LANHAM, Md.-All credit unions talk about the importance of listening to their members, but FedChoice FCU here takes the extra step to act on the feedback it receives from its membership.

In 2010, FedChoice established Member Councils to get feedback on financial pain points, product/service awareness, preferred communication methods and more. For that effort, FCFCU was recently recognized with a Best Practice Award CUNA's Operations, Sales & Service (OpSS) Council.

Creating an ongoing dialogue with members is a component of the credit union's strategic plan, according to CEO David Bunch, Jr. To get that feedback, FedChoice reached out to select members between the ages of 35 and 55 and broke them down into three categories: out-of-area members, electronic users and "raving fans."

Today, the credit union meets with each group at least once per year via GoToMeeting or e-mail surveys, and asks all three constituencies the same series of questions-everything from financial pain points to which media outlets they listen to and watch, and which social media outlets they utilize.

"As a true member-owned, member-driven cooperative, if you don't create these channels and these dialogues, your members are missing out," said Bunch. "You can think you know what they want, but what's the harm in asking them? You can think you have this certain brand or image in their mind, but you don't know until you ask them."


How FedChoice Has Responded

The 22,000-member, $323-million credit union does pay participants for their feedback, but Bunch said it is only about $10 per person. About 30 people currently sit on the councils, but not everyone participates each time, he said.

FedChoice has been active in responding to the comments it receives from the councils. One question dealt with the challenges members face as federal civilian employees and retirees, and many noted the gap between the start of retirement and fully funded pensions. In response, FedChoice created a retirement gap line of credit to address that shortfall for up to a year.

"It's literally a line of credit that's set up until their full pension is calculated and earned," said Bunch. "We heard that as a pain point and wanted to create a product that specifically addressed that issue. They appreciated that, and that's something that a bank wouldn't do."

Not all of the feedback necessitated the creation of new products and services. Many on the councils also said they wanted to see FedChoice provide more financial literacy opportunities, many of which it already had in place. It has since moved to boost awareness of those offerings by creating a banner at the top of its web page to better promote events it hosts.

"It's standing room only now on those, and before it was rooms that were half-filled," said Bunch, adding that the increased awareness of the seminars has led to new business at the credit union. "Two weeks ago we had 100 people come to a seminar and we opened up about 10 accounts."


The Value of Listening

Input from the member councils also led the CU to add a tool to its website that displays its current rates compared to those of its competitors.

"Credit unions are cooperative, but to be cooperative you have to listen," said Bunch.

For credit unions considering launching similar member councils, Bunch advised not quibbling over the details or the structure.

"Just do it, however you structure it. It doesn't have to be with GoToMeeting, it can be by a survey. You have to ask your members what they want from you, and don't second guess it. Just listen to the nuances of what they're saying, and then you have some direction to pursue. Then get back to them and say this is what I heard, this is what we're doing. You can't just listen, you have to act on it."

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