In a down economy, credit unions re-double efforts to create strategies that more effectively increase market penetration. Some credit unions push efforts to grow account numbers, while others concentrate on increasing shares. Some use relationship-based pricing to pull through tough times. Gesa Credit Union ($891.4M, Richland, WA) is benefiting from its choice to provide a product that grows balances. The product, Colossal Checking, launched in May 2008 and continues to lift Gesa’s account numbers as well as balances.
"The people who came for Colossal Checking brought their full financial relationship with them," says Christina Brown, CEO of Gesa Credit Union. "It helped attract membership and accounts."
Gesa tied several e-initiatives to Colossal Checking. To qualify for the Colossal rate, participants must make 12 point-of-sale (debit) transactions per month, establish at least one direct deposit or ACH auto debit, enroll and receive e-statements and use Gesa's online account manager. Because of the initiatives, the average number of debit transactions for the Colossal product is double that of Gesa’s standard free checking account.
The account requirements are structured to make a high rate affordable and sustainable. On balances up to $10,000, members earn a preferred annual percentage yield that has been hovering around 3.01%. Balances in excess of the $10,000 cap receive the credit union's standard checking rate, currently around .10% APY.
As long as members are using debit cards and e-statements, the credit union can continue offering preferred rates. The product is raising member awareness for electronic services, particularly for e-statements and debit use.
To entice members, Colossal Checking offers more than a few perks. Colossal Checking participants receive a free debit card, unlimited ATM fee refunds, and access to up to $500 a day in cash from any ATM. The account does not require a minimum balance and does not charge a per check fee.
Area competitors offer similar products with a higher cap, but the credit union wanted to offer a cap and rate that grabbed attention and encouraged people to participate without pulling balances away from more fluid Gesa products, such as a money market account.
Gesa launched Colossal Checking with the intent to grow balances as well as membership, and it is doing just that. Gesa's average Colossal Checking account balance is $6,000; its average standard checking balance is $2,100. So far, more than 8,000 account holders are signed up with Colossal Checking. In the beginning, approximately half of the registrants were new relationships and half were converted from other Gesa products. In the coming months, though, Brown expects to see new Colossal registrants come more from new accounts. So far, the statistics bear this out. In October, only 25% of opened Colossal accounts were converted, the remaining 75% were new members.