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STATEMENT PIECE: Judy Hadsall, left, holds a flyer for the rebranded Multipli Credit Union, and Alisa Lawler contrasts the change with a CU Community Credit Union promotional piece. Credit unions are revamping their messaging.
SBJ photo by Jessica Rosa
STATEMENT PIECE: Judy Hadsall, left, holds a flyer for the rebranded Multipli Credit Union, and Alisa Lawler contrasts the change with a CU Community Credit Union promotional piece. Credit unions are revamping their messaging.

Credit union campaign seeks to dispel industry myths

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Last edited 2:45 p.m., June 19, 2019

The Credit Union National Association has set in motion a campaign launching this summer to dispel myths about the industry and increase awareness and membership in credit unions nationwide. Locally, two institutions have signed on.

“This has been in the works for a couple of years already,” said Judy Hadsall, CEO of Multipli Credit Union, which along with BluCurrent Credit Union will participate in the campaign in the Springfield market.

She said CUNA’s research showed consumers didn’t understand what credit unions are, “and we’ve struggled with that ourselves. I think (the campaign) is good for the industry in general.”

Credit unions offer financial services almost identical to banks, but there are some differences. Most notably, they are not-for-profit organizations.

Hadsall said CUNA conducted extensive research on credit union membership and public perception before deciding to enact the campaign, dubbed Open Your Eyes to a Credit Union.

According to CUNA, 72% of nonmembers are unlikely to consider a credit union, but 75% of those surveyed would consider them after viewing the marketing materials. Hadsall said the association asked credit unions not to disclose the amount they were asked to invest in campaign marketing, but more than $36 million has been pledged by credit unions nationwide, according to CUNA. The association found banks outspend credit unions $43-to-$1 in advertising.

Susan Dyer, director of communications for the Heartland Credit Union Association, the trade association serving credit unions in Kansas and Missouri, said there’s more than 500 organizations participating nationwide, including 20 Missouri credit unions.

“It’s a highly targeted digital campaign, targeting millennials and parents making financial decisions. CUNA’s extensive research found that consumers like and trust credit unions but often do not consider them as an option because of some misconceptions about credit unions,” Dyer said. “This a long-term, industrywide effort to engage consumers and connect their needs to credit unions.”

Alisa Lawler, vice president of marketing and business development for Multipli, said the launch of the campaign in Missouri and Kansas is July 8.

“The Missouri credit unions look to rally together to essentially provide the message that credit unions are available to get your car loans through, to purchase your house through,” Lawler said.

Noting the goal is to change public perception, she said Multipli will be pushing the campaign’s message through social media channels.

“While the media plan for Missouri is still in the works, we are focusing on social ads and videos, some desktop display and possibly streaming video,” Dyer said.

Lawler said CUNA research and survey data highlighted the public’s misconceptions about credit unions, including that membership is only open to certain businesses, groups or regions.

“Membership ability has really opened up,” Lawler said. “We are in what is called a co-op network, and that co-op network spans across North America with 30,000 contributing credit unions where you can either use their ATMs with no fee or go inside.”

Multipli was known as CU Community Credit Union before this year. Officials say the rebranding helped show the credit union was no longer only for City Utilities employees.

Credit unions are not only fighting misconceptions, but also working with a small share of local deposits as compared with their bank counterparts. The local difference in deposits between banks and credit unions stands out in Springfield Business Journal list research. In 2018, for example, the area’s largest bank, Great Southern Bank, had local deposits of $1.6 billion, while the area’s largest credit union, BluCurrent, had local deposits of $165 million. The difference was just as noticeable five years earlier, when Great Southern had deposits totaling $1.3 billion and BluCurrent had $132 million.

BluCurrent officials say the campaign will help fight misconceptions with a goal of increasing credit union market share. Credit unions that participate in the campaign are provided marketing materials.

“The ‘why’ for BluCurrent is, and we try to be consistent in this, we really want to be known as a collaborative credit union, and collaborating not only with other credit unions but with our community. And this really allows us to work with other credit unions and help share our story,” said Gary Kirk, executive vice president of BluCurrent.

Jacqueline Post, senior vice president of marketing services, added: “Credit unions have seen a stagnant market share since the ’90s.”

Nationally, according to data from CUNA, the National Credit Union Administration and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the market share of smaller banking institutions – not including credit unions – was 53.3% in 1992, but it dramatically decreased to 17.7% in 2018, showing the rise of large financial institutions. The data also show credit union market share has slightly increased to 7.5% in 2018 from 5.6% in 1992.

According to SBJ list research, membership increases year over year for credit unions usually stay within the same range. For BluCurrent, according to Post, membership increased just slightly from 2012 to 2015, with membership in the 18,000 to 19,000 range – but since 2016 it has risen above 20,000 members and in 2018 hit 22,326.

Kirk said that while credit unions and banks may appear similar, there is a difference in their operations.

“From the outside looking in, we offer similar products and similar services as other banks, but we really are structured very differently. Our board of directors, for example, are all volunteers and are all members of the credit union,” Kirk said.

Although not currently part of the nationwide campaign, another credit union in town recently completed a rebranding effort. Volt Credit Union began rebranding from the inside out, said Loretta Roney, its CEO and president.

“We started an initiative about three years ago, knowing that we wanted to have growth in the Springfield market, and so one of the pieces we started on first was our internal culture. We knew if we wanted to change our brand we couldn’t just change a billboard and people would immediately have a different feeling,” she said.

Roney said the company focused on changing the culture of Volt first, before the name change from Community Financial Credit Union. The company also has a new headquarters and membership has started to rise.

Roney said Volt experienced a 2% decline in annual membership the past two years, but after its rebrand last year, the decline was 1%. 

“But now we have had a record May in opening our new location in conjunction with the branding,” she said. “We opened a record of 113 new membership accounts in the month of May, taking our declining membership back towards growth.”

Roney said Volt did not initially sign up for the awareness campaign, as the monetary commitment to the marketing campaign was too high. When the association reached out to the credit unions, the unions were asked for a dollar pledge, the amount of which varied depending on membership size.

However, Roney said Volt will be joining the campaign because the association decreased its pledge requirement from Volt, which was undisclosed. She said bringing in more millennial members is a goal.

Roney said financial security is important to Americans with the state of the economy and pocketbooks tightening, and that the campaign could bring more members to credit unions.

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