LONGVIEW, Wash. and SYRACUSE, N.Y.-Two credit unions on opposite sides of the United States are putting a twist on the usual loan balance transfer promotion with a "coopetition."

When representatives of the $578-million Red Canoe CU in Washington met at a conference in 2012 with representatives of the $1.1-billion Empower FCU in upstate New York, they immediately hit it off.

Michelle Trekas, Red Canoe's sales and service training manager, told Credit Union Journal discussions about working together are commonplace at conferences, but often nothing happens.

"But our two credit unions had a lot of the same strategies and we wanted to be sure to be proactive," she recalled. "We started talking Nov. 5, 2012, and it became apparent early on our cultures worked well together. The overall goal is to save members money, which both credit unions are passionate about, so what better way to work together-we are calling it a 'coopetition.'"

Both CUs already had programs in place to capture loans their members had with other lenders, explained Justin Roth, director of cultural affairs for Empower FCU. He said the initial expectation was a fun competition running at the same time internally.

"But the idea grew into capturing member savings, then saving members money from coast to coast," he said. "We had to challenge our IT departments to capture that data."

Added Trekas, "Our credit union has created a new loan calculator that will show members how much they will save by bringing their loan to us."


No April Fooling

The coopetition will kick off April 1 and run through Q2. After months of weekly conference calls, the two CUs have divided themselves into teams. With Washington being a major apple producer and Syracuse sharing a state with "the Big Apple," the contest has been dubbed "Apples2Apples," a reference to the ability of members to compare their payments on their current loans with what they could pay by transferring to either Red Canoe or Empower.

Taking the apple theme one more step, the teams, which consist of 12 to 15 people, have adopted such names as, "South Ciders," "American Pickers" and "Jersey Core," and even have their own stylized logos.

Ken Kelly, training and development manager for Red Canoe, said the two CUs have been sending images to their respective staffs that have snippets of the different logos for the teams "just to create a buzz."

"This has created a buzz in the branches, but people do not know exactly what it is," he said. "We will have a meeting one week prior to the start of the contest and we will unveil a shared website we have developed."

Rod Snyder, AVP sales and branch performance at Red Canoe, said the two CUs' members will not know about the coopetition, other than the increased efforts to save them money.

"It will be an internal campaign," he said. "Our ultimate goal is to be able to share the official marketing data with the public, but not until later. A big part of our effort to grow loans and save members money is staff training. We are working with our employees to counsel members to save them money."

Red Canoe's Kelly said the point is for employees to have tools to help members now and in the future.

"We are going to train them effectively to save members as much money as possible, permanently," he said. "That is why we wanted to make this internal and not rely on marketing. We want our people to look at credit reports and ask the right questions."

Empower's Roth said it is important to point out neither credit union was capturing data on member savings from loan transfers prior to this coopetition.

"Both have built the tools to do so starting April 1," he said.

While much of the focus will be on talking to members who visit branches, Red Canoe and Empower said they also will reach out with auto loan recapture programs.

Roth said Empower recently installed an outbound sales department that is tapped with reaching out to members who do not come in to its branches.

"Those loan officers will be part of this contest, as well," he said.

Snyder said Red Canoe has been utilizing outbound selling techniques for the last two years.

"We disperse that responsibility through our branches," he noted. "We supply them with lists of members who might need a loan in the near future, either because they traded in or sold a vehicle."

According to Trekas, the goal dollar amount for the coopetition continues to be a discussion point in meetings between the two CUs.

"We have never been able to track how much we are saving members, so we don't want to just pull a number out the air. We will spend the first month tracking, then will set benchmarks for the last two months," she said.


Something More CUs 'Should Be Doing'

Kelly said management and staff at Red Canoe are "very excited" to get started.

"The credit union philosophy is people helping people. We look at that and think this is what can happen when you think outside the box," he said. "The people at Empower are very creative and intelligent, and this shows what can happen when two credit unions from different parts of the country put their minds together and challenge each other. Working together is something more credit unions should be doing."

Roth said Empower likewise is eager to go.

"We are really excited about this. While there were challenges along the way and obstacles to overcome, it was not difficult. It was exciting working with another credit union."

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