Will Members Recoil At Price Increases?

As newspapers erect pay walls to content, their readers’ responses could offer insight into how credit unions can set their own prices.


Newspapers were not prepared for the advent of the Internet, and they certainly weren’t prepared for the havoc it would wreak on their bottom lines. Newspapers were slow to adapt their content strategies to a digital world and even slower to adapt their business models accordingly. First, they ignored the Internet, then they reproachfully acknowledged it, then they indiscriminately offered up content with no regard for how to pay for its production.

Sure, as a consumer having the world and all its coverage at your fingertips for FREE is great; unfortunately, it’s not a sustainable business model. The Internet caught newspapers off guard, and they are now paying the price. I found a great article (via Internet search) that sums it up quite nicely: “Watching newspapers go out of business because of the Internet is like watching dairies going out of business because customers started wanting their milk in paper cartons instead of glass bottles,” says Newsweek technology editor Daniel Lyons.

 The demise of the printed press is not relegated to small-town papers in far-flung places, and much to the chagrin of readers everywhere, many newspapers are now actually charging for their service. The nerve!

 As has been well-documented, The New York Times launched its paywall last year. And last month it dropped its complimentary threshold from 20 articles per month to 10. Of course, there are ways around it, and people — including journalists who should appreciate NYT’s predicament — are more than happy to share their strategies. (If you want to know how, you’ll have to do your own research).

 So what does this mean for credit unions? I could draw a comparison to newspaper print/online and credit union brick-and-mortar/online, but that’s for another day. Credit unions can learn from the consumer reaction when they were asked to pay for what had been free.

There are no news gnomes that magically conjure up coverage for newspapers. Their products and services cost money to produce, in any format. The same is true with credit unions. Your products and services cost money to produce. Credit unions added 440,000 net new members in the last three months of 2011 alone. I love the fact consumers are realizing the benefits of credit union membership — and I hope they take pride in their newfound business ownership — but if the only reason they switched from a bank is because they want a free product or service, then credit unions are in trouble.

 Every business needs a “paywall” if it is to stay in business. But that paywall can look different for credit unions than it does for banks. If you want to continue offering that free checking account, go for it! But look for innovative ways to reward profitable behaviors and steer members into more profitable products. For example, Washington Post’s Capital Business highlighted Money One Federal Credit Union ($103.6M, Largo, MD) for its checking product that offers members the choice between a competitive interest rate or $10 a month in iTunes downloads. According to Capital Business, “There are no monthly fees or balance minimums, but members must use their debit card at least 10 times a month and sign up for online banking to receive rewards.”

 No fee + no balance requirement + free music = score for the member.

 Increased interchange + cost savings through eStatements + member interaction with sticky product = score for the credit union. 

 It’s this kind of creative destructive thinking that will save you from 2015’s 10 Fastest Dying Industries list.


April 23, 2012


  • Staying productive and profitable in business requires innovation. Innovation doesn't require thinking outside the box. Innovation doesn't even see a box. Like music doesn't think of how confining an 8-key octave is. Instead it makes millions of songs - all due to limitless innovation with applied theory. How enticing, the business of symphony!