Do Credit Unions want to be Just Like Spammers?

In the face of new anti-spam laws, CUs are worried now, more than ever, about sending junk email. In the new CAN-Spam laws most CUs fall under the relationship email exemption; however, in the end it’s the member’s perception that really counts. Now is a good time for CU Executives to ask themselves Do we really want to be just like Spammers...


In the face of new anti-spam laws, CUs are worried now, more than ever, about sending junk email. In the new CAN-Spam laws most CUs fall under the ''relationship'' email exemption; however, in the end it’s the member’s perception that really counts. Now is a good time for CU Executives to ask themselves ''Do we really want to be just like ''Spammers''….

A Quick CAN-SPAM Tune-up

The Federal Anti-Spam Act of 2003 (CAN-Spam Act) went into effect on January 1st. This new law places certain requirements on legitimate email marketers. The highlights for e-marketers are:

  • Get permission to use an email address either through a
    • Preexisting relationship; or
    • Affirmative consent
  • Opt-out options need to be prominently placed on each email
  • No misleading subject lines
  • Honor all opt-out requests and process them within 10 days

While most credit unions fall under the ''relationship'' email exemption, it’s a good time to evaluate your organization’s philosophy surrounding email address collection methods and usage for compliance with the Act.

Capturing Addresses or Capturing Permission?

Granted the new regulations say that if there is a business relationship it’s ''OK'' to use the email address. CUs need to put the regulations aside for a minute and consider this statement carefully: The member determines whether or not the CU sends ''junk'' email. Since CUs are in the relationship business they need to look beyond the CAN-Spam law and go one step further. When reviewing your e-marketing plan check whether your organization is capturing emails or capturing permission. Our CUs have discovered that getting a member’s email address is not the same as capturing their permission to use it. The first time our clients used the member’s email they looked just like a junk mail sender in the eyes of their member. Why?

  • Members often forget that they gave the CU the address
  • They received an offer that wasn’t targeted to fit their interest or need
  • They don’t see the value the CU will provide via email

Do CUs want to run the risk of looking like a ''spammer'' and assume that because they have an email address on a form or during a call that they have given you permission to use it? Building an e-marketing program that leads with ''opt-in'' or permission will build a long-term relationship vs. the Spammers ''I’ve got your email now opt-out'' approach. This is critical since once members remove themselves from your list, they have shut the door to any future email communications.

How CUs Can Collect and Use Email Addresses Strategically

Granted, in the permission-based scenario a CU will start with a smaller number of email contacts. But the number of collected emails can quickly grow when the right tools are deployed. For example, e-Lerts, a ''Tell-me-when'' communication tool, are permission-based and increase the number of email opportunities a CU has to get into their member’s inbox. In one large Mid-Atlantic CU’s case, some members receive 5 emails per month from the CU; one that their eStatement/newsletter is ready and four for their weekly e-Lert on certificate rate changes, of course all with additional marketing messages. Other value created by e-Lerts include:

  • Providing marketing with instant measurement;
  • Fast communication that is less expensive than traditional channels;
  • Growing a permission-based database of member email addresses; and
  • Creating a self-service environment for editing preferences or removing themselves from notification list.

Got Email Addresses?

The one question that keeps popping up from CU Executives at every event is ''How do we use the thousands of emails we have collected over the years?'' The bad news, just because a CU has a member’s email address doesn’t mean that they have permission to use it. The good news, research indicates that members love to hear from their CU! Here’s how to put collected addresses to work for the first time to get and keep permission:

  • Craft and send a ''Pardon Us'' email from the CU to collected addresses
  • Remind the member how the CU got the address
  • Explain what value the CU will provide to the member via the email address
  • Be specific in offerings so that members can choose email content that interests them (e-Lerts)
  • Provide a means for the member to Opt-out of future emails
  • Briefly explain and provide a link to your privacy policy in the email

Always, remember when asking to use a member’s email address No means ''No'' and Yes means ''Maybe.'' Honor their requests and privacy and the relationship will continue.

E-lerts Make ''Best of 2003'' Article Series

Our e-Lert article on getting into your member’s inbox and creating a ''wow'' was voted to the ''Best of 2003'' articles series! Check it out; it’s worth reading again! /home/articles/template.asp?article_id=1109 To receive the FREE copy of the report on ''272 Electronic Messaging Opportunities'' click on the report icon or send Request an email to and we will process your request.

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DigitalMailer is a digital communication company with products such as e-Lerts, eSurveys and eStatements that assist credit unions in gaining a strategic business advantage via the Internet and their website. Please contact Ron Daly or Greg Crandell for additional information or to share your ideas and comments.

© 2004 DMI



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Jan. 26, 2004



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