It might be difficult to admit, but it’s something many of us know to be true: Not everyone in America knows what a credit union is.
Call me crazy, but I’m OK with that. At least for now.
If every American knew about credit unions—about how we’re member-owned and not-for-profit—and the banks still held a massive share of the market, then I might be worried.
But I’m not worried. I’m encouraged.
That’s because I know that when consumers finally solve the credit union “mystery”—when they learn about our cooperative, service-first model that allows us to offer the best and most affordable products and services on the market—time and again they turn their attention squarely to us.
Here’s the proof: Recent research we’ve compiled reveals that roughly 90% of consumers view credit unions positively after learning the difference between us and banks.
Even more promising, when bank-only customers see a TV ad illustrating the difference between credit unions and banks, 82% say they would be interested in switching to a credit union.
For me, the research paints a clear picture about the perception people have of credit unions compared with banks—especially once they learn the true difference between the two.
That’s why at CUNA we’re pulling back the curtain on the credit union advantage and erasing any misconceptions about our accessibility and our ability to meet consumers’ needs—not just as well as, but even better than, the banks.
Demonstrating why we do what we do is critical because that “why”—that dedication to our members—is what makes credit unions better than banks.
We have an opportunity to raise awareness of credit unions and, specifically, of how credit unions differ from banks. The more members we can bring into the movement the better.
And the more our members know about how we differ from banks, the louder our collective voice becomes on Capitol Hill when advocating for issues important to ensuring credit union growth.
We’ve been thinking hard about how to best communicate this difference to consumers, and the CUNA Board has created an advisory committee packed with experts who’ve been providing wonderful feedback to staff.
No matter which direction we choose with this initiative, it must uphold these two principles:
1. It must be sustainable. It would be a waste of our time to launch a new awareness effort only to see it dissipate in a matter of months or years.
Remember, just when we’re starting to get bored with a message, our key audiences are just starting to hear us. We need an adaptive but ongoing communications effort that becomes a fixture of credit union awareness for years to come.
2. It must inspire us to begin speaking the same language. Our research has found that, surprisingly, the knowledge gap around credit unions doesn’t only apply to bank customers.
In fact, nearly half of credit union members can’t articulate the difference between credit unions and banks.
It’s imperative that our members, the people who walk into our branches every day, understand that difference as well.
As a final note, I’d like to share the results of a word cloud we created that identifies the terms that resonated most with the survey group who viewed the ads.
Of all the words used, “members” topped the list, followed by “owned,” “local,” and “nonprofit.”
That’s right, folks: The philosophies that make credit unions different—that we are member-owned, local, and not-for-profit—truly resonate with people.
This is the opportunity we have to serve and grow credit union market share.
JIM NUSSLE is president/CEO of CUNA.