Five Ways Credit Unions Can WOW Younger Millennials and Gen Z’s

By Michael Cochrum, CUBI.Pro

Recently, my wife and I successfully launched our last child into adulthood.  I’m proud to say that all five or our children are college educated and gainfully employed in professional jobs, four are home-owners two are married, and they all own their own vehicles.  Anecdotally, I would say they have cracked the mold of how many researchers would categorize ‘millennials’.  This is one reason why I hesitate to generalize in this sense, but one thing that has stood out among my millennials is an extremely minimal understanding of personal finance and how to interact with a financial institution.  Perhaps, this is our fault as parents, but who’s to know whether they would have listened to us in the first place.  This lack of awareness makes it difficult to differentiate a credit union from any other financial institution.  But, if I’m right, this creates a unique opportunity for credit unions to build a high-level of trust with these younger adults by concentrating on these five, highly-authentic interactions.

Focus on the Greater Good

I realize that the credit union message has always focused on the value of cooperative membership, but often it is communicated in relationship to the business structure, i.e. shareholders vs. members.  It might surprise you that many younger adults are not really that familiar with how corporations are structured in the first place, so focusing on the structure of the organization is probably not optimal.  They tend to distinguish organizations more by their community activism than they do on who gets the profits.  Tom’s Shoes gives away shoes to those who are shoe-less, Subaru gives a portion of a vehicle’s purchase price to a charity of the buyer’s choice.  For-profit companies have become activists for the greater good in the same way not-for-profits have historically been.  Focusing on the how credit union membership supports a greater good is more important than who gets paid what.  Younger adults like to be part of something meaningful.  How can their relationship with your credit union also fulfill their need to give back?

What if, instead of featuring benefits to members themselves, you were to highlight how your member’s involvement in the credit union supports fulfilling some other community need.  Instead of meaningless credit-card awards or nominal interest on demand deposit accounts, what if members could direct contributions of rewards and dividends to local organizations that need financial support?  Young people often do not have the discretionary income to make contributions to community non-profits, but if their choice of financial institutions could make a difference in a combined effort, then that can be a more compelling argument than corporate governance.

Make Membership a Big Deal

When a young adult becomes a new member, I recommend providing them with a cool welcome kit that includes everything they need to know about the credit union and its products, including explanations of how each product or service can benefit them, individually.  I also recommend giving them a tour of the credit union facility and explaining the distinct functions of each area in your branch office.  You may think this is not important, but I will tell you, when my daughter recently purchased a new vehicle, the salesperson took her on a tour of the dealership and explained what each area did and how that would apply to her.  It made an impact on her.  I would also explain all the ways your new member can access service, including where branches may be located and how to navigate the credit union’s website.  Finally, explain to your new member how the credit union helps the community, even identifying some upcoming events that your member can participate in.

Explain How Each Product and Service Works

We take a lot of things for granted, especially if we have been working in financial services for several years, but we are often surprised by how little our new members know about personal finance.  Again, using my daughter’s recent auto purchase as an example, she had no idea what interest charges were and what a reasonable rate may have been.  She would have literally paid whatever she was told to pay.  It’s not that we never discussed this subject in our house, she just never paid attention.  I recommend when opening a deposit account, instead of breezing over the different fees, explain each fee and how they can be avoided or why they are required.  If you are closing a loan, explain to the member how interest charges work and how they could save interest by reducing the outstanding balance at a higher rate.  I kid you not, there are some young borrowers who have no idea they can pay off their loan early.

We are tempted to avoid the discussion of fees and interest charges as we perceive them to be negative, but let’s face it, everyone charges them.  So, take this opportunity to demonstrate authenticity by openly discussing them and explaining why the member has made a better choice by choosing your credit union rather than a bank.

Connect Now

I’m sure your credit union has a mobile app, Facebook page, Twitter handle, and perhaps an Instagram account.  Mobile and social media is an excellent way to connect with members on the run.  But, do you actively encourage your members to engage at the time their account is opened.  In other words, do you walk them through downloading and setting up their mobile app.  Do you demonstrate how to connect with the credit union on Facebook or Twitter?  The member is more likely to do this when they are sitting in your office than after they have left the building.

Foster a Common Bond

Back in the day, credit unions’ common bond was much easier to identify.  Credit Union members were typically employees or family members of a single employer.  Members of the credit union worked together, so there was a natural common bond.  This is not true for younger adults who are joining your credit union today.  More and more, credit unions have expanded fields of membership and indirect auto lending attracts new members from a number of disparate sources, so there is no traditional work-related common bond.

But, you know what your younger members do have in common?  They are all part of this, often disparaged, group of consumers we refer to as millennials.  In many ways, they share a common life experience and consumer characteristics, even though they have spent little time together.  You should capitalize on this by creating and participating in one this generations favorite things to do, meet up.  Unlike the generations before them that are much more introverted, millennials tend to enjoy group activities a lot more than their predecessors.  I would recommend hosting meet-ups after hours, either on premise or at a local hot-spot, and invite your members to participate.  Even better, encourage them to bring a friend.  Your events should focus on something relative to your members, such as a movie theme, or perhaps your meet-ups could include a community project.  Don’t make the meet-up about selling more products.

As the culture around us changes, we need to consider how to communicate value to the members of the current culture.  We have seen significant cultural changes in the twenty-years I have been a part of the credit union movement.  Has our value message changed? 

Contact Michael Cochrum at or at 972.814.1477


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