How Chrome FCU Is Forging A Future In A Steel Belt Town

The Pittsburgh-area credit union uses targeted marketing and an array of tech tools to meet the demands of a young adult market.

 
 

Meet “Beth.” Beth is 32 to 47 years old. There’s a 60% chance she works full time and has a household income that exceeds $75,000 a year. There’s an 80% chance she owns her own home and a 46% chance she still has youngsters living there. And her credit union might be advertising to her on the craft website Etsy.

Beth is an avatar, of course, but she’s very real to Chrome Federal Credit Union ($131.50M, Washington, PA), where she’s one of the “Chrome personas” that represent the targets of the products, services, and deep-dive marketing tools the credit union is using to re-invent itself and re-shape its future.

A Cleveland marketing firm created those personas to help the suburban Pittsburgh credit union take its rebranding from Washington Community FCU to Chrome to a new level. That only scratches the surface of what’s happened there, though.

Christopher_George_Chrome_cropped
Christopher George, CEO, Chrome Federal Credit Union

The credit union’s CEO, Christopher George, has led an effort that includes synching a list of must-have mobile tools with a new core system and creating a leading-edge branch presence that’s a far cry from the “something out of ‘Mad Max’” George says he encountered when he took over.

The credit union used its new name — which harkens to the steelmaking heritage of the two-branch credit union and its community — to unveil its new brand in April this year. Members can access digital services online today at the credit union’s current site, but not for long. The credit union is launching its new website on Sept. 24, publicly ensconced right now at a placeholder website that provides a video look at how “Orange is the New Bank.” The credit union also has plans to add five or six more locations around shopping areas.

CU QUICK FACTS

CHROME FEDERAL CREDIT UNION
Data as of 03.31.15
  • HQ: Washington, PA
  • ASSETS: $131.50M
  • MEMBERS: 11,120
  • BRANCHES: 2
  • 12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 9.84%
  • 12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 21.63
  • ROA: 0.64

But Chrome’s reinvention in the market isn’t just about positioning.

“We are a technology company that provides financial services and products with a credit union charter,” George says. “Our goal is to be a half-billion-dollar, 50,000-member institution.”

Transforming Credit Union For Transforming Community

The “Mad Max” reference is to what George found when he arrived in Washington, PA, five years ago: A “$90 million credit union with no technology, sitting in the back of where an old steel mill had been but now nothing but a barren field. I thought, ‘You’d be nuts to want to bank there.’”

And thus began a transformation that reflects the experience of the community itself. Washington County is located southwest of the Steel City, on the West Virginia border and in the heart of the Rust Belt. Its population of approximately 200,000 has remained steady since the 1930s, but there’s been a lot of change.

Tax breaks have lured companies out of neighboring Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, while a post-recession surge in manufacturing and fracking technology has helped “create a nice, little mini-economy here,” George says. “If you have a good business plan, you’ll do all right here.”

Chrome plans to focus on the growing families that are finding opportunity and a place to raise a family, people who are the sweet spot for a credit union whose new name — chosen from among 250 candidates — was taken from chromium, the lustrous metallic element used in, of course, steelmaking.

We’re becoming the credit union for people like me, people who are busy and expect to be able to do things like check balances and make transfers while at a soccer game.  

But Google the words “chrome” and “chromium” and the results will largely be about web browsers and source code projects. That double meaning, that nod to all things tech, resonates with young adults like Amanda Lunger, Chrome’s chief brand officer.

Amanda_Lunger_Chrome_cropped
Amanda Lunger, Chief Brand Officer, Chrome Federal Credit Union

“I have a 3-year-old at home and bought my first house just a few years ago,” Lunger says. “We’re becoming the credit union for people like me, people who are busy and expect to be able to do things like check balances and make transfers while at a soccer game.”

The credit union’s average member age is 46, pretty typical for the industry, but Lunger stresses Chrome isn’t focusing just on age.

“We’re going much deeper into the demographics,” Lunger says. “It’s more attitudinal than age. Beth might be 32 or 55. We want to know what she’s like. What she does. Where she hangs out. And what her needs are.”

This focus is helping the loan-driven credit union. Chrome is posting loan growth numbers that not only exceed its asset-sized peer group in the Callahan & Associates database but also are some of the highest in the industry regardless of size.

The credit union uses a 360-degree view of its membership to inform all its interactions, regardless of age or marketing persona. Whether entering one of the two branches — which themselves are getting a serious makeover amidst plans for building several more — calling the contact center, or engaging online, members work with Chrome reps trained to do everything from simple transactions to more complicated interactions such as taking loan apps or providing certified financial counseling.

Chrome_exterior
Chrome_lobby

External and internal renderings of Chrome’s new branch designs. Courtesy of Chrome Federal Credit Union.

All this takes trained people and facile technology — and a lot of homework.

Channeling Starbucks; If Apple Was A Bank

“We read hundreds of white papers,” George says. “We interviewed 30 branding companies before deciding on one. We hired the guy who wrote the book on Starbucks and picked his brain. We were well-capitalized at approximately 14%, and we want to be around when branches start dying. So we decided to reinvent ourselves and invest in the technology and an A-team of people to make it happen.”

Rather than putting an internal IT department in charge, Chrome devotes one staff member to managing outsourced solutions provided through a data center. The credit union is using a series of leading-edge tools, including a new Symitar Episys core and its Banno Kernel mobile and iPay person-to-person and bill payment solutions, Geezeo for personal financial management, and Meridian account opening and loan origination tools. PSCU, meanwhile, provides full digital card turn-on and turn-off functions.

Marketing is also skewing heavily online as new managers are mining data to focus on the digital experience.

“We’re doing a lot of testing to better manage all our social media and digital ad buys,” George says. “We’re focusing on how to speak to each of our persona groups in their tone and in their space.”

George says Chrome is now targeting these personas — like Beth on Etsy — like never before. The credit union is a pilot project for Symitar’s Banno, which can offer users things they might not expect from a small credit union.

“It can figure out who you are and what you’re doing and customize the digital experience for you,” George says. “So if you’re looking for a car loan, for instance, it can start changing ads and pictures and generally morph into a car-buying experience.”

The result is an operation that George says is striving to become what “Apple would look like if it was a bank.” That extends to the storefront branches, which will include open layouts and robust self-serve options, and a commercial coffee machine that grinds on-site.

“80% of our membership might never come into our branches, or maybe come in once or twice a year,” George says. “But when they do, they will be wowed.”

 

 

 

Aug. 17, 2015


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