Putting Members in the Driver’s Seat: Northwest Credit Unions and Winter Auto Shows are a Perfect Match

Story and photos by John M. Vincent

Auto shows offer credit union members a chance to see and purchase the newest vehicles on the market, but you must develop a strategy to capture their financing.

Winter is Auto Show Season in the Pacific Northwest, with major gatherings planned for Portland and Spokane in the coming weeks. It’s also a great time for credit unions to court members with lower interest rates and friendlier loan terms than dealers or banks can offer.

Both the Portland International Auto Show (Feb. 6-9 at the Oregon Convention Center) and the Spokane International Auto Show (Feb. 14-16 at the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center) are the largest consumer events in their regions, and — unlike most auto shows — both allow showgoers to actually buy cars on the spot. That makes attendance crucial for local auto dealers, who make or at least initiate a huge segment of their first-quarter sales on the show floors.

“It’s a start button for the new year,” says Spokane show producer Kip Nedved.

(The Seattle Auto Show, which is sponsored by BECU, is always held in the fall. But January and February will also entice buyers with the Seattle Boat Show, the Seattle Home Show, and the Seattle RV Show presented by WSECU.)

The auto shows in particular offer great opportunities for credit unions to increase loan volume and improve their relationships with members. To help them do that, the Northwest Credit Union Association created “Putting Members in the Driver’s Seat,” a collection of stories and photos that credit unions can use to entertain and educate their members during this key car-buying season.

All of that downloadable content is available online now. In coming weeks, you’ll also find stories and photos featured in Anthem:

  • Jan 16: Who’s buying cars now, and what are they buying? The answers might surprise you.
  • Jan. 21: Automakers are responding to pent-up demand with cars and trucks that are better, safer and more efficient than ever.
  • Jan. 28: Kermit the Frog used to sing “It’s not easy being green,” but if you’re a car buyer in today’s market, it’s certainly easy to buy green — and it’s getting easier every day.
  • Feb. 4: Hidden among the hundreds of cars that you’ll find at February’s Portland and Spokane auto shows are some real gems. They aren’t the speediest, spendiest or flashiest, but they’re all cool in their own way.

Auto loans account for 30.6 percent of the average credit union loan portfolio, and credit unions service 17.8 percent of the overall auto loan marketplace, according to data from CU Direct. “The biggest synergy is that auto lending is one of our core competencies,” says Todd Pietzsch, BECU’s public relations manager. “It’s something that we’re very good at.”

But credit unions can miss out on a unique opportunity if they don’t have a plan in place to promote their products to prospective borrowers and provide access to services during the shows. “You need to be at the point of sale” says Dick Anderson, CU Direct’s regional director.

Miami’s auto show gave Space Coast Credit Union a chance to engage its members with a Twitter campaign, using the hashtag #noratebuyups. The Seattle Auto Show saw its Facebook engagement surge 350 percent in the past year.

The key, Anderson says, is to make sure that members know you’re lending — and to communicate that fact well in advance of the shows. “If they don’t know that their credit union wants that loan, they go with the dealer or captives,” Anderson says.

Data mining, either within the credit union or with the help of credit bureaus, can help identify members most likely to be in the market for new wheels. That knowledge can help credit unions reach out and promote pre-approvals, perhaps by providing free or discounted show tickets to their most-likely borrowers. Getting involved in the entire buying process, from research to delivery, will minimize the chances that members will defect to other lenders.

Steve Pagenstecher, Point West Credit Union’s marketing and experience manager, encourages members to contact the credit union before going to the show. “Go in with a little more knowledge. See what your options are,” he advises members, and it “will make the experience that much better.”

Norm Dufton, consumer lending director at Wauna Credit Union, says his strategy is to “be pre-emptive, prequalify, and give them an incentive to come back to the credit union.” Seattle’s Verity Credit Union also takes an active approach to the region’s consumer shows, according to Director of Marketing Melina Young.

“It’s about taking advantage of knowing that our members are going to the shows,” Young says. Verity promotes show programs in its branches and on ATMs, and the sales staff promotes pre-approvals, offering matching rates and free show tickets to members who get pre-approved.

For smaller credit unions, it’s often difficult to have loan staff available at night and on weekends during an auto show. Verity uses a vendor for night and weekend apps, and puts staff on call during weekends when loan volume is expected to be high. Being available “makes dealers more likely to send things our way,” Young says.

Many credit unions have created relationships with the shows themselves. BECU is a title sponsor of the Seattle Auto Show because it “aligns BECU with auto lending,” Pietzsch says. Florida’s Space Coast Credit Union stages a social media contest before and during the Miami International Auto Show, urging members to Tweet using the hashtag #noratebuyups. It’s a strategy that credit unions can employ that doesn’t require a physical presence or an expensive booth space.

“Putting Members in the Driver’s Seat” is a special package of five stories and more than 20 photos that credit unions can use to entertain and educate their members during this key car-buying season and draw attention to the lower interest rates and better loan terms that only credit unions can offer. The package was written and photographed by John M. Vincent, a nationally-recognized automotive journalist and longtime Northwest credit union board member. Watch for Vincent’s stories in Anthem throughout the month of January, and check out all of his downloadable content here.


Questions? Contact Gary Stein: 503.350.2216, gstein@nwcua.org.

Posted in Marketing & Communications.