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…then why doesn’t anyone seem to know it?

Credit unions enjoyed a whirlwind of enthusiastic media coverage around Bank Transfer Day, but that coverage contained a strange quirk. Over and over, we read and heard that credit unions – while virtuous and service-oriented – are inconvenient. Writers warned would-be credit union switchers to check for ATMs in their neighborhoods before quitting their banks, because credit unions might have only a few machines. Others bemoaned the shortage of available branches, lack of nationwide access and the absence of convenience services such as mobile banking.

Huh?

How, exactly, is everyone getting this so wrong?

In a story on creditunionsonline.com, Patelco CEO Ken Burns attributes some of the problem to a lack of marketing muscle. “I believe some of this misconception stems from the fact that credit unions typically have much smaller budgets to advertise than do banks because we are not-for-profit and want to keep the costs down for our members,” Burns told the site. “Because of this, people aren’t as aware of the convenient, full-service products we offer. Also, because credit unions are typically smaller and, like Patelco, community driven, there may be a tendency for people to think we’re akin to the corner grocery store where you can buy your milk, but probably not all the ingredients for a great dinner.”

True enough. But in today’s access-driven culture, credit unions aren’t going anywhere unless they get the word out that they’re competitive on convenience. This is especially imperative (and frustrating) considering that many credit unions are, in fact, at least as convenient as banks – and often more so.

What to do? Above all, recognize the need. Do not assume that people already know how convenient you are. Tell them, explicitly and often:

Alert the media. Letting local reporters know that your credit union has access to 28,000 surcharge-free ATMs nationwide (and as many local ATMs as your largest big-bank competitor) might very well qualify as news, especially in the wake of Bank Transfer Day. Also newsworthy: 4,400 shared branching locations extend your reach; and your mobile banking products make frequent branch visits optional. Be sure to incorporate a few words about convenience into press releases and media interviews, even when convenience isn’t the central topic: “A lot of people don’t realize that our branch network includes branches at thousands of other credit unions. There really isn’t a convenience gap between our credit union and a typical bank.” (For a handy press release to reference on CO-OP Network ATMs and CO-OP Shared Branching, click here.)

Promote your message. As a marketer it’s easy to feel ho-hum about simply promoting convenience, but it’s a message consumers clearly need and want. Whether through outside advertising, in-house communications, or on your website, make it known that access is your credit union’s bread and butter.

Share your strength. Since all credit unions appear to be in the same boat, convenience may be a great rallying cry for promoting the industry en force. “Got Milk?” co-creator Jeff Manning told THINK 11 attendees that the time might indeed be ripe for a cooperative credit union campaign. “People need to hear a message 30, 40, even 50 times before they can process it and consider taking action,” he said. Accomplishing that kind of frequency is difficult on an individual basis. Collectively, less so. If credit unions can join together and promote the convenience message in everything they do – as part of an organized effort or individually — lifting each credit union will give altitude to all.

Also, know that CO-OP Financial Services is on the case. Our mid-October information campaign to promote access and convenience was viewed by more than 500 editors and appeared on numerous sites, as reported by the Credit Union National Association.