Think Big, Act Bigger

After the economy dealt SPIRE a bad hand, the credit union used creative branding and strategic partnerships to restore its financials and reconnect with its community.


Originally founded in 1934 as Twin City Oil Co-Ops Credit Union — SPIRE Federal Credit Union ($603M, Falcon Heights, MN) isn’t just a turnaround story; it’s a reminder of the significant benefits that steady, strategic investments and a dedicated vision can generate, particularly in regards to branding.

In 2008, the credit union adopted the name SPIRE, meaning the highest point or summit of something. But the impact of the great recession ensured that this new brand’s climb to the top would not be easy.

In 2009, the credit union lost roughly $11.5 million, partly due to complications in its previously burgeoning MBL portfolio. In order to remedy the situation, the credit union had to immediately cut $3 million in expenses, which fostered some significant belt-tightening in its marketing and community outreach efforts.

While SPIRE quickly rebounded to a well-capitalized position within one year, set a slew of new income records from 2010-2012, and rejoined the community as a vibrant participant and a philanthropic powerhouse, the lessons of efficiency, strategic partnerships, and outside-the-box thinking learned during the downturn are still evident its marketing philosophy today .

“We reached record membership levels in 2013 and much of that was due to our brand awareness,” says Dan Stoltz, who has led SPIRE as interim and then permanent CEO since 2010. “Technically we’re an association credit union, meaning that someone has to be a member of a co-op to be a member of SPIRE, but we have a multitude of ways to qualify anyone in the community for membership.”

Past marketing successes have included the in-house produced TV commercials which run as often as five times a night in the twin cities market. The ad featured below even won a CUNA Diamond award, despite competing against larger credit unions that typically use high-dollar agencies to create their products.

As part of its merchant services partnership with the Wedge and other well-known grocery co-ops, SPIRE also offers cobranded credit cards and returns a part of the resulting interchange income to these businesses. While these card relationships generate a healthy income on their own, they also serve a promotional function by engaging new businesses and acting as a stepping stone toward business lending opportunities. In addition, SPIRE offers online and printed coupon books tailored to shoppers at each of these institutions, as well as its more than 400 SEG groups.

SPIRE is the official checking account of the Minnesota Timberwolves and holds special events and charity drives in partnership with popular players. It also drops cash attached to branded SPIRE parachutes from the rafters during the games.

Lastly, the credit union’s branded vehicle — a 1952 Ford work truck named “Archie” after the credit union’s founder Edgar Archer — is a well known pillar at parades, car shows, and other community events. Salvaged from the West Coast and restored by SPIRE, Archie is an affordable, rolling billboard that has truly captured the community’s attention and loyalty.

For more information on best practices and insights from SPIRE FCU, pick up the 2Q 2013 issue of Credit Union Strategy & Performance (CUSP) arriving on desks this fall.