5 Ways To Better Connect With Cooperative Values

Two credit unions show how institutional progress can enhance, not destroy, a cooperative identity.

Evolutionary changes to the credit union business model have tended to occur in one of two ways: 1) according to an institution’s own timetable or vision, or 2) as a result of regulator pressure, mergers, or necessity. Below are two examples of credit unions that took the former route. Although they represent different asset sizes, both embraced the opportunity to simultaneously advance their culture, operations, and technology while enthusiastically promoting their cooperative values.


data as of 12.31.13

  • HQ: Tampa, FL
  • ASSETS: $5.5B
  • MEMBERS: 569,737
  • BRANCHES: 54
  • 12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 5.14%
  • 12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 7.28%
  • ROA: 1.41%

Formerly known as Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union, Suncoast Credit Union ($5.5B, Tampa, FL) used its 2012 conversion to a state charter as a springboard to update its moniker, realign key values, and adjust its communication strategies to better resonate with members.

We’ve been on the west coast of Florida since 1934, says Patti Barrow, the credit union’s chief marketing officer. We don’t want to change who we are, but we can do a better job of articulating our purpose, brand promise, and core values.

Last year, Bridge Credit Union ($44.8M, Columbus, OH) expanded from a single SEG, public-sector institution to one that now serves the local, private sector of the transportation industry. For the credit union previously known at State Transportation Employees Credit Union, the change has presented new avenues for growth as well as an opportunity to rebuild its operations, focus, branding, and product line.


data as of 12.31.13

  • HQ: Columbus, OH
  • ASSETS: $44.8M
  • MEMBERS: 7,782
  • 12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 4.27%
  • 12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 22.81%
  • ROA: 0.40%

Despite the variance in asset size, membership, and region, both credit unions demonstrated five shared best practices that can help any credit union better connect its cooperative values with the needs of today’s modern consumers.

Forging New Ground Doesn’t Mean Abandoning Old Alliances

When State Transportation Employees Credit Union faced the need to build wallet share despite the looming employee reductions at its only SEG, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), the credit union spent approximately $10,000 to work with a third-party consultant and identify alterative expansion opportunities.

With any group of members, you can only engage and cross-sell so far, says Keri Moser, the credit union’s vice president. We were strong from a capital perspective, [but] without new business opportunities we would eventually be facing a merger or the death of our institution.

The solution, as it turned out, was to expand the credit union’s focus beyond ODOT. Bridge now operates under a charter that is similar to a trade, industry, and profession (TIP) charter, which is not available to state-charted credit unions in Ohio. It has maintained its SEG designation but added a geographic field of membership based on logistics, distribution, construction, engineering, and warehousing.

This move allowed the credit union to grow its niche rather than abandon it altogether. Plus, it gets to retain the benefits such as a cost-free location and employee retirement out-processing that its relationship with ODOT provides.

We didn’t want to turn our backs on our original SEG, Mosher says. And because we were already statewide with ODOT, converting to a community charter made zero sense. We considered associations, but the state was investing so much into transportation and logistics, it seemed like a natural progression to start serving that private sector too.

Names Are A Destination, Not A Starting Point

Both institutions eventually rebranded, but the name changes indicated more than just a facelift they marked the endpoint of a series of fundamental changes in each institution’s DNA. For example, Suncoast’s name recognition was one of the institution’s biggest strengths, but it’s charter conversion meant it had to drop the word federal and schools no longer reflected what the credit union was or whom it wanted to serve.

Our research showed that in our market area, Suncoast had the highest recognition among credit unions, Barrow says. But the perception was that only school employees could join, which was not the case even prior to the charter conversion.

For Bridge, trying to pick a new name and then work backward to build an internal culture and operation was a losing proposition.

We’d tried to refresh our old brand back in 2007, Moser says. We tried to get out of that mom-and-pop credit union type look while still staying within our current market. It just wasn’t as effective.

So instead, it took the opposite approach and implemented other changes before tackling the new name.

Take Core Values Off Of Autopilot

Can your credit union’s employees recite its mission statement from memory? Does your credit union hold its employees accountable to that statement? If not, it’s unlikely its values are informing institutional decisions and behaviors the way they should. In the case of Suncoast and Bridge, both institutions took their rebrand as a chance to revisit institutional values.

Bridge sponsored employee workshops to better articulate its values and ended up rewriting its core mission statement as a result. From a one-sentence description, Bridge’s mission statement morphed into a declarative definition that encompasses three distinct areas vision, values, and brand persona. All 16 Bridge employees now have framed copies of the statement sitting on their desks, and the credit union tracks whether it has followed these principles when evaluating its successes as well as its failures.

Moser reminds other credit unions thinking about a similar charter, operations, member, or brand change that although it is okay to take inspiration from other businesses, don’t feel pressured to be everything to everyone or mimic every change that occurs in the technology or retail sphere. Instead, stick to those core values around which your mission statement is built.

Our charter change and rebrand was a three-year process, Moser says. Other opportunities came up along the way, so we needed [that mission statement] to keep us focused.

Think Like Members, Not Like Bankers

Most credit unions develop their website navigation according to their business plan putting mortgages, car loans, and savings accounts together rather than the way people think about their finances, says Suncoast’s Barrow.

To realign these perspectives, the credit union asked members to organize its products and services into new buckets according to how they thought about them.

Bridge undertook a similar process. Relying heavily on a manual matrix of products and services, Moser aligned them into categories based on member need, value to the member, and value to the credit union. The approach not only informed the structure of a new website but also shaped employee-oriented product information sheets the credit union uses for sales activity.

As institutions add more products and features, you risk losing sight of everything each offering has, Moser says. This was a way for us to organize the value proposition of our entire lineup.

You’re Only Different If You Can Prove It

Philanthropy and giving back to the community are essential parts of Suncoast’s brand promise, so the credit union is experimenting with new ways to incorporate those activities into the overall member experience. As part of its new website launched in first quarter 2014, the credit union provides animated infographics that demonstrate the effects of Suncoast’s lower rates versus bank averages and highlights community giveback in dollars on a county-by-county basis.



This information helps bring to life real stories and shared experiences, Barrow says.

Bridge’s RD budget is more limited than those of larger institutions, so it fully embraces the opportunities it has to stand out. For example, it modified its underwriting and marketing for a traditional unsecured personal loan to create a product for financing certified driver’s license (CDL) training. Today, Bridge partners with Roadmaster, one of the largest driving schools in the nation, to offer financing for students at roughly half of the interest rate of other lenders. As of year-end 2013, its unsecured loans were up more than 25% year-over-year, according to Callahan Associates Peer-to-Peer analytics.


There’s a huge shortfall of over the road drivers, and the average attrition rate is 40% within the first two years, Moser says. So by repackaging this product, we’ve been able to tap into into a real need in our marketplace.

To address the low or no credit scores commonly seen among this demographic, Bridge allows drivers who are preplaced with a company to borrow against their future income and also defers the first payment for 90 days.

The credit union hopes this business line not only feeds deeper member relationships but also expands its SEG relationships with other transportation companies. For example, Bridge does not currently finance commercial vehicle or equipment purchases, but it does see potential for this product line in the near future and launched a member business loan program last year.

March 24, 2014

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