ORLANDO-Putting the right pictures on a credit card has just been one of the details that have made a buy-local program at one credit union here so successful.

Michael Poulos, CEO at Lathrup Village-based Michigan First CU, shared with Credit Union Journal'sGrow Show here how his credit union's "Experience Michigan First Rewards Visa" has created wins for members, the credit union and area businesses.

Launched as a way to consolidate three different card offerings while also encouraging members to patronize the Great Lakes State's businesses, the strategy is to leverage the pride Michiganders have in their home state, even though the area has also been struggling economically for more than a decade.

The card, he pointed out, takes full advantage of the CU's name. "Michigan First is very solid-it talks about the fact that we're very proud of our state, and we ought to be first in the nation. ... We wanted to become a more vocal leader in supporting the economic resurgence of Michigan; we wanted to also be a cheerleader for everything that is Michigan."

Cardholders get 1.5 rewards points for every dollar spent within the state or online with Michigan-based businesses. Rewards are available from a plethora of Michigan-based businesses, along with other national vendors. Members can also donate their rewards to Michigan-based charities. The CU also offers a dozen different pictures of various Michigan scenes that can go on the card, and Poulos said most members don't mind having to pay a small fee to change the picture on the card.


Card Base Grows

Before launching the card in April 2012, Michigan First had about 8,500 cardholders with about $16 million in balances-numbers that had been static for about a decade. Since then, the CU has enrolled about 4,000 new cardholders, increased approvals from 42% to 66%, increased balances by $2.5 million, decreased the number of accounts paid off from 14% to 9.5%, and increased balances from $16 million to $18.5 million.

"It doesn't sound like a lot," said Poulos, "but we were way deep in the hole."

Whenever CUs do something positive for the community, said Poulos, the credit union's brand benefits. "We are known as the good guys," he said. "Certainly all credit unions should be known as the good guys, but doing things like this helps the brand."

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