The Right Reward For Any Age

First Capital Federal’s rewards program increases loyalty, deepens relationships, and gives back to members who bank with the credit union.


Financial institutions use rewards programs in three ways: to increase member loyalty, to deepen member relationships, and, most importantly, to reward members who bank with them. First Capital Federal Credit Union ($150.5M; York, PA) took all three into account when designing its new rewards programs aimed at members — or potential members — of all ages.

First Capital first ventured into the world of rewards programs several years ago with a turnkey program, but decided to change its approach when it became clear its members were looking for something else.

“We talked to our members,” says Tara Houser, vice president of marketing at First Capital. “We did a small focus group to see what they wanted and what they were asking for.”

First Capital was looking for a program that resonated with members, but it also wanted something distinct that members and potential members would associate directly with the credit union. Some historians consider the credit union’s headquarters of York, PA, to be the first capital of the United States. The phrasing gave the credit union its name, but Houser didn’t want to extend the Americana theme into its rewards. Instead, she brainstormed different ways to incorporate the institution’s logo, which features a star, into the program. That’s how Deep Sea Savers and Rock Star Super Savers were born.

Deep Sea Savers And Rock Star Super Savers

In July of 2012, First Capital rolled out its Deep Sea Savers and Rock Star Super Savers rewards programs, both youth membership programs tailored toward the children of current members.

Members ages 13 and younger can join the credit union’s Deep Sea Savers and learn about saving while contributing to an account. The program is presented in the form of a treasure map and kids help the program’s mascots, Scuba Sammy and Starry Starfish, collect sand dollars. For the kids, it’s learning disguised as an adventure. Every time a Deep Sea Savers member makes a deposit of at least $25 or participates in a monthly credit union activity, they get a stamp on their map. When they’ve stamped all deposit and activity boxes, they find a “treasure” and can select a toy or trinket out of the treasure chests located in the branches.

The Rock Star Super Savers rewards members of the important, yet difficult to reach, 14 to 25 age demographic. The choice to bookend the program with two significantly different ages might appear odd at first blush, but First Capital doesn’t see it that way. Although many things change during those transitional years, First Capital hopes its relationships with those members will not.

“The 15-year-old who opens a checking account today, and you are their first checking account, you’ll hopefully be their first car loan, their first mortgage,” says Amber Zorbaugh, card services specialist at First Capital. “[They’ll hopefully be] the lifetime user for your checking and deposit accounts as they grow in their own life.”  

The Rock Star Super Savers program operates similar to the Deep Sea program; deposits of at least $50 earn members stamps, with 10 stamps redeemable for prizes such as movie tickets or iTunes gift cards that are more desirable for 14- to 25-year-olds. First Capital also encourages members of Rock Star Super Savers to save through its College Club account, which earns a higher dividend rate with monthly payments of at least $20, and by purchasing its Add-On Youth Share Certificate, which members can open or as little as $100 and add funds of $25 or more over the 24-month term.

“It’s a 24-month share certificate; most share certificates don’t start that low and most kids can’t take advantage of having a CD,” Houser says. “That’s an opportunity for the youth to save some money and see what a CD is about.”

A major draw of the programs, both Houser and Zorbaugh agree, are the credit union activities that offer a way for First Capital to meet face-to-face, interact, and make an impression on the young savers. For example, the credit union is currently planning a day trip to AvalancheXpress, a snow-covered tubing hill in York County. The credit union is covering all expenses and providing one free ticket to both Deep Sea and Rock Star members. And of course, First Capital will have a presence there, offering maybe-cold, maybe-tired members hot chocolate, cookies, and pretzels.

These activities aren’t just for sweetening up to the kids, though, First Capital wants to speak with parents who want to introduce their teen — or younger child — to saving money.

“One of our pitches is, ‘does your child have an account?’” Houser asks. “They’ll either say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and then we’ll ask, ‘well, what does that account do for them?’ Most of the time we hear: ‘nothing.’”

Star Rewards

In October 2012, four months after it debuted Deep Sea and Rock Star, First Capital introduced Star Rewards, a program for members ages 26 and older. Because the program focuses on members who are close to, if not already, financially independent, it emphasizes depth of relationship rather than simply engagement.

“What we’re really trying to say is, ‘look at all these things that we have to offer,’” Houser says. “Why wouldn’t you want to make First Capital your primary financial institution?”

The Star Rewards program assigns a numerical value to the different levels of relationship a member can have with the credit union. It then tallies the numbers at the beginning of every month to determine the previous month’s score and places members into one of three Star Levels, each with increasingly attractive benefits. For example, a 10-year member that holds $90,000 in total balance but interacts with the credit union in no other way earns a score of 60. That makes them a two-star member. However, a 10-year member that carries significantly lower balances but is active in making transactions, especially online, can earn the highest three-star rating.

“Ours is well rounded,” Houser says. “It’s loyalty and how active you are regardless of the balance. I think it’s a good, solid program.”

Rewards For The Ages

Every credit union wants the same thing from its membership: engagement. The problem is, not all members want the same thing from their credit union. Developing the right rewards programs to satisfy three distinct age ranges can be a challenge, especially when credit unions are struggling to find Gen Y engagement at all. But First Capital has designed programs that attempt to establish long-term relationships at the credit union, even if it is at the expense of a short-term gain.

“Going into this, we knew youth accounts aren’t incredibly profitable,” Zorbaugh says. “They are more of a long-term investment because we are setting the standard for a lifetime member.”

Adds Houser, “We’re not really seeing an ROI at this point. We know that we’re investing in something that is not going to make money initially.”

According to data provided by First Capital, youth membership accounts have increased by 7.6% since the inception of the Deep Sea Savers and Rock Star Super Savers, totaling 4,003 as of December 2013.

And if those 15-year-old members today are still using First Capital when they are 30?

“I think that is something I’d consider a success,” Zorbaugh says.




Jan. 27, 2014


  • Ah yes, geegaws and trinkets for the young members are great fun. But what do they teach young members? At SAFE credit union we also have a focus on growing membership with a foucs on young members who will grow with the credit union. Our approach is a little different. First of all most of our members come from two sources branches and our community outreach activity. Branches are the source of most of our new members. We years ago we expanded our branches from nine branches located around our sponsor location, McClellan Air Force Base, to locations in bedroom communities. Neighborhood branches cater to familes. Our branches have play areas for the kids and are family friendly. Our front line staff encourages parents to sign up their kids. We offer a special newsletter for the young members. The branch also offer kids a no cost coin counting machine for them to bring in their coin jars and deposit them. We are open on Saturday and we see a lot of families on that day. Our community outreach means our staff go to local schools and make financial literacy presentations to high school students. We offer the "Bite of Life" program that is very popular with the high school students. We also have branches in high schools that have an ATM and offer banking services provided by the students who run the branch. We offer a summer intern program to teach the students how to run a branch. The branch is operated to match our other branches in terms of operational control and service quality. Our community outreach takes us to over 600 community events each year. We open a lot of accounts for entire families at these events. At each community event we have a booth or in come cases an entire pavilion in which we entertain and enlighten our guests about the credit union and about financial literacy. Our mission is to help our members improve their financial well being. We do that by providing exceptional service, best solutions and professional experts.
    Henry Wirz