OLYMPIA, Wash.-Washington State Employees Credit Union looked at new federal laws regarding overdraft programs as an opportunity to "showcase" itself.

The $1.5-billion CU said the challenge was how to reach out to more than 80,000 existing accountholders in a convenient, educational and cost-effective way. WSECU began offering an overdraft protection program in 2002.

Jackie Bell, account services manager, said WSECU's "Life Happens" team went into action in January. As with most large initiatives, communication was the focus. Management knew it needed to educate staff on the importance of ODP and gain project buy-in, and the staff needed to tell members that a valuable service would go away if they did not opt in.

Another goal related to technology. Some 73% of ODP users use WSECU's online services, making an automated solution to capture responses a must. The credit union worked with Access Softek to develop the online solution called "NextODP." Additional steps included collaborating with Symitar to beta a new account process, drafting a "call to action" member communications plan, developing employee training, and creating incentives and celebrations to mark measures of success.

The first mailing went to 2,500 of WSECU's most active ODP users-defined as those with four or more occurrences in one year. These members were provided with tear-off, bar-coded response forms and postage-paid envelopes.

WSECU created methods to differentiate opt-in responses for "active" and "non-active" users with detailed tracking reports so the Life Happens team remained informed of progress. These tools provided results and acted as an indicator to help understand members' choices, the credit union reported.

After an interval, reminders were mailed to active ODP users that had not yet opted in. Non-active members received a letter highlighting the benefits of ODP, inviting them to opt-in. The "Life Happens" theme was used to tell the story of how a simple gas station fill-up could lead to card denial if the member did not opt-in to continue ODP.

Bell said at the conclusion of the program 90.7% of active users opted in, along with 42.6% of non-active users.

"We were so surprised, especially by the non-active number," she said. "Our goal for the non-active users was 25%, which we thought was aggressive. When we got to 42% we about fell out of our chairs."

Bell said the key to success was WSECU made the program about member education. "A lot of people had never heard of overdraft protection because we had never promoted it. It was a product that previously was automatically added to accounts."

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