I graduated from college during the Great Recession. The financial meltdown gifted me and my friends with no job prospects, significant student loan debt, and four years of constant worry. Many of my friends left with a diploma in hand but with no job offer. Sadly, not many of them were up on the news and didn’t realize the extent to which the global financial meltdown would impact their futures.
I had always known about credit unions — my mom has been a member of hers since before I was born — but I began to truly understand what makes them different when I witnessed their recovery efforts after the economic catastrophe of the late aughts. For that, I will forever be loyal to my credit union.
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That being said, I have a hard time convincing my friends to leave their big banks, or even consider a credit union for a car loan or mortgage loan, for several reasons:
Public perception: People my age don’t know what credit unions are. I’ve heard them labeled as everything from "low-budget alternatives" to "one step up from loan sharks." None of this is true, so how can credit unions communicate their story in a way that makes a lasting, positive impact? I suggest looking at the digital marketing and outreach tactics used by startup financial companies on Instagram and other media outlets. Start stealing those slick color schemes, to-the-point marketing language, and other ideas from them because they’re stealing my generation away from you.
Charity & Giving: I’ve recently been served ads for a private company that consolidates student loans and gives some of it to charity. C’mon, a credit union does the same thing but at a local — and, in my opinion, better — level. I see firsthand the impact my credit union has on my community, regardless of membership status, and it makes me proud to be a member. This is a considerable benefit that is built into the credit union model. It just needs to be fine-tuned to reach this generation.
ATMs: Some of the most frequent pushback I get is about ATM availability and fees. I admit, this is the toughest argument to win because I do have to pay fees when I can’t find a nearby, in-network ATM. My best advice for credit unions is to figure out a way to decrease fees — or eliminate them when possible — and communicate what benefits you offer that mitigate the pinch. Big banks aren’t offering better options, my friends just tend to forgive banks for their failures much more than credit unions.
Free checking: I hear so many of my friends complain about this, and I simply do not understand why they would pay a fee for banking. This is especially relevant in underserved areas where those fees can add up and impact a family’s budget.
As an elder millennial, my No. 1 suggestion for credit unions is to heavily promote what makes you relevant today and use the advantages baked into the cooperative model to reach young consumers.
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I don’t know anyone — regardless of political belief or socioeconomic background — that doesn’t want to bank better. I genuinely believe credit unions are the smarter choice for anyone, and it’s time for the industry to start banking on that.
Brianne Aiken is a healthcare and policy communications strategist living in New York City. She previously worked for Callahan & Associates and the Brookings Institution and is currently communications director at Columbia University Medical Center.