Membership Growth: Take Advantage of the Times

June 30, 2010

By Jennifer Lehn

During the last two years, not much has been easy for credit unions. Most of our traditional “goals,” particularly those related to lending and earnings, have become harder to achieve.

At Numerica Credit Union, we’ve believed for years that growth in all areas was vital to success. Along with most other institutions, we have struggled to achieve the loan growth and quality measures that we’d consider optimal in the last couple years.

However, for us and most of the industry, deposit growth and membership increases have come more easily. Credit unions overall have benefited from:

  • Doing the right things in terms of financial strategies; and
  • Receiving recognition for that, particularly from the recent, unprecedented national media exposure.

Deposits have come pouring in and, with them, members. Annual membership growth from year-end 2006 to year-end 2009 has increased from 3.96% to 5.12% for credit unions in my peer group (more than $500 million in assets).

Our board and management believe member growth is truly a gift in the midst of struggles in other areas, and we need to recognize it and maximize its future value.

I also know from 30+ years in and around credit unions that no trend lasts forever. In the future, member growth may again become more difficult.

We’re continuing to work the membership access channels that in past years have maintained our growth. These include:

  • Select employee groups (SEG). Even with a community charter, SEGs provide a reliable way to attract new members.
  • New branches. A convenient location often is enough to convince consumers to join the credit union.
  • Indirect lending. This channel attracts a lot of new members, although it can be difficult to get these members to use more credit union services.

At Numerica, we've worked a long time to demonstrate to each and every new member the value of the institution they’ve joined. That includes all of the things we’ve been recognized for in the press, such as favorable rates and fees, safety and soundness, the best technology, and the personal touch.

So how do we take full advantage of new members coming through our doors?

As referenced previously, many members are motivated by safe deposit relationships. We must do everything possible to encourage these members to not only hold safe share certificates but to get checking and, hopefully, a money market account also.

We continually monitor pricing to make sure that these two areas are relatively the most advantageously priced among our deposits, and rich from a feature standpoint. We just rolled out an auto loan special at rates the financial side of the organization might consider “insane,” but that low rate requires an active checking account and VISA card.

At Numerica, we believe an opportunity has come our way in the midst of many challenges. We need to ensure that the new members coming our way now become loyal fans in the future.

Jennifer Lehn is executive vice president for Numerica Credit Union, Spokane Valley, Wash., and chair of the CUNA Operations, Sales, and Service Council. Contact her at 509-536-6174.