Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I recently read an article in CUNA News Now reporting on the national coverage credit unions are receiving as major financial institutions continue to raise fees and add others for their services. The article illustrated how credit union membership is expanding as a result of consumer disillusionment with their banking institutions, noting, “Credit unions added 1.3 million new memberships in 2011, bringing total membership to a record 91.8 million by the end of 2011.”

Certainly, the silver platter continues to be presented to credit unions and I’m willing to bet that most shops are adding these new members to their rosters simply sitting down and doing nothing extra about it. Sounds like an easy come, easy go scenario to me.

On the other hand, there are shops actively engaged in exploring new ways to capitalize on the newfound popularity they are attracting among American consumers, looking for every possible way to entrench the new members in their products, services and culture so they’ll remain active users of the credit union for many years to come.

In support of that effort, I propose credit unions consider an initiative far different from what they may have ever done before, well, at least to my best knowledge. As I see it, credit unions could slam dunk the ball right now in building their brand reputation and member loyalty if they were to seize the financial stage by launching a national campaign which I am calling, America’s Credit Unions: Our Pledge to You.

I propose that we as a movement deliver a pledge that clearly and concisely states what a consumer can count on experiencing from any of America’s 7,500-plus credit unions.

Whether it’s called a pledge, a guarantee, a creed, or a promise, such a commitment from credit unions would certainly drive home the difference between their cooperative business model and the shareholder model governing the banking community. It’s a great way of being proactive; underscoring the distinct value consumers will receive in return for placing their hard-earned money into a credit union’s hands.

Offering a pledge at this moment in time also demonstrates that credit unions are just not sitting back as consumers move their money from the banks, but are seriously paying attention to what consumers are expressing by their actions—a burgeoning dissatisfaction with the way they continue to be treated by the banking community. It’s a frustration fueling not only their lack of trust with the bankers but the Move Your Money initiative as well.

I believe the time is ripe for credit unions to draw a line in the sand and boldly communicate their set of beliefs and principles to the American public. It would launch a move that could elevate the banking relationship in this country to a whole new level, one that a shareholder model could never approximate.

So, what would such a pledge look like?

Starbucks says,
“If your coffee isn’t perfect, we’ll make it over. If it’s still not perfect, make sure you’re in a Starbucks.”

The Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award-winning Ritz-Carlton Hotel expresses its pledge as:
“The Ritz-Carlton Hotel is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission. We pledge to provide the finest personal service and facilities for our guests who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed yet refined ambience. The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.”

Others like Hawaiian Air, Jiffy Lube and even the Long Island Railroad have distinguished their reputations for service through a customer pledge and are reaping the benefits because of it.

For America’s credit unions, the pledge must imbue the cooperative philosophy and principles that distinguish its business model in the financial services marketplace. The pledge should include statements on treating members like owners with personalized service, respect and courtesy, and providing them with the best possible yield and lowest fees. It might also include a commitment to social responsibility, member education and the local community.

Drafting such a pledge would need to be a collective and collaborative effort. To be successful, the pledge must resonate will all credit union executives and be something all of us would be proud to see included in advertisements and communications, as well as after our names in every e-mail we’d send out. I can see the many talented folks at the Filene Institute leading the charge in drafting the initial version for us all.

Of course, once drafted, the pledge would earn its legitimacy from an endorsement of credit unions throughout the country. Could you imagine having the thousands of attendees at the GAC or America’s Credit Union Conference voting on and ratifying such a pledge? What a legacy it would establish for that annual gathering!

But why stop here? A similar pledge could be drafted for any of the other cooperative business sectors in the United States, further associating the cooperative identity we all share in common with the United Nations celebration of the International Year of Cooperatives.

Take a moment with your senior staff or board members to consider the influence such an initiative could have on your credit union—your employees, your members, their loyalty, and your reputation and perception in the marketplace.

America’s Credit Unions: Our Pledge to You. Maybe it’s our turn to present the silver platter to America’s consumers?


Originally published on CUinsight

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