Why CUs Must Proactively Tell Members Why They Need Them

"We're here if you need us."

For generations that was the mantra of many credit unions. Today, it's the mantra of many credit unions that are falling behind.

"We're here if you need us" just doesn't cut it any longer. It implies a mindset of looking at the phone and waiting for it to ring. It suggests a culture of passively interacting with members and, should they just happen to mention something in their lives with which the credit union might help, thenthe cu responds.

What "We're here if you need us" means above all, is that eventually what you will be needing is a merger partner.

Lots of small credit unions, especially, have been merged in recent years. Credit Union Journal lists those obits in nearly every issue, including on page 2 in this issue. Some have been the victims of limited FOM (churches, small towns, struggling or disappearing sponsor companies), but many have simply been the victims of limited vision.

The "We're here if you need us" credit unions (and banks for that matter) were passed and even run over by the "Here's what you need and we provide it" institutions. Realizing phones, the mail and the Internet work both ways, they have called, mailed and target-messaged members and prospects. In the process they made themselves acquirers not acquirees, first by acquiring members' business and then by acquiring other CUs.


Some Prime Examples

But all of that is the theoretical stuff of business books, the "tipping points" and "blue oceans" and "cheese" that every company is "in search of."

You can narrow your own search and in the process find real-life examples of credit unions that aren't waiting to be "needed" in every issue of Credit Union Journal, but especially in our Leaderboard series of stories, which runs at least once a month. In Leaderboard, reporter Aaron Passman has put the focus on credit unions that are peer group leaders posting robust numbers, and they continue to put increasing distance between themselves and other credit unions.

You'll find a common theme in those Leaderboard stories. They don't wait for phones to ring or e-mails to arrive. Case in point: Burbank, Calif.-based Partners FCU, which was featured in the March 25 issue. It has instituted a three-year plan that includes a service culture and cross selling that begins at the new accounts desk and that has helped drive a loan-to-share ratio of 95%.

I would be remiss, by the way, having referenced a ringing phone earlier, not to mention that at Partners, when the phone actually does ring, a human being answers it. A human being! "You call, we pick up the phone," said CEO John Janclaes. "I say that facetiously, but it's important to invest in a service level that matches that appetite and expectation of the consumer."

Janclaes offered up another observation worth noting, too. Lots of credit unions have a "plan" for cross sales, whether they develop it in-house or buy it off the shelf. But you need more than just that. "Lots of times folks get a plan, but it's not really tailored to their field of membership," he said. "Your plan needs to be specific to your situation, and then work the heck out of that plan."


'A Good Deal'

Similarly, you'll find a "Don't Just Call Us, We'll Call You" mentality at Marshall Community CU in Michigan, which was profiled in a March 11 Leaderboard story. It has gotten better at "proactively driving the conversation," said its CEO, Heather Luciani, who added. "We've gotten good at saying, 'We're a good deal and what you have isn't.'"

Consumers like to be "sold" when you're selling them something better, and at Marshall Community, it's led to 3.76 products per household.

Credit unions such as Partners and Marshall Community and all the others in our Leaderboard series are also the types of peer group leaders that will be featured at Credit Union Journal's Grow Show. They all have one thing in common: It's not "We're here if you need us," it's "You need us, and here's what we're going to do."

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann@cujournal.com.