Reinventing Savings Programs

Credit unions encourage refinancing with friendly competition and enticing offers.


As the economy recovers, credit unions are breathing new life into savings programs that encourage members to refinance to lower-rate products. The programs, known as sit and save, helped extricate members from high-rate loans as market conditions improved and rates declined, but with most of those expensive loans now either expired or refinanced, cooperatives are reinventing the programs in myriad ways to attract new credit union members. A few weeks ago, this website included an article about two credit unions that spun off their savings programs into financial education, but other methods are also energizing sit and save programs. Here we highlight two more ways to help the programs stand out.  

Encourage Friendly Competition

After meeting at an industry conference, executives from Red Canoe Credit Union ($635M, Longview, WA) and Empower Federal Credit Union ($1.2B, Syracuse, NY) turned to a little friendly competition to beef up interest in the programs and save members money through loan buyouts. As part of a three-month promotion of their savings programs, the credit unions established a “co-opetition” of six teams that competed to save members the most money through refinancing.

The institutions, though, weren’t pitted against one another. Instead, 16 to 18 employees from both institutions constituted each of the six teams competing in the Apples 2 Apples promotion, which was named in honor of the two credit unions, one based in apple-growing Washington and the other in the Big Apple’s home state. Red Canoe and Empower created a co-branded webpage to help employees interact and track how much money each team saved members. In keeping with the promotion’s name, each team had an apple-themed moniker like American Pickers, the South Ciders, and Jersey Core.

To get the competition off to a strong start, the credit unions offered an irresistible prize to the team that saved members the most money during the promotional period. Each person on the winning team would receive a brand new Lexus. When the results were tallied, the South Ciders emerged as the victors, saving members $738,921, nearly $300,000 more than the team in second place, American Pickers. The Apples 2 Apples promotion surpassed the credit unions’ initial goal of $2 million by generating more than $2.7 million in savings for members.




Make An Enticing Offer

Patelco Credit Union’s ($4.1B, Pleasanton, CA) sit and save program, Switch to Save, already stood out by offering existing and potential members alike $25 if it couldn’t reduce their rate and save them money. But for about two months this past summer, Patelco raised the stakes with its Switch to Save Saturdays program by enticing customers to its Sacramento area branches with $50 if the cooperative couldn’t reduce their payments for an auto loan or credit card. The $50 offer was only good on Saturdays, though individuals could still take advantage of the standard Switch to Save offer during the rest of the week.

To get the word out, Patelco advertised on local radio stations on Thursdays and Fridays, inviting people to visit a branch and see if they could save by refinancing. Although walk-ins were allowed, the credit union encouraged people to make an appointment at a branch. The ads included testimonials from members about the Switch to Save Program. Members spoke about how much money they saved and how the credit union changed their lives by helping them consolidate their debt, says Alison Jones vice president of marketing.

The Sacramento market rollout was designed as a test to see if the credit union had sufficient operational support for the expected deluge of Saturday customers. Patelco even designed a fast-track application allowing employees to pull a credit report ahead of a customer’s appointment to review the person’s finances and help expedite the process.

“We have limited hours on Saturdays and when the volume of people gets too great, it’s virtually impossible to help everyone who comes in,” Jones says.

The results of the Switch to Save Saturdays were better than Jones expected, and now the credit union plans to roll out the program to all of its other branches in late September or early October, whenever each branch is ready to handle the additional volume.

As of late July, customer interest in the savings program had increased 107% on Saturdays and 9% Monday through Friday at the branches participating in the Switch to Save promotion. Proof that the advertisements were worth the investment, Sacramento branches reported that 65% of the people who took advantage of the savings program did so because of the credit union’s media blitz, with 50% of those individuals becoming credit union members, though that number may rise as the credit union tallies its final data.

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