If you happened to read the September 12 issue of USA Today , perhaps you noticed Kathy Chu's article about Bank of America raising its ATM surcharge to $3 for non-customers. The new surcharge was rolled out at 10,700 BofA ATMs and is the “highest fee ever imposed nationwide by a major bank,” according to the article. Other banks are expected to follow.
A second article, published in ATM&Debit News on October 22, implied that account holders may be willing to leave their financial institutions for one with more conveniently located ATMs (according to information supplied by a Synergistics Research Corp. survey).
Many credit unions offer their cardholders surcharge-free access to more ATMs than the largest bank through CO-OP Network (which provides 25,000 surcharge-free ATMs nationwide, including 6,500 deposit-taking, vs. BofA's 18,633 ATMs) or other ATM networks. Why, then, do people still have the misconception that credit unions are inconvenient and inaccessible and that consumers would rather belong to a bank? We, the credit union industry, need to take action to get the facts in front of the people.
Educate Your Members
From time to time, I've encountered consumers who have no idea what it means for them if their credit union belongs to CO-OP Network. Make sure your members know. Publish the information on your web site and provide an ATM locator so they know where they can conduct surcharge-free transactions. Display the information prominently in your branches on signage and take-away pamphlets. Send your members postcards or statement inserts reminding them where they can find surcharge-free ATMs, especially if you've added new locations. Include articles in your newsletter. When it comes to saving money, never assume your members have heard the message enough.
Educate the Public
The credit union industry has idly watched banks swoop up our members for long enough and it's time to take a stand. On October 10 and 17, CO-OP ran ads in USA Today in response to Chu 's article. Our intent was to show credit unions offer an alternative to joining BofA or paying $3 surcharges. Specifically, millions of credit union cardholders can access surcharge-free ATMs in airports, coffee shops, convenience stores, and other retail locations. These ads were a step to reach out to consumers.
Another way we can get the credit union message out is through cooperative advertising efforts. The other day, I heard a commercial produced by the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues, informing consumers about credit unions. We should take this cooperation further and pool our resources as an industry to run a national radio campaign or TV spots. Banks are always advertising, why shouldn't we?
Finally, who can tell our story better than we can? When you notice articles about ATM access or banks vs. credit unions that don't tell our side of the story, contact the journalist and let them know what your credit union is doing to compete with banks. Collectively, we have the information and the resources to tell the public the truth about credit unions, we just need to start spreading the word.
For more information about CO-OP Financial Services, visit www.co-opfs.org .