CUs and Young Adults

July 18, 2010

An interview with Brent Dixon, young adult adviser for the Filene Research Institute

CU Mag: How different is an under-30 member from an older member?

Dixon: Young people today live in a different cultural context. Growing up and becoming financially independent in a broken economy can give birth to short-sighted financial behaviors and a general fear around money.

Between credit card and student debt, young people are jumping into the real world already carrying a massive financial burden.

But at the same time this is one of the most entrepreneurial and expressive generations. Technology makes it easier than ever to express yourself, gain an audience around a creation, and execute an idea.

It’s a perfect storm: the “we can change the world” optimism of youth (something shared across each generation) combined with low-cost, and sometimes free, tools to act on that optimism on a large scale (something new to this generation) means the culture this generation is creating and enjoying is faster-paced and more fragmented than ever.

CU Mag: What are the biggest barriers for getting young adults to consider a credit union?

Dixon: Some barriers are:

  • Culture: On average credit unions have aging members, boards, and employees. This means the cultural fiber that drives each organization is becoming further removed from that of young people.
  • Credit unions need to reach out directly to young people through recruiting. Young adult member and board advisers also can fill this cultural gap.
  • Resources: Credit unions can’t compete individually against large banks on marketing and technology.
  • But through their collective strength combined with their individual understanding of each community they serve, credit unions have an opportunity to become the most relevant and simultaneously accessible and convenient institutions out there. But collaboration is key.
  • The times: Right now, many credit unions are completely focused on keeping the lights on—and rightfully so. For many shops, reaching out to new markets isn’t a priority. But if you’re not growing, you’re dying.

The credit unions who survive will be the ones who recognize the need to reach out to new markets with a mind for the future right now.

CU Mag: If you had to sketch a composite of a credit union getting it wrong, what would it look like?

Dixon: The main thing I see many credit unions doing wrong is trying to “look cool” without paying mind to their actual products and services.

Credit unions focusing on cosmetics first—launching an edgy marketing campaign, designing a “hip” microsite, launching a Facebook or Twitter account because they’ve heard they’re supposed to—before fixing their foundation.

CU Mag: Who is doing a great job of getting young members? How are they doing it?

Dixon: Credit unions that listen and act on what they learn will always do a better job.

This means setting up a youth advisory group to guide the culture and initiatives of the credit union, looking deep into your product and services and assessing them for relevance, and communicating with relevance by reaching out to specific life stages and behaviors.