Being told the credit union difference is one thing; seeing the difference can make a much bigger impact, says Carla Hedrick, president/CEO of $220 million asset Denver Community Federal Credit Union. “You have to show members how they can participate in the process and have an impact. If they understand our difference, they’ll tell others.”
Confusion about what credit unions are, who can join, and why they exist at all is nothing new. But today, says Hedrick, credit unions have a rare opportunity to seize the moment and educate consumers who are disenchanted with their banking relationships, and to improve relationships with current members.
“Credit unions have unique opportunities to shine in a financial arena that looks pretty dingy today. We can’t put our heads in the sand. We should explain succinctly who we are and what we do,” she says. “We have an opportunity and a responsibility to inform consumers of the amazing choice they have—shame on us if we don’t take advantage of it.”
Denver Community Federal is heightening consumer awareness with actions people can relate to, she says. Last year, it donated a foreclosed property to the Center for Education and Economic Equity—a youth-directed nonprofit that focuses on providing job skills.
“We participated in 203 community events, we offered 168 education classes to both members and nonmembers, and we provided leadership and participation in the Bank on Denver program, initiated by the mayor,” says Hedrick. “This is a tangible benefit that helps people understand what it means to be a different type of financial institution.”
Denver Community Federal also uses social media, including three “We Admit It” videos, which explain to viewers that credit union members are owners. Since posting the videos on YouTube in August, each one has received nearly 4,000 views.
“The most important thing about these videos is that we weren’t using social media as the final viewing point for the member,” explains Hedrick, “but as a way to collect data about the videos.” Data included demographic information, viewer preferences, and needed changes. “Some people get stuck thinking social media is a way to ‘tell,’ but we’re using it to ‘ask’ and to support other traditional media.”
The credit union’s Twitter account provided another opportunity to shine. “A woman was upset with Wells Fargo and went on Twitter to complain. In doing so, she stumbled upon us tweeting about the benefits of our products and services,” says Hedrick. The credit union’s outreach efforts persuaded the woman to become a member. She opened several new accounts, including an auto loan.
In another social media situation, Denver Community Federal reached out to a member who
was already saying positive things about the credit union online.
“She was using a powerful consumer-review social media site called yelp.com,” says Hedrick. “We found a couple of the other businesses she was saying nice things about and put together a care package for her with products from those other businesses. Since then, she has posted about us on at least two other threads, which were both people from out of town asking if anyone had found a bank they liked.” Denver Community Federal also reaches out through an online radio show and financial education classes open to everyone.
As you build awareness, remember to include employees in the outreach efforts, she urges. “Build awareness from within by creating ‘believers’ among employees, friends, and family members so they’ll tell others,” she says. “Share good news with the community. Credit unions tend to be internally focused. Why not share our awards and our great story with those outside our membership?”
Consider sharing resources and media campaign costs with other local credit unions, she suggests. “We can’t afford to do it alone. We’re all stakeholders in this and responsible for increasing awareness.”
Next: Demonstrate the difference