In the summer of 2014, leaders at Arizona Federal Credit Union ($1.4B, Phoenix, AZ) were strategizing about how to serve the unbanked and financially illiterate. As part of their research, they watched Spent, a film that showcases everyday Americans who lack financial options. And it got them thinking.
“We help our members with their credit challenges,” says Jason Paprocki, the credit union’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. “But how do we show the marketplace we are doing this?”
Jason Paprocki, EVP and COO, Arizona FCU
Their answer was a financial web series inspired by “The Biggest Loser.” Instead of shedding weight, though, these series’ stars would gain financial footing. And instead of NBC, Arizona Federal produced the series for YouTube. The credit union even enlisted former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner to host.
The structure of the “My Comeback” series — which premiered in May 2015 — was straightforward. Four teams totaling six contestants set financial goals and worked for four months with a credit union coach to meet those goals. In addition to bragging rights and better finances, the winning contestant received $20,000.
In this Q&A, Paprocki discusses the competition, what contestants gained, and what it was like to work with Kurt Warner.
How did you choose the credit union’s four financial coaches?
Jason Paprocki: We identified approximately 15 employees we knew were great coaches for our members. We invited them in for interviews on camera to see how they’d react with the lights, cameras, and microphones pointing at them. They’re all great with members, but they found it’s a different setting in production and a lot of them weren’t comfortable.
We had more than four that could have been successful, but we had identified the contestants and wanted to find good matches for the contestants in terms of coaching style and relatability. We knew it would be too time consuming for any one employee to try to coach all four contestants and we wanted to leave the door open for friendly competition — although that didn’t end up becoming a big element.
How many contestant applications did you receive? How did you choose the final four teams?
JP: We received a couple of hundred video applicants that explained why they wanted to be a contestant, what led to their current financial challenge, and what it would mean to them to get help. We narrowed the group to 10 semi-finalists we wanted to meet in person.
We were looking for people who were genuinely interested in putting in the effort to make a comeback — more so than people who were looking to win $20,000. We also wanted to find people we thought we could help and who viewers would root for and relate to.
CU QUICK FACTS
Data as of 03.31.16
HQ: Phoenix, AZ
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 4.78%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 4.68%
What were the reactions of the contestants when you showed them the reality of their financial situations?
JP: It was a combination of shock, shame, and guilt, among other things, but that was offset with the hope we were going to help them do something about it. It really was like the beginning of “The Biggest Loser” when the contestants see the videos of themselves and climb onto the scale for the first time.
How did you determine the winner?
JP: We created a formula to calculate the winner. Factors included how much they raised their credit scores, the amount of debt they reduced, and the amount of money they saved.
What talent did you need to produce these videos?
JP: We worked with Epic Productions, a local production company, to do the filming. We realized early on it was out of our skill set and would be worth doing the right way.
How long did it take you to produce each segment? Did you set up a schedule for production?
JP: It varied. Some of the segments came together more quickly than others. It’s funny how you have an idea in your head of how great or impactful a conversation is going to be — then you see it on film and realize it’s not as exciting for a viewer. Epic helped us to make those moments come to life through production. Overall, we probably averaged eight hours per week on production — live or prep — over the four-month period.
How did you get Kurt Warner involved? What kind of value did he provide the project?
JP: Epic suggested we consider a celebrity host. We made a wish list of celebrities we thought would be a good fit, and he was the first name we put on the list. Fortunately, he liked the idea so we never had to come up with back-up choices.
It was once he was on board that we came up with the name, “My Comeback” since he had made a couple of comebacks in his storied career. He was everything we hoped for — a great professional to work with. I think he added a level of credibility to the show, and he really kept up with all of the contestant’s progress. We would write him lines, but he’d end up improvising a lot, which helped the show feel natural and genuine.
How many people followed this series? What was the most popular channel for people to keep up with this?
JP: Most of the videos have been viewed around 25,000 times — the finale has more than 50,000 views. I would estimate 80% of those came during the season, and we’ve probably picked up an additional 20% in residual views since.
I think the most popular way people kept up was at our website. We always had the links to the most recent episodes on YouTube prominently placed on our website. That way all we had to do was promote the website address.
We did TV commercials directing members to our website. We did a lot of social media promotion and in-branch marketing. And we have a membership magazine that we promoted the show in as well.
What did this series provide to the contestants? Especially those who didn’t win?
JP: We gave them all a game plan. We were able to identify specific actions they all could take to improve their finances and get closer to reaching their goals. We took the mystery out of how to solve their challenges so all they’d have to do was follow the steps. But who are we kidding? That’s the hardest part. That means giving up some of the coffee runs, impulse buys, and fast food meals.
What were the most surprising or rewarding parts of running “My Comeback?”
JP: We offered the 10 semi-finalists checking accounts with debit cards at the end of their interviews. When we offered that to one young couple, they both teared up. Earlier that day they’d been sent away from the branch of a national bank that refused to give them a checking account. Until we made our offer, they feared they’d be stuck continuing to pay more than $150 per month in reloadable pre-paid card fees. They told us they felt like they’d already won the show — that made an impact on me. Other than that, it was rewarding to see each of our contestants make a material difference in their financial situation in just four short months.
We don't have to do it as a show again, we're doing it for our members every day.
Would you consider doing something like this again?
JP: We don’t have to do it as a show again, we’re doing it for our members every day. The show helped launch a training and culture initiative to act as financial coaches for our members. We’re happy to work with any of our members now who want to make their own comeback. All they have to do is ask, and then the real work begins.