Credit unions are getting more attention these days because many Americans have grown weary of big banks dominating the financial landscape.
Don't take my word for it. According to market research firm J.D. Power and Associates, 9.6% of American banking customers left their primary institution last year, and many of them cited annoyance at high fees and poor service. That number has gone up from 8.7% in 2010 and 7.7% in 2009. Many are turning to credit unions: In 2011 credit union membership hit an all-time high of 92 million people.
Clearly, the momentum is in our direction. Lots of consumers are starting to check us out for the first time. They want to know what makes credit unions different. I like to think of my financial cooperative, Georgia United Credit Union, as a kinder, gentler way to bank. We don't just want deposits and loans from our members. We want to provide them with financial support in all aspects of their lives.
Looking For Truly Unique Services
Financial advocacy isn't just a concept. Georgia United looks to offer programs and services that that big banks don't, and one unique service that we provide is identity theft resolution services.
Any member with a checking account automatically receives free access to these services, which cover all of their financial accounts-not just the ones held with us. A consumer would expect to pay around $275 annually for something similar on the open market, so by bundling identity theft resolution into all checking products, we add value to those accounts. Simply put, we make them worth more, and our members recognize that.
It's often hard for consumers to compare checking accounts between one institution and the next. In our crowded market in Greater Atlanta, identity theft services create a strong point of differentiation for us. When we advertise that all of our checking accounts come with this benefit for free, people take notice.
They're interested because they recognize that identity theft is a real problem. If they personally haven't had an account compromised, they most likely know someone who has. Theft can stem from a corporate data breach, a misplaced wallet, a dishonest cashier or waiter, online deception, and so many other places-even from family members. Identity theft incidents rose by 13% from 2010 to 2011 and affected 11.6 million people, according to Javelin Strategy & Research. These crimes could affect our members, so as their financial advocates, we feel we need to be there to help them.
'A Wise Investment'
Georgia United uses a third-party provider for identity theft services. Considering the benefits, the cost is quite reasonable. We view paying our provider as a wise investment on par with spending marketing dollars, and in a sense, it is marketing. People have switched their accounts because of the program. When they've had to call the service provider, they're invariably pleased with their experience. Since the provider is an extension of our brand, it strengthens our relationship with our members. Even when our members don't need it, the peace of mind they enjoy from knowing it's there reflects well on us.
Identity theft resolution services are just one example of how we like to take care of our members, but Georgia United offers others, such as financial literacy seminars, scholarship programs and discounted legal services. At your institution, you know that the CU difference goes beyond sensible fees and good member service. Whichever programs and services you choose to provide your membership, it comes back to living up to the credit union philosophy of "people helping people."
Kim T. Wall is Director of Community Development for the $890-million Georgia United CU, Duluth, Ga.