Satisfaction From aSmarterChoice

Heightened consumer interest in CUs picks up where it left off last year.

May 1, 2012

A little more than a year ago, CUNA and the leagues cooperatively unveiled—a website designed to tell consumers more about credit unions, share good news about credit unions with consumers, and help consumers find credit unions to join.

Much has happened since the launch of And, from what we can tell, there’s much more to come.

When we launched the website last year, credit unions were coming off just the second time in the past 10 years in which credit union membership increased by less than one million for the year. Membership grew by just 600,000 in 2010, and only 300,000 in 2007.

To introduce a website with a primary purpose of helping credit unions build membership is either great timing or great expectations.

Fortunately, it turned out to be both.

Consumer traffic on the website was fairly busy through the first seven months. Consumers were finding the site, largely through mentions of it in stories appearing in publications such as The Wall Street Journal and Kiplinger’s magazine, among others.

And we were slowly, but surely, building interest in the site through social media—Facebook and Twitter—to tap those burgeoning audiences.

But nothing quite prepared us for what happened in the last week of September and the subsequent months in the wake of new fees being placed on debit cards by big banks.

Consumers hated the fees. And the traffic on quickly showed it. Within one day of the announcement of new fees, visits on doubled; within three days, the traffic volume had increased eightfold.

In the last three months of the year, thousands of consumers every day were searching for a credit union to join. Our statistics indicate that more than 95% of people visiting the site made a successful search for a credit union. And that was nearly 190,000 consumers in 2011.

By year’s end, about 1.3 million more people had joined credit unions—double the number that joined the year before and more in line with a typical year of credit union membership growth. (Note: That number represents the net additional members at credit unions, since membership totals from year-to-year also reflect inactive members purged from the totals. So the total of new members may indeed be well more than reflected in year-end numbers.)

And while doesn’t take credit for all of those new members, we’re comfortable in saying we played a big role in turning more consumers to credit unions. Certainly Bank Transfer Day also motivated many consumers to choose credit unions.

And the trend of heightened consumer interest in credit unions is continuing this year as well.

For example, in early March a really big bank (the same one that announced the monthly debit card fee and later rescinded it after considerable consumer outcry) began testing a new fee program in targeted states. News organizations reported on the testing—and, sure enough, traffic on immediately spiked by 50% and more during a five-day period, with thousands more searching for a credit union to join.

Those results are satisfying for us. And we fully expect more satisfaction through 2012. By the end of the first quarter, was tracking ahead of all 2011 in terms of numbers of consumers visiting the site and searches being made for credit unions to join.

That’s even more satisfying.

CUNA and the leagues developed to give all credit unions a tool to help build membership—and to give consumers a more simple path to learn about credit unions and to find ones they’re eligible to join.

As I noted at the outset, there’s more to come—and more consumers likely to make “a smarter choice.”

BILL CHENEY is CUNA’s president/CEO.