Growing Younger

Several programs help CUs attract younger members.

September 26, 2011

“How do we get more young people to become members?”

That’s more than just the topic du jour for credit unions. It’s a strategic imperative.

Consider this: Nearly 70% of nonmembers ages 18 to 24 are “not at all familiar” with credit unions, according to CUNA’s 2011-2012 Survey of Potential Members. No other age group is as unfamiliar with credit unions. As our survey points out: Credit unions will need these young consumers for future loan and membership growth (“Young & unaware,” p. 42).

It may be that credit unions are paying attention to the issue. Another CUNA survey—the 2011-2012 National Member Survey, a companion to the “potential member” survey—indicates that young adults now account for 9% of total members, compared with only 6% four years ago. That’s commendable, but there’s more work to do. Only 23% of all U.S. consumers ages 18 to 24 years old belong to credit unions, the National Member Survey shows.

None of this is to suggest that credit unions should abandon current members—particularly those of the baby boom generation, born between 1946 and 1964. The leading wave of baby boomers turns 65 this year. These members are often the “influencers” who push their children into credit union membership. They’re an essential resource to maintain.

Let me assure you, none of this is lost on your national trade association. We’re helping credit unions build a younger membership. For example:

  • Last spring, CUNA sponsored for the eighth year the National Credit Union Youth Savings Challenge. Held in conjunction with National Credit Union Youth Week™, the Savings Challenge is a contest that tracks deposits young people make in April. Participating credit unions use the Challenge to motivate children, teenagers, and their parents to start and maintain good money management practices by opening accounts and making deposits. In effect, this puts these kids on the path to credit union membership.

This program began with high hopes in 2004. Who would have guessed what it has achieved since then? This year, more than 145,000 children across the nation participated in the program, and they saved more than $28.5 million.

But here’s the bigger news: Since the program’s inception, young
savers have deposited more than $100 million—a threshold crossed with this year’s event. The grand total saved since the Challenge began is more than $117.6 million.

Clearly, the Savings Challenge is having an impact and teaching children to be savers. Just as important: This program is teaching kids that they should save at their credit union.

  • Also this spring, in partnership with the state leagues, CUNA launched the website, The website offers all consumers basic information about credit unions and directs them to one they can join, with minimal hassle and no confusion. It offers a locator tool featuring a database with every U.S. credit union included, as well as basic credit union information in a clear, concise, and easy-to-navigate format. It also compares average rates and fees at credit unions and banks, highlights the latest “good news” on credit unions appearing in the media, and presents real-life comments submitted by people who belong to credit unions.

And, in conjunction with social media (including Facebook and Twitter), emphasizes younger consumers—those between the ages of 18 to 24—to pique their interest in and encourage their use of credit unions.

It has now been six months since the website’s debut. So far, we’re encouraged by the results: Thousands of consumers each week visit the website looking for—and finding—credit unions to join. Further, our analysis shows that a growing number of these consumers are, in fact, younger.

These programs are just a start, and we’re committed to tweaking these and others so credit unions can grow membership in this important demographic. But it’s about more than membership growth: It’s about ensuring consumers have the choice of a credit union—the best choice for their financial services.

BILL CHENEY is CUNA’s president/CEO.