Jim Nussle

CU Awareness: Let’s Win With Words

We need all CUs speaking about the industry in a clear, compelling, and unified way.

March 28, 2017

As CUNA works to advance the credit union movement, the health of credit unions and the financial well-being of their members are foremost in our mind.

But we’re also thinking about those nonmembers who would benefit from the most consumer-friendly option in financial services.

While lack of awareness around credit unions, membership eligibility, and our wide range of products and services serve as barriers to growth in the market, I also see these challenges as opportunities. And I believe through the Credit Union Awareness Initiative the industry can take advantage of these opportunities.

In fact, through this initiative, the credit union system can ensure that as many Americans as possible know about and understand credit unions with the hope that addressing misconceptions and clarifying our identity will prompt more consumers to choose credit unions as their best financial partner.

Last year, the Creating Awareness Advisory Group, which is leading this effort, came together to identify what, exactly, holds back awareness of credit unions and to determine how to resolve that problem.

The group found that too much variation exists in how the industry and individual credit unions describe themselves.

Think of all the descriptors: member-owned, financial cooperative, democratically controlled, and operated for the purpose of promoting thrift.

While banks enjoy a one-word association with their identity, for our industry it takes a 10-word explanation, often with different terms and variations, to describe who and what we are.

If we want consumers to understand us, we must talk about ourselves in a consistent and simplified manner. That’s why the advisory group’s No. 1 priority in boosting awareness is to create a high-level definition of credit unions.

This will enable credit unions to clarify our industry identity for consumers by speaking about themselves in a clear, compelling, and, most important, unified manner.

The first step in creating this definition—or what marketers call a “brand platform”—for credit unions was to conduct sweeping national consumer research to reveal current perceptions of credit unions among the general public, in addition to the latest trends in consumer preferences for financial services.

The results would show us which strengths we could build upon and which misconceptions were most important to address, guiding the advisory group in developing a brand platform.

Earlier this year, we finished the first round of consumer research, and we believe it revealed clear trends that will lead us to the right solution. Most evident was that knowledge of credit unions across all demographics needs to improve.

Many consumers don’t believe they’re eligible for credit union membership, or that credit unions could provide a full portfolio of financial products and services.

What’s more, a lack of awareness of NCUA and its role in providing the same guarantee on insured deposits as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. fueled concerns about security at credit unions.

While there’s much more to glean from this research, we believe we have solid data that can help us build a brand platform that speaks to the strengths and advantages of credit unions, and how they can meet consumers’ needs.

Our goal is to create a communication initiative that will complement the marketing work credit unions and leagues have already invested in, and that already works in their respective markets.

Ultimately, we need buy-in from the broader industry if this is going to work. We will need all credit unions speaking about the industry in a clear, compelling, and unified way.

I urge you to engage with this effort and help drive awareness in a way that benefits all. For more information, please email

JIM NUSSLE is president/CEO of CUNA.