Florida is one of the states hardest hit by the current economic crisis. Although the state's capital was initially cushioned from the worst of the fallout, the residents of Tallahassee were clearly in need of a trustworthy voice to turn to in the financial services industry. Florida Commerce Credit Union ($300M) stepped up to the plate and has challenged the local community to become more financially savvy! Their call has been met with tremendous response…
Promoting Financial Independence
If there is one thing that the country's current economic woes have taught us, it's that everyone needs to become far more knowledgeable about financial matters. As many credit unions aspire to become the go-to source for trusted financial information, advice, and service for their members, Florida Commerce is no exception. With negative headlines focusing on banking industry woes in 2008, many bank competitors grew relatively quiet on the local marketing front, giving Florida Commerce an excellent opportunity to step out into the spotlight. They launched the iLiveFIT! (Financially Independent Today) program in 2008 with the dual goal of helping members become more financially literate while establishing the credit union as a credible financial resource for the community. The concept behind iLiveFIT! is simple:
- Each member who enrolls in the program receives a free personal financial assessment from a trained financial services officer.
- Once the evaluation determines their level of 'financial fitness,' each participant is provided a comprehensive prescription plan based on their individual needs.
- Each participant receives one-on-one attention to learn how to budget effectively, clean up their credit report, and improve their overall financial health.
- A prescription plan may include free educational courses, debt management plans, or systemic saving plans.
- Once each member makes progress toward their objectives and attains a higher level of financial fitness, they are rewarded with bonus points towards CDs, gift cards, pricing discounts on loans, and other product incentives.
The WeLiveFIT! Challenge
Florida Commerce launched the second stage of their financial fitness outreach, the WeLiveFIT! Challenge, in January 2009. This innovative effort, drawing inspiration from popular reality entertainment programs, follows the progress of seven different families throughout the year as they work to financially improve their lives. The family that demonstrates the most improvement by the end of the year will receive $10,000.
According to Samantha Strickland, Director of Marketing at Florida Commerce, "We wanted to demonstrate at a public level what we do every day at the individual level, so the WeLiveFIT! Challenge is a natural progression of our efforts." She continued, "We wanted to demonstrate that real people are facing difficult situations, and Florida Commerce can be there to help them improve credit, reduce debt, increase savings, and navigate these difficult times."
The credit union put out the call for family applicants during a January press conference and received 115 submissions. They narrowed the pool down to a group of 16 diverse applicants with compelling stories, and then conducted video interviews with each before selecting the final seven contestant families.
The competition officially kicked off in March as the families were introduced to the community. Florida Commerce facilitates an interactive multimedia experience for a public audience to follow each family's progress. According to Strickland, "We really wanted to start a community dialogue and get the credit union, local community, and the families to participate in the process." Each family is based out of a specific branch location and has been an assigned team of credit union representatives that act as their financial 'coaches.'
The credit union launched www.welivefitchallenge.com, to act as a communication hub for the entire effort. On the website, anyone can access a full profile about each of the families, read an explanation of their personal financial situations, view regular web episodes, follow family blog postings, interact on a community message board, and explore varied resources designed to encourage financial fitness. To provide interesting and relevant content, the families will tackle a new aspect of financial fitness each month throughout 2009.
Gathering Support Prior to Launch
The iLiveFIT! program was slowly introduced during the fall of 2008 and not initially advertised. It was originally offered to new members or individuals that were turned down for loan. News of the program soon spread by word of mouth. Strickland adds, "Of course there were incentives to encourage members to participate in iLiveFIT!, but the public is simply thirsty for this type of information and assistance right now." By the end of 2008, there were already 1,500 members enrolled in the program.
Prior to officially launching the WeLiveFIT! Challenge in January, Florida Commerce representatives worked behind the scenes with a PR agency to garner support from the community and encourage local media to over the Challenge over the course of the year. The local media bought into concept behind WeLiveFIT! and agreed to co-sponsor of the effort. "The timeliness and relevancy of the program has really worked in our favor and provided an incredible opportunity to reach out to the media" said Strickland.
The local media partnership has yielded huge benefits:
- The local news agreed to features stories about each of the families once a month for the duration of the Challenge.
- Ronald Fye, the CEO of Florida Commerce, delivers a segment on the Monday afternoon news focused on personal finance.
- Florida Commerce is receiving a large amount of positive news coverage and several media websites prominently link to the WeLiveFIT! website.
- The Mayor of Tallahassee has even publically endorsed the program.
The media partnership dramatically extends the reach of Florida Commerce's traditional marketing efforts, which are currently focused on introducing each of the families to the public. The partnership also allows the credit union to get their message out to the community without spending a small fortune on advertising.
Tremendous Community Response
The WeLiveFIT! Challenge has generated a remarkably positive response from the public in a relatively short period of time! The primary website received hits from over 1,000 unique visitors within its first two days, and around 2,000 unique visitors engage the site on a regular basis. Site metrics also reveal that visitors spend a large amount of time on the site and regularly engage multiple areas.
Signs of success are evident across the board:
- New membership tripled in 2008 over 2007.
- Online Balance financial education course usage has skyrocketed:
- 112 courses were taken in January, 143 in February, and 427 in March.
- Course registrations experienced a huge increase after the Challenge officially kicked off.
- Several hundred members per month are now lining up to take Florida Commerce's iLiveFIT! financial assessment.
Financial Literacy Doesn't Have to be Bland
Florida Commerce successfully maintains a delicate balance between providing a relevant service that the community sorely needs, and presenting an entertaining spin on typically bland financial education initiatives. The iLiveFIT! program and WeLiveFIT! Challenge has allowed them to truly become their community's trusted financial partner in an environment where such a distinction is very hard to come by. The recognition and trust that Florida Commerce is building today by assisting members when they need it most will undoubtedly be repaid with member loyalty in the future.