Building a Brand from the Inside Out

A branding change that began with senior management has inspired employees and spurred phenomenal growth.

Five years ago, Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union ($1 billion in St. Paul, MN)
made building our brand a priority. After five years of constant focus on building the credit union’s internal brand, we have learned the following:

Creating a brand begins and ends with the senior team
Branding has everything to do with the decisions, statements, and actions of the executive team. Making tough decisions that are strategically aligned sends a clear, strong statement to employees — We walk our walk. In 2004, Affinity Plus executives decided to terminate indirect lending because it was not a strategic fit with building relationships founded on trust. The decisionwas difficult because the program was generating as much as $16 million a month in loans. The employees understood the difficulty of the decision and knew we were serious about our emotional goal once the decision was announced.

Inspire employees to live the brand
Your staff and your brand must match. If you want people who are inspired by building relationships and doing what is right for others, you must recruit and hire people who are passionate aboutpeople. At Affinity Plus, we do not believe money motivates people to build relationships founded on trust. We do, however, recognize teams for performance with bonus dollars. We measure results such as the number of members who have respondedwith future business, higher levels of activity, higher level of trust, and new members referred. In 2005, Affinity Plus recognized branch and department teams with nearly $500,000 for successful performance.

It is possible to be member-first and grow
Putting members first can and does result in financial success and growth for the organization. For example, when developing a new mortgage product we designed it to accommodateour members who had not refinanced because of term, rate, closing costs and process. By placing the member at the front of the design, we developed an innovative product that was wildly successful, generating over $200 million in refinancedmortgages in less than two years.

The way you do business matters to other businesses
Insisting that your partners, vendors, and affiliates provide products and services that put the member above all is a good thing for everyone. Doing so demonstrates yourtruecommitment to the member and causes partners to adjust to you. In the process of converting a major communication channel, we set the standard of service to our members so high that our vendor had to design its standard staffingmodel to accommodate our request. Now, the partner uses our staffing design with prospective clients.

Is it Working?
Affinity Plus attracts on average 600 to 900 new members every month, 80% of them referrals from existing members. In May, we processed a record of more than two million transactions, and we wrote more firstmortgages in both April and May than in either of these months in previous years. Members are using us more, bringing us more and we are growing.

For more articles and thought-provoking insights from industry experts Chip Filson, Bucky Sebastian, and other key players, subscribe to The Callahan Report.

April 13, 2015

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