How This Year’s Frankie Winner Tells The CU Story And Why

Are you proud to be a credit union? And if you are, do you keep it to yourself?

In sorting through all of the entries to this year’s Frankie Awards, it was hard not to be impressed by the number of different ways credit unions are telling their stories to the marketplace.

The Frankie Awards, which were started as a lark several years ago, have turned into a fairly large endeavor in sorting through the entries and all the associated support materials: advertising, member messages, newsletters, staff education and more. Credit unions may be one of the greatest stories ever told, but they are also one of the greatest stories never heard, and the goal of the Frankies is to recognize those CUs that aren’t happy to be in a sentence with the words “best-kept secret.”

When it comes to telling the credit union story, this year’s winner said in its entry, “We try to tell it in as many ways as possible.” And that they do, and do it well, which is why I’m happy to present this year’s Frankie Award to Denver Community Credit Union.

“By spreading the message of the credit union difference, we show our members how we are different,” said Amy Klassen, community outreach manager with DCCU in her Frankie Award entry. At the $205-million Denver Community, stressing that difference is not an isolated effort; it is woven throughout the credit union. Consider:

* Staff are taught the history of Denver Community at a class on credit union philosophy given by the CEO, Carla Hedrick, with the message reinforced in products and services training.

* Members hear about the credit union difference by reading its newsletter, “Member Connection,” by watching a slide show on the in-branch plasma screens, receiving a gift on International Credit Union Day, and by visiting a page on the CU’s website at www.denvercommunity.coop/DCFCU-difference.html.

* DCCU distributes to its community bookmarks that define the difference, distributes articles to publications such as Mile High United Way’s “Bridging the Gap” newsletter, airs commercials, and sends postcards in the mail.

* Posters hanging in branches describe credit union operating principles as do the aforementioned plasma screen slides.

* Classes are offered to the community on the credit union difference (in Spanish and English), including an explanation of why DCCU, as a not-for-profit financial cooperative, offers free financial education and how that fits with the social goals that all credit unions have.

Klassen credits CEO Carla Hendrick for the pervasiveness of the credit union message at Denver Community. “It’s important to her that all the members, employees and others know why we’re different,” said Klassen. “Because of that leadership we understand the importance of the credit union difference and how that translates into business for the credit union.”

While Klassen acknowledged the difficulty of showing on the balance sheet the direct benefits of stressing the bottom line, she said it can be seen indirectly in member growth and satisfaction levels. Klassen, who graduated from the National Credit Union Foundation’s Development Educator (DE) program in August of 2007, said she has made it her DE project to improve all of DCCU’s communications and education efforts. But why does DCCU promote the CU difference in so many different ways?

“It’s important to use each point separately because different people react to different things,” she explained. “For the rate shopper, you’re able to show them that the better rate or the lower fee is the result of your structure. For the person for whom social goals are important, you’re able to show them ‘here’s why we are able to do what we do.’”

She noted the credit union recently sent someone out to work with the city and county, and the officials responded by saying DCCU was the only financial institution willing to come out and see them. “There they were reacting to philosophy in action.”

Still, for all Denver Community does, explaining that whole credit union difference thing isn’t easy. “It is difficult to communicate in a sound bite,” observed Klassen. “Saying you’re a not-for-profit financial coopoerative is great, but it’s hard to be succinct in explaining the benefits or to sum it all up in one piece. But if your staff is excited they become advocates for the credit union and you become successful.”

Klassen said she believes new employees enjoy the emphasis on CU philosophy, saying she knows of one person who is now trying to convert her friends and family into becoming member-owners. “Our CEO wants every person who comes in the door to understand why they are here,” she added.

When asked about those credit unions that see no value in the “credit union” part of their name, Klassen responded, “I’m not surprised some don’t see a value in it. It’s like any other philosophy; some are adherents and some are not. I’m saddened to hear that. It’s the reason we exist, and if we don’t communicate it we’re going to struggle as an industry. If we can’t distinguish ourselves, then why not just become banks? You really need to understand the value of financial cooperatives in the community. You should be proud of what you are.”

And we’re proud to present this year’s Frankie Award to Denver Community Credit Union.

Frank Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann<at>cujournal.com. (c) 2008 The Credit Union Journal and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved. http://www.cujournal.com http://www.sourcemedia.com