On My Mind: What's a Credit Union?

CUs have their work cut out for them to improve consumer awareness.

August 30, 2010
KEYWORDS benefits , consumer
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Each summer, I present the findings of the Credit Union National Association’s (CUNA) Credit Union Environmental Scan to students at CUNA Management School—a three-year school held on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus every July.

I give the students a PowerPoint presentation and then my co-presenter and CUNA colleague—Kristina Grebener—gives them a little field work for the rest of the afternoon.

video What's a CU? Watch now.

She divides the class into five teams of about a dozen students and gives each team a Flip video camera. Their job is to roam around campus interviewing people, asking questions like, “Do you know what a credit union is?” The goal of the exercise is to gauge consumer awareness of credit unions.

The teams return after an hour and share their videos with the class. To people like me who’ve spent their entire careers communicating the benefits of credit union membership, the videos trigger thoughts of a career change. They evoke reactions such as depression, laughter, panic, amazement—and back to depression.

The most common interviewee response: “I have no idea what a credit union is.” After that: “I use a bank because my parents signed me up there.”

Other responses:

  • “I think a credit union is one of those companies that monitors your credit report.”
  •  “A credit union is where you pay your taxes.”
  • “Credit unions are like labor unions—you pay fees to belong.”

One team finally met a guy who knew a lot about credit unions, although he used a bank. He knew credit unions are financial cooperatives and that they return profits to members. He knew credit unions exist to serve members and banks exist to maximize shareholder profits.

“Why,” they asked, “if you know about all these credit union benefits do you still do business with a bank?”

“I’m one of those bank shareholders,” he replied.

Suffice it to say, credit unions have a tremendous amount of work to do to move the needle on consumer awareness.

Done that, now what

September 05, 2010 11:18 am
I have done this activity myself in my own community with similar results. Our league even did a huge media campaign to help educate people about Credit Unions, with minimal change.

So, okay let's say we admit there is a do you we really fix this? Million Dollar media campaigns don't seem to work. Yet this question keeps coming back.

This one of the reasons our tax-exemption will be lost one day, because nobody gets what we do and they can't defend what they don't understand.

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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