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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