To Add Members, Think ‘Bold’ and ‘Local’
Learn the secrets of five CUs that have experienced dramatic membership growth.
Successful membership-growth strategies require a thorough knowledge of your credit union’s field of membership. And that will require doing some research to answer questions, such as:
♦ Who are our potential members, where do they live, and what services do they need?
♦ What are our competitors doing and not doing?
♦ How can our credit union’s values align with our community’s values?
♦ Do we need to tweak our menu of products and services, based on the demographic profile of our community?
Click ahead to read about five credit unions whose strategies have sparked dramatic membership growth in recent years.
CAPITAL COMMUNICATIONS FCU
By attracting younger members, Capital Communications Federal Credit Union in Albany, N.Y., was able to lower the average age of its members to 38—well below the national average age of almost 49.
The $1.1 billion credit union achieved that youth movement with comprehensive college planning services, financial education, and monetary rewards for students.
Two full-time employees manage the College Bound program, which has helped about 3,000 families navigate the complex application, preparation, and funding process during the past two years.
“I would venture to say College Bound is maybe the best program in the country for credit unions in preparing families for the college journey – not just the expense, but what to be prepared for, how to position yourself to be accepted,” Capital Communications Federal CEO Paula Stopera says.
The credit union also oversees financial education efforts in 73 area schools that are coordinated by volunteer groups such as parent teacher associations, and opened a high school branch run by a teacher from the business department and students from the class. That initiative has brought in 5,000 new young households over the last five years, according to Stopera.
Also, Capital Communications Federal gives student members $10 for every above-average report card, and this year distributed $57,000 in scholarships.
“That’s a big win for us,” Stopera says.
The credit union has tripled its membership to 112,000 during Stopera’s 10 years as CEO, and boasts a 2.9 products per household ratio, per Raddon. “We’ve grown significantly through our youth programs,” she says.
Considerable room for growth remains, thanks to a strong local economy based in scientific applications. Capital Communications Federal bought a mortgage subsidiary three years ago to service the influx of first-time home buyers and members interested in refinancing.
“Our challenge is to keep up with it all. We’re very fortunate that we’re very busy,” says Stopera, who aims to instill credit union principles in young leaders in her organization.
“You can have a very successful business without focusing on profits,” she explains. “If people are taken care of, the profits will come.”
Empower Federal Credit Union in Syracuse has reaped the benefits of an aggressive growth plan following a 2007 merger of equals that produced economies of scale.
Since then, the credit union has developed 3,200 select employee groups through a large business development staff, a strategy that had been abandoned by rivals.
Also, Empower Federal relied on census data and member demographics to open new branches near concentrations of potential and existing members during the recession, when other financial institutions were pulling back from brick-and-mortar investment.
The credit union’s commitment to risk-based, nonautomated lending paid off during the Great Recession, when “we didn’t have highs or lows,” says Jim Reynolds, senior vice president of operations. “Lending reviews every credit report, and really believe in C, D, and E lending and character-based lending. The philosophy has been that 'bad things happen to good people.' We focused on advertising that differentiation.”
Fueled by a tremendous referral rate by front-line staff, Empower Federal is adding about 16,000 members annually. It will reach 140,000 members by the end of 2014—twice the total of Empire Federal Credit Union and Power Federal Credit Union when they merged.
Thanks to a strong cross-selling culture rooted in a three-week training course for new employees that focuses on needs-based sales, the credit union maintains a 2.96 products per household ratio.
“We grew into ourselves, if you will,” Reynolds says. “We’re definitely firing on all cylinders.”
Managing that growth will be Empower Federal’s biggest challenge. The credit union aims to leverage technology to develop efficiencies such as self-service delivery channels so it can continue its tradition of strong service.
“We’re comfortable going up against anybody, based on how we deliver member service,” Reynolds says.
MONROE COUNTY TEACHERS FCU
Monroe County Teachers Federal Credit Union was reeling from a scandal involving a former manager when Jerry Bolduc came out of retirement from a career as an NCUA supervisor to take over the credit union in Key West, Fla., in 2007.
“NCUA called me and asked if I wanted to come in for a couple weeks to "clean up the mess," Bolduc says. “But when I met with the board, instead of being embarrassed, they were mad and wanted to continue. It was a challenge, but we put everything into it.”
After first focusing on instituting better internal controls and recovering its losses, the credit union—which was down to $5.5 million assets and fighting for its survival—focused on expanding its field of membership to multiple select employee groups (SEGs), concentrating on nonprofits such as the Rotary Club and Navy League Key West Council.
To keep loan-to-share ratio high, Monroe County Teachers Federal offered the best share draft interest rates in the market to attract deposits. The credit union experienced significant growth from retiring teachers starting IRAs with money from their pension plans.
Sensing a void in the auto loans market, Bolduc forged agreements with three local dealers on a “Buy Local, Finance Local” campaign. And he championed entry into the bottomed-out real estate market with a focus on conservative loans.
Five years ago, Monroe County Teachers Federal started an association called Stand Up for Education that grew so quickly it incorporated as a 501(c)(3) in 2011. The association awards “Sponsor A Classroom” to teachers and Coverdell Education Savings Accounts to kids at $250 each. The credit union gave a total of $6,000 in Coverdell accounts in 2013, a sum that grows each year.
“We have no competitors for that offer in the Keys, and very few credit unions offer them nationally,” Bolduc says. “It’s a great incentives to attract kids and parents.”
The 1,800-member credit union quadrupled its assets to $22 million since Bolduc’s arrival, and added more than 400 members in the last year.
“You can’t make money on investments,” Bolduc says. “We invest in loans to our members. The rest of it, keep it as liquid as we can. If you can balance it right, have good relationships with members, it works well.”
Monroe County Teachers Federal ranks among the top credit unions nationally in loan-to-share (83%) and loan-to-assets (74%) ratios, cost-to-funds (1.67), and return on assets (1.25%).
“The thing I’m proudest of is that we pay more and earn more,” Bolduc says. “If you can do that, you’re going to be successful.”
In 2012, the League of Southeastern Credit Unions selected Monroe County Teachers Federal as Credit Union of the Year in its asset size category.
When big banks bought out community-based competitors in Selma, Ala., then removed control of lending decisions and increased fees, word-of-mouth fueled a parade of prospective members to Riverdale Credit Union.
“We benefited in this market because we give personal service daily,” CEO Linda Walker says.
Since 2009, membership has increased 63% to 9,597, assets jumped 56% to $65 million, and loans accelerated 53% to $43 million.
“We have had the discussion many times that one would think we would reach our growth peak, but month after month the numbers continue to increase,” Walker says. “We have a great name and reputation out on the street.”
Although Selma is not a large city—population 20,756—and hasn’t experienced a great deal of industrial growth, Riverdale has found its niche since obtaining a community charter several years ago.
The credit union never advertisers for new members. But it sponsors a variety of events in the city and school system, such as:
• A community shred day for disposal of old documents;
• “Silent Snacks” for children who otherwise might not have food for the weekend; and
• Annually awarding 25 scholarships of $500 each to deserving young members as they move from high school to college.
Riverdale’s financial literacy efforts have helped members break free of the cycle of payday loans, which are readily available at many stores in Selma.
“There is a new adventure here every day. I have enjoyed almost all of them and I love my job,” says Walker, a 31-year employee at Riverdale.
“I have tried to instill in my employees that having a servant’s heart is a good thing, and that serving our membership in a professional, efficient, and friendly manner is the continued reason for our success. After all, ‘People Helping People’ is the philosophy we were built on.”
TOPLINE FEDERAL CREDIT UNION
For TopLine Federal Credit Union, Bank Transfer Day in 2011 is the gift that keeps on giving.
The $353 million credit union in Maple Grove, Minn., has capitalized on a membership spike from that initiative through word-of-mouth referrals fueled by its exceptional service culture.
TopLine's membership increased more than 3.4% annually in 2012 and 2013, and has bloomed by 4.5% through the first half of 2014, to 40,835.
On average, 65% of new members each month trace to member referrals from their family and friends, according to president and CEO Tom Smith.
“We take great pride in serving our members, communities and employees,” Smith says. “We know if we treat our members right, and go the extra mile, our members will reward us by touting the credit union with others they know.”
TopLine emphasizes not just gaining members, but keeping them around, and engaged. The credit union implemented a custom onboarding program that combines human interaction with a series of strategic print and electronic communications that educate members and prime the pump for cross-selling opportunities.
The program includes:
• A personalized thank you card;
• Monthly mailers for seven consecutive months, with the same message being delivered via email;
• A personal phone call after the first month to assist the member with any questions they have on their new account and thank them for their business.
Earlier this year, the credit union introduced a mobile app with mobile deposit capabilities to continue to provide convenience to current members and entice prospective members.
"TopLine has been in the community for over 79 years, founded on the principle of 'People Helping People,'” Smith says "We will continue to remain a member-owned financial institution dedicated to helping members achieve their financial goals by offering quality financial products and services at competitive rates and providing the highest quality member service available in the financial arena.
"Our goal is to build a relationship with each and every member, to better understand how we can be their financial institution of choice and help with all their banking needs."