RIVERDALE, Utah-As if 2.99% wasn't good enough as an across-the-board loan rate, America First FCU is giving members chances to win a 2012 Jeep Wrangler when they borrow.

That's what the $5.5-billion CU is doing to sweeten loan offerings in its "Endless Summer of Giveaways" campaign that also includes 20 trips for two to Disneyland. "We are in the most competitive lending environment that I have seen in my 30 years in the industry," said Rich Syme, SVP of automated services and product management. "It's not just about rate anymore. It's about the whole package."

The loan sweepstakes is good for all loans-new or refinanced auto, signature, home equity, mortgage, and Visa. Members receive one entry for every $1,000 they borrow. Individuals can also enter online, at special events, or through the mail up to five times. America First is randomly selecting a semifinalist for the grand prize Jeep drawing each week of the 20-week promo, with each semifinalist wining a Disneyland trip. On Sept. 29, semifinalists will be narrowed down to three at a raffle at AFCU's headquarters. The three finalists will then participate in one final drawing on Oct. 8 at halftime of the University of Utah vs. the University of Southern California college football game.

"I think we may have the three finalists go to midfield and each open a gift box that will release balloons. Two boxes will have white balloons and one red," said Syme, who noted the final details are still being worked out. "The person who releases the red balloons will win the Jeep."

Syme said America First, which lowered its loan rates to 2.99% APR in conjunction with a loan sale earlier in the year, is convinced it takes some kind of special event anymore to make a lasting impact on members and to get them to remember the CU, especially for loans. "We have done a number of promotions this year to draw awareness. Many people, too, still think financial institutions are not lending."


Strategy Is Paying Off

To date, the sweeps that began June 1 is paying off. With the America First experiencing negative loan growth during the first quarter, Syme said loan growth was 1.5% to 2% the last seven weeks. Most of the activity has been in auto and a five-year home equity first loan at 50% LTV.

The credit union saved money on sweeps prizes by getting the trips donated from a local travel company in exchange for advertising. The credit union cut a similar deal with a local Jeep dealer, who paid for half the vehicle and America First covered the rest. An expensive stereo and custom wheels and tires were donated for advertising by a local tire dealer and stereo store, respectively.

"The Jeep is wrapped in advertising for all of our sponsors, including the radio station that will be doing about seven remote broadcasts for us during the sweepstakes," noted Syme. In addition to radio, America First is also using billboards, branch collateral, and social media. "People can sign up for the contest through Facebook."

It's actually the second time AFCU has held a sweepstakes for a car to increase loans, giving away a MINI Cooper last summer, handing out 225,000 entries. Syme said it learned a few things the first go 'round. "We had daily winners last year but that was way too difficult to manage, plus it was hard to get 110 semifinalists in our main office."

Not all members who come in for a loan are aware of the giveaway, the CU discovered last year. "To set that straight this time we are placing stickers on their closing documents that promote the giveaway and let them know they are entered."

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