Historically, credit unions served select employee groups (SEGs). But as more credit unions have obtained community charters and the financial services industry has become more complicated, SEG strategies aren’t as simple as they used to be.
In capturing a 2022 Diamond Award for business development from the CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council, $1.5 billion asset Blue Federal Credit Union in Cheyenne, Wyo., rethought its SEG strategy, integrating financial wellness, targeted marketing, community involvement, and member engagement opportunities.
The genesis for the Blue Partnership program can be traced back to 2016 when Blue Federal, then Warren Federal Credit Union, merged with Colorado-based Community Financial Credit Union.
“We had to learn how to become a Colorado-centric credit union,” says Michele Bolkovatz, vice president of public relations and membership development. “What works in the Cheyenne, Wyo., market won’t necessarily work in the Colorado market.”
To reflect its broader focus—and the expansive skies of the American West—the credit union rebranded to its Blue identity soon thereafter.
“People bank with a financial institution they trust,” says Bolkovatz. “That takes time. We’ve elevated our brand through business development and community involvement.”
Through the Blue Partnership program, SEG employees receive free onsite account opening, financial literacy training, first-to-know promotions and campaigns, and invitations to exclusive networking events.
The credit union works diligently to make the offerings relevant and valuable.
“We’re here to help employees through good times and bad, while working with them to address any questions they may have,” says Kylee Sara, business development manager. “This is a free HR benefit that can help employees navigate the ever-changing financial landscape.”
For example, she cites a fraud seminar Blue Federal held for members that addressed common traps and new scams. “It was filled to capacity every time we held it, which shows that this information is valuable to people.”
Fun is part of the equation as well, Sara says, noting that SEG employees are much more likely to talk about financial literacy when a local food truck is catering lunch.
Bolkovatz uses the term “community connector” to describe Blue Federal’s emphasis on partnering not only with SEGs but also with community groups.
“We always want to do right by the member,” she says. “Working with groups in the community—building a house with Habitat for Humanity, for instance—provides more opportunities to get in front of people and work with them, providing a hand-up rather than a hand-out.”
Partnerships are also a great way to build long-term relationships within the community, says Chandler Elmore, community development and engagement lead.
“When we moved into Colorado, we became one house with two rooms,” he says. “The trick was learning to serve communities that are vastly different. We have to do that from both business development and community relations perspectives. The way we’ve married the two together has been the source of our success.”
That success is significant. During the first nine months of 2021, Blue Federal’s member development team opened 1,979 new accounts through the Blue Partnership program and added 29 new SEGs, largely through building connections with the community, according to Sara.
One campaign, 2021’s Blue Friday lending event, captured 42 used auto loans totaling $1.3 million and $6.9 million in new member shares.
Sara says measuring results is one key to success. “It can be difficult to track your efforts in a business development role,” she says. “But it’s important that people throughout the credit union understand your role and what the impact is. We worked hard to track that and show it along the way.”
The credit union posts business development metrics monthly, tracking new SEGs, product and service use, financial literacy classes, and overall impressions within the community, Sara says. “We've done a good job of showing what we're doing to help the credit union.”