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CUs prepared for Bank Transfer Day--and the future
MADISON, Wis. (11/7/11)--Bank Transfer Day has come and gone, with credit unions well-prepared for the extra business as consumers switch accounts from fee-toting banks. But they know that Saturday is a beginning of a bright future in terms of public awareness of credit unions and the opportunity to deepen new member relationships.

Credit unions last week reported their plans for wooing new members on Saturday, a day designated for consumers to switch to credit unions and community banks in the wake of several big banks' plans to charge debit card fees.  The Pennsylvania Credit Union Association asked its member credit unions, "Is your credit union making preparations to accommodate potential members?"  Seventy responded, with 58.6% of them indicating they were preparing for Bank Transfer Day, 32.9% saying no, and 8.6% saying maybe (Life is a Highway Nov. 3).

Many credit unions offered incentives to entice new members. Members lst FCU, Mechanicsburg, offered members "to earn a little extra money" by referring a friend to join the credit union. It also used Facebook, Twitter and a blog to promote the day.

First American CU, a part of First Community FCU, headquartered in Parchment, Mich., prepared to use Saturday to welcome and educate new members on the business model of credit unions as a not-for-profit financial cooperative.  It also is launching a member give-back program tied to its MasterCard Check Card (debit card). During November, December and January, First American and First Community will pay members up to $5 each month based on their aggregate debit card transactions. The credit union experienced a 60% increase in new members in October over October 2010. Its total membership in all regions of both credit unions experienced a 14% increase in new members and a 15% increase in new member deposits in October. 

Texas Trust CU, Mansfield, Texas, noted that too many North Texans are suffering from F.E.E. (Feeling the Effects of the Economy) Syndrome associated with their banking choices. Its prescription for a cure:  "Change where you bank."  It offered a one-dose treatment of $155 when a new member opens a Free & Flexible checking account. "Banking shouldn't include surprises that give you heartburn, headaches, or a pain in the neck," said Jim Minge, Texas Trust CU president, adding that there are no surprises at the credit union. "Anyone suffering from F.E.E. symptoms should see us for the cure."

University of Illinois Employees CU, Champaign, announced it would offer checking account holders CardCash, a 1% cash-back rewards program on non-PIN debit card purchases. Members could earn up to $250 a year in cash back for their purchases--"a distinct advantage for consumers when many large financial institutions are shutting down their debit card rewards programs and even charging monthly fees for debit cards." The credit union hoped to sign up 500 new members before the offer expired on Bank Transfer Day. It expects the campaign to net about $100,000 over the next 12 months (The Bakersfield Californian Nov. 2).

Click to view larger image Credit Union National Association's Madison, Wis., staff sported anti-banking fees T-shirts Friday in advance of Saturday's Bank Transfer Day. One says "My credit union, FEE-H8TER,  Living in credit union land" and the other says "I did the math: CU > Bank, Credit unions are a smarter choice."  Staff planned to wear the shirts on Saturday also. (CUNA PHOTO)
Many credit unions hit the media trail with special ad campaigns to let potential members know they are an alternative to high bank fees.  Kern Schools FCU, Bakersfield, Calif. budgeted $19,000 for its billboard-newspaper-online ad campaign. The price tag includes the cost of putting up a $5 membership fee for each new direct deposit member, a box of free checks and a $25 checking account deposit.

In Pennsylvania, M-C FCU, Danville, aired a commercial Friday and Saturday with a message from President/CEO Jim Barbarich emphasizing choice. "Where you conduct your financial affairs is a personal choice. Trust, confidence and value are important factors in this decision," he said.

In New York, Buffalo Postal FCU, Buffalo, made EZ Switch Kits available, aired radio ads and donated $5 to a local charity for every person who made the switch. Capital Communications FCU placed welcome banners outside and beefed up its staff Saturday. Mid-Hudson Valley FCU ran print and Web banner ads in its local daily newspapers and promoted it on Facebook and Twitter. Teachers FCU CEO Robert Allen spoke about the credit union difference on local TV and his credit union partnered with Bethpage FCU and NEFCU to launch to show locals that credit unions are a better way to bank.

Novaris FCU in East Hanover, N.J., promoted "Every Day is Bank Transfer Day" using the New Jersey Credit Union League's Banking You Can Trust toolkit. The credit union placed sandwich board posters in front of its offices to attract consumers going to work. It will rotate the messages throughout the month (The Daily Exchange Nov. 4).

One credit union decided to expand its field of membership to make it easier to attract new members. Sb1 FCU, Philadelphia, said its board voted last month to approve an expanded charter, opening up the credit union to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in parts of the city, noting that now more than 638,000 Philadelphians are now free to choose Sb1 as a banking option (Life is a Highway Nov. 4).

Many credit unions already were experiencing a uptick in new member inquiries prior to Saturday. In Stevens Point, Wis., Central City CU reported it had already opened more than 240 new checking accounts during August and September--a 140% increase over the same period a year ago.

North Jersey FCU, Totowa, N.J., said it was already getting phone calls from people wanting to know what they need to bring in to open an account on Saturday. It planned special loan incentives and credit counseling on Saturday and stayed open an hour later (The Record Nov. 3)

Elevations CU in Boulder, Colo., marked the historic day, but also noted, "The credit union model is certainly not new, and Elevations CU has been serving the Front Range for nearly 60 years." Gerry Agnes, president/CEO, added that the credit union  would "welcome consumers and businesses who are seeking a viable alternative to the traditional for-profit banking model."  Agnes also noted that making the switch is easier than many think.

Those examples are the tip of the iceberg. Many credit unions beefed up staff and extended Saturday hours. But most are offering incentives that will last in hopes of cementing new relationships long after the Bank Transfer Day hoopla has died down.
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