more accurate than their understanding of a credit union), the observance of the International Year of Cooperatives is the perfect opportunity for all credit unions and coops alike to ensure the accuracy of such an understanding and perception.

It is expected that the International Year of Cooperatives will generate tons of exposure opportunities, from news interviews to public discussions, focusing attention on the credit union/cooperative brand and the distinct way credit unions conduct business. With that opportunity before us, will the thousands of credit unions throughout America, both small and large alike, finally work together cooperatively to discover their common voice and speak a language that builds brand recognition?

Our time has come! The train is at the station and the silver platter is being offered. If credit unions get onboard now and take advantage of the opportunity, I believe they can build a common perception, a national brand experience that will foster growth and success not only for the industry at large but for the individual credit union cooperative as well, and for many years to come.

So what do you say, Unus Pro Omnibus, Omnes Pro UnoOne For All, All For One?

(Originally published on CUinsight.com)

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