Anatomy Of A Living Brand: An Update On Wright-Patt Credit Union

WPCU is gearing up for the sixth installment of its popular Savings Race challenge; the stakes are higher, but so is the credit union’s commitment to help members save, borrow, and learn.


In July 2010, Callahan & Associates profiled how Wright-Patt Credit Union ($2.7B, Fairborn, OH) did right by members in the Anatomy Of A Living Brand series. More than three years later, the Ohio-based credit union is continuing to demonstrate its commitment to the community and doing right by even more members as it enjoys double-digit membership growth.

Now serving more than a quarter of a million members throughout Ohio’s Miami Valley, Wright-Patt’s brand position remains a promise to help members “Save Better, Borrow Smarter, Learn a Lot!” Its yearly patronage dividend is just one example of how WPCU does right by members and helps them save. And in 2013, Wright-Patt paid out $6 million in dividends.

The credit union’s brand and focus on creating great member experiences is paying off. Wright-Patt’s assets have grown from $1.8 billion when Callahan originally profiled it in 2010 to $2.7 billion currently. According to Search & Analyze data on, Wright-Patt’s annual membership growth at midyear was 10.7% compared to a 3.0% national average for credit unions, 2.94% average for Ohio credit unions, and 4.4% average for credit unions with more than $1 billion in assets. And it appears those members are embracing the credit union. At $15,537, WPCU has an average member relationship that is nearly three times that of its state peer group.

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A Race To Build Savings

In 2007, Wright-Patt launched its Savings Race as a way to encourage families to build their household worth by increasing savings and reducing debt. Over the years, the credit union has collected verifiable data to back up its claim that it is truly teaching members how to Save Better, Borrow Smarter, Learn a Lot!

“We’ve tracked the results of the Savings Race during the past five seasons,” says Tracy Fors, vice president of marketing and business development for Wright-Patt. “We take the amount the families have saved and amount of debt they have reduced and call it a ‘household worth improvement.’ The total household worth has increased for all of these participants by $675,000, which is an average of $26,000 per family. We also estimate that, on average, the participants have improved their credit scores by approximately 48 points.”

In the first race, five families competed against one another with the support of the credit union’s financial coaches and a financial education curriculum. Participant families, whose goals ranged from buying a home to putting a child through college, learned about credit score basics, how much debt they could sustain with their income, and how much emergency savings they needed to keep the family running should something unexpected occur. The credit union helped participants overcome their financial challenges over the course of the Savings Race, sharing financial education and member resources with the broader community every step of the way.

“The race is really effective at telling the whole story,” Fors says. “You have the hero, which is the member, and then there are the obstacles they have to overcome.”

Obstacles include not only major events such as a prolonged illness or job loss but also smaller-yet-sinister challenges such as a lack of accurate information or an abundance of incorrect information. In both situations, Wright-Patt has shown time and time again through the Savings Race that a healthy dose of budgeting and financial education can go a long way in supporting a struggling family.  

In 2009, the credit union expanded the contest’s concept with its Savings Race 4 — Home Edition installment, which taught members the correct way to buy a home.

“We knew members were looking to buy homes,” Fors says. “And consumers with adequate education about the home-buying process are more likely to make their mortgage payments and keep their homes over time.”

The credit union partnered with the community to instruct participants about each step of the home-buying process such as finding a realtor, calculating how much home a buyer can afford, determining what type of insurance a house requires, and budgeting for ongoing maintenance. But Savings Race: Home Edition didn’t help only the participants. Wright-Patt also offered community seminars for potential homebuyers and sponsored mini races designed to prepare participants to buy a home. 

With student debt and tuition increasing at record levels, Wright-Patt introduced its Savings Race: College Bound Edition. For this fifth installment, the credit union partnered with several local colleges and universities and developed a financial curriculum and money management series to help members get not only through but also beyond college without taking on too much debt.

“This was exciting as it was the first time the students drove the challenge,” Fors says.

The race helped prepare families for what was coming through budget challenges for the student, such as How to Decorate a Dorm on a Dime, as well as retirement education for the soon-to-be empty nesters. Again, the credit union partnered with the community, including the Dayton Development Coalition. This local economic development partner identified companies the high school students could visit to learn about realistic income expectations after graduation, and mentors helped the students understand today’s work environment and specific topics such as how to dress for business.

“Throughout this race, you could see the students become more and more confident,” Fors says. “How they looked at the beginning versus the end was dramatically different.”

What’s Next?

This month, Wright-Patt is kicking off Savings Race 6 – Health and Financial Fitness Edition. With healthcare a hot topic these days, the credit union has partnered with several hospitals to help members put together a financial management plan with a health savings and overall wellness component.

“The No. 1 cause of bankruptcy is medical debt,” Fors says. “If we can help members take care of themselves and plan for medical issues, we can help them improve their lives.”

This is the most comprehensive edition the credit union has taken on to date and grew out of Wright-Patt’s internal focus on wellness for its own employees. The edition will include health insurance education, nutrition, and emotional health components in addition to the standard financial management tools the credit union has provided in every Savings Race. The grand prize winner will receive $10,000; $5,000 goes to second place, $2,500 goes to third, and $1,500 goes to both fourth and fifth place contestants.

According to Fors, “The big difference for this edition is we’ll have two Wright-Patt coaches and someone from the local hospital for each family to help them navigate through the healthcare channel.”

What started initially as a way to educate the WPCU membership and show how anyone can achieve financial success has turned into a lesson in finance and discipline for the entire Miami Valley community. Wright-Patt now partners with a local television station and televises Savings Race episodes twice a week for eight months. The community cheers on the families as they overcome the race’s financial challenges and interested parties can even participate in their own Savings Race. According to Fors, what the race ultimately teaches participants also benefits observers and the community: Everyone needs a financial plan.