CU Takes Aim at Banks, But Not All Banks

LAKE JACKSON, Texas — After getting its hand slapped for an earlier ad campaign, Texas Dow Employees CU here is back with another message about banks and credit unions that demonstrates the lesson learned.

The $1.3-billion TDECU's six-week campaign (Credit Union Journal, Oct. 14) takes dead aim at the big national players, emphasizing the financial industry's problems are the result of the big boys, not the community banks or credit unions.

"When I looked back on that first campaign, I realized I made a mistake," CEO Ed Speed told Credit Union Journal. "I failed to differentiate between the egregious behavior of the Wells Fargos and the Chases - taking TARP money and paying big bonuses and so forth - and the really good, solid community banks in this state."

The new campaign, "Bank with Texans," encourages Texans to keep their money in or move it to locally owned CUs and banks, and shun the out-of-state banks that are buying up increasing parts of the local market. The campaign's website makes reference to the purchase of failed Guaranty Bank by Spanish banking giant Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, which it refers to as "carpetbaggers." "We are saying, 'You carpetbagger banks, take your money and go home,'" stated Speed. Indeed, one of the six TV commercials produced for the campaign shows money center bankers getting on private jets and heading out of town.

An earlier ad campaign by TDECU led to a cease-and-desist request by the FCIC, which claimed the ads questioned the safety and soundness of the insured institutions. "But we did not compare ourselves to banks financially, or say we are safer and more sound," said Speed of the previous campaign. "But at the time we had other issues to deal with, like the aftermath of Hurricane Ike."

TDCU pulled the ads in October, 2008, three weeks into a planned eight-week run. Yet Speed remained intrigued by the premise of those ads, and chose to rework the message and "have some fun, make it very Texan, and go after these national banks. But at the same time compliment and honor the community banks. And we did that. In the first three weeks our ads didn't even talk about credit unions, saying bank locally with folks you can trust."

The message of banking with TDECU became part of the campaign midway through its schedule. "But the tagline was still 'We hope you bank with TDECU, but if not, please choose another local bank or credit union,'" said Speed. "We are tweaking the nose of the big guys. Bank of America has $2.7 trillion in assets. I am not exactly an irritation to them. So we are having some fun at their expense, but also sending a message that these banks don't give a darn about consumers. Keep your money local, with people who will lend it back to the community rather than suck it out."

In addition to encouraging Texans to bank locally, Speed said he hopes the advertising opens a dialogue between credit unions and community banks. "I am extending an olive branch and saying let's be nice and I will go first. I have gotten quite few positive e-mails and letters from local bankers and was written up in one of the Texas banking magazines. I want to change this artificial animosity that bank and credit union trade organizations continue to stir up. We have more in common with community banks than we have differences. The enemy is not each other, it's the huge banks."

The campaign's standalone website (www.bankwithtexans.org) is part of a $40,000 advertising effort that included newspaper in addition to TV. The website carries information about the benefits of banking locally, the TV commercials, and comments from Texans - which are posted unedited by the CU's agency, Andrade Design in San Antonio. "I don't even see them before they go up," Speed said, who acknowledged the agency will only withhold submissions that are "inappropriate."

The campaign is helping get TDECU noticed, Speed said, especially in many of the small towns it will be moving into. The CU plans to open as many as seven branches next year. TDECU averaged 15% growth last year and expects the same results in 2009.