Bank Transfer Day Nets New Members, But What Now?

Bank Transfer Day prompted unprecedented swells in new membership for credit unions—as many as 700,000 new members nationwide, according to reports.

The challenge credit unions now face, though, is in the follow-through—in making sure that these new members are making more than just a symbolic switch and are actually using their new credit union as their primary financial institution.

“If you haven’t done so already, you need to make a plan for the day after Bank Transfer Day (as well as the days, weeks, and months to come),” wrote the Filene Research Institute’s W. Robert Hall in a recent blog post. “Banks raising their fees may have given credit unions a huge marketing opportunity, but it is up to credit unions to translate this into new and better ways serve their existing and new members.”

Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) Director of Public Relations David Bennett explained that it was important to first understand what motivated these new members to join.

“First of all, credit unions need to recognize why these new members came on board,” he said, “and they need to reach out to them in a way that will speak to their reasons for becoming members in the first place.”

Clearly, the now-infamous debit-card fees proposed by a number of big banks were a tipping point for a number of consumers, but credit unions must also pay close attention to what the fees represent—and how they can continue to be different. Stressing to new members the value of credit unions’ not-for-profit cooperative structure is a clear way to show how the credit union difference will stretch well beyond any discussions of specific bank fees.

But many new members also joined as part of the Occupy movement, which is characterized by its “99 percent” mantra and commitment to change. Many others have come not as part of a movement, but as a byproduct of the increased education and public awareness of the credit union movement that has come with the ballooning media coverage.

Many credit unions have worked to capitalize on Bank Transfer Day using marketing strategies that look to extend the current pro-credit union climate.

Washington State Employees Credit Union (WSECU) launched a “Get Happy” campaign, peppering its website and Facebook page with the theme while creating t-shirts for staff to wear and hand out to members.

“We launched the campaign about a week before Bank Transfer Day, with the intent of creating something that could last longer than just that ‘switch day,’ said Kristina Walters, vice president of marketing for WSECU. “We also knew that it was a real possibility that banks would change their minds and say, ‘We heard you, and we’re not implementing the debit card fee,’ so the message of our campaign needed to be about the people we serve rather than what the banks were doing or not doing.”

Other credit unions, such as Red Canoe Credit Union, who never publicly aligned themselves with the Bank Transfer Day phenomenon, have relied exclusively on their tradition of strong member service in the days since Bank Transfer Day.

“We’re basically keeping to our standard business practice of what we would normally do with new members,” said Amy Davis, Red Canoe’s vice president of marketing. “We hope we would treat all new members the same regardless of when they joined the credit union.”

Davis also explained that Red Canoe had not seen huge spikes in membership, which she attributed in part to the fact that credit unions already hold a significant market share in Washington’s Cowlitz County, but described the events surrounding Bank Transfer Day as, “an incredible opportunity,” and one that has generated, “more energy and more awareness than we could ever have purchased.”

Matt Purvis, vice president of marketing for Northwest Community Credit Union, said that Northwest Community plans to tailor its existing marketing and communications plan to reach new members.

“We’ll be trying to take the platform we’ve been given, which is that opportunity to not only explain but demonstrate the credit union difference,” Purvis said. “Really, that’s the magic of Bank Transfer Day and all this news that continues to happen. For the first time in my awareness, folks are hearing the phrase ‘credit union’ in the same sentence as big national banks. And we’re positioned as the positive.”

Purvis went on to explain its monthly newsletter would likely feature content aimed directly at new members, and that it will continue to reach out to customers who are frustrated with their bank.

“We didn’t think of Bank Transfer Day as a day,” he said, “because we were seeing so much increased awareness and traffic at our branches. We’re hoping we can use that new kind of public platform to increase awareness of not only what credit unions are and who specifically we [at Northwest Community] are.”

He stressed, however, the importance of remaining positive and continuing to stay on message.

“We haven’t changed a product, and there hasn’t been any kind of product or service geared toward this market,” he said, saying they have been very careful “not to kick the banks when they’re down,” focusing instead on the many benefits and features of their products and services.

Bennett echoed these sentiments, encouraging credit unions to continue to demonstrate the credit union difference on a daily basis.

 “If credit unions take a personal touch to what they’re doing with their members now and truly invest, they can continue to capitalize on this widespread feeling that is so pro-credit union right now,” Bennett said. “These are the types of new members who can become full-fledged credit union advocates. But it’s going to take time. Credit unions will first need to prove that they are who they say they are.”

In addition to new members, credit unions have also gained important knowledge about how to communicate with members. Hundreds of thousands of bank customers joined credit unions in recent weeks, and much of this groundswell was spread through social media sites like Facebook.

“In order to continue to grow and to continue to serve members as well as possible, credit unions must capitalize on social media as a way to communicate directly with their members,” Bennett said. “Bank Transfer Day has shown us that media sites represent a largely untapped resource for organizing members as a specific community, as well as a significant opportunity for improving grassroots marketing and advocacy.”


Questions or Concerns? Contact Matt Halvorson, Anthem Editor:

Posted in Events, Marketing & Communications.