Need Members? Target Millennials

July 1, 2010

Credit unions need to continue to attract more consumers in their peak borrowing years—age 25 to 44—and attract even younger ones— age 18 to 24. That’s where “millennials” come in, according to CUNA’s 2010-2011 Environmental Scan Report (E-Scan).

The millennial generation (a.k.a., generation Y), is roughly defined as those born between 1980 and 2000. Credit unions should expect these 95 million people to affect American culture as significantly as the 76 million baby boomers did.

The opportunity for credit unions: This generation carries unprecedented levels of student and consumer debt with little knowledge of financial management, reports the Filene Research Institute.

And against the backdrop of the slow economic recovery and a tight credit market, millennials will see a sharp decline in the amount of unsecured debt available. As providers of lower-cost financial services, credit unions are an attractive option for this group.

The oldest millennials are nearly 30 years old and in their prime borrowing years. Attracting and serving these members will help credit unions reach their lending goals and fill the void created by retiring boomers who are becoming net savers.

To attract millennials, the E-Scan advises credit unions to:

  • Formalize their commitment. Focus on millennials in your mission statement and strategic plan. Their needs and wants must influence the steps you take toward long-term growth. Making youth an official priority—with visible support from the executive and board level—sends an important message to staff and members.
  • Woo them while they’re young. It’s easier and less expensive to win the hearts and lifelong loyalty of an 11-year-old than a 21-year-old. You’ll have little competition because few financial institutions care about serving them. But if you wait 10 years, you’ll spend a fortune trying to outmuscle megabanks for their attention and their business.
  • Communicate. Listen to young members. Ask them frequently, as individuals and in focus groups, about their financial goals and habits. Don’t worry about “speaking their language.” Although you want to be aware of their cultural preferences, you’re not trying to be their friends—you’re trying to become a trusted financial partner.
  • Provide financial services. Base your efforts on the financial services that young people need, want, and can use: saving and investment accounts, transaction services, and credit. Young members are a low-risk and profitable group once they’ve been educated about their responsibilities.
  • Enlist their aid. Form a youth advisory panel to generate ideas for service design and marketing tactics. Open an in-school branch and give students training and the chance to teach their peers and families about saving, credit, and membership. Hire interns to project your credit union’s youthful image. Reward them for successful recruitment efforts.

* CUNA’s 2010-2011 Environmental Scan Report