Canvas Credit Union Says “No B.S.” Here

The Colorado credit union has pushed out an edgy campaign that puts a playful touch on the help it’s offering in serious times.

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Following a name change from Public Service Credit Union, Canvas launched a campaign that promises no bank jargon.
  • The campaign began with a TV ad on Super Bowl Sunday and continues with coronavirus messaging.


Canvas Credit Union
Data as of 03.31.20

HQ: Lone Tree, CO
MEMBERS: 256,200
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 15.0%
ROA: 0.64%

A year into her new job at Canvas Credit Union ($2.8B, Lone Tree, CO), Tansley Stearns was sitting in a meeting when a light bulb went off: No more B.S.!

In this case, B.S. stands for bank slang, and it’s one of three pillars of the credit union’s B.S. Free campaign. With a Super Bowl Sunday TV spot in the Denver, CO, market, Canvas kicked off the campaign that promisesno jargon, no hidden fees, and no offering members things they don’t need.

In its ad campaign, the credit union defines B.S. as generally confusing financial terms that should be avoided and calls out a commonly used phrase for property mortgage insurance PMI is typically required if LTV is above 80% as being rife with it. That kind of talk, the ad promises, is delightfully absent at Canvas Credit Union.

The B.S. Free campaign was a culmination of the marketing and other outreach that followed the 80-year-old institution’s re-brand from Public Service Credit Union to Canvas Credit Union.

Back in my day, people liked B.S. In the No B.S. commercial that Canvas Credit Union ran during the Super Bowl, a mother is concerned about the B.S. her father is teaching her son. Watch it here on YouTube.

Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 2 seems a long time ago, and in a drastically changed world where not understanding terms, fees, and options can hurt more than ever, Canvas continues to focus on transparency.

Tansley Stearns, Chief People & Strategy Officer, Canvas Credit Union

That’s a huge part of our B.S.-free efforts, says Stearns, the cooperative’s chief people and strategy officer.

To show the credit union means business when it comes to cutting the B.S., Stearns points to the Canvas home page which is now basically a landing page for coronavirus-related resources and a letter to the editor Canvas president and CEO Todd Marksberry wrote in mid-April about the importanceof the Payroll Protection Program to hard-hit small businesses.

The B.S. Free campaign draws on surveys and other research findings that Stearns’ former employer, the Filene Research Institute, helped the credit union identify as part of a custom engagement. That research found consumer preference for a financialinstitution that uses clear, simple language when discussing finances.

Coming out of the Great Recession, there was strong consumer sentiment about transparency, Stearns says. It’s really important to your brand and organization. Now, with COVID-19, communicating and sharing is more important thanever.

An ad in a Colorado State University magazine sends readers to the credit union’s B.S. Free landing page and gives an example of the kind of language the campaign targets. To view a larger version, click here.

Canvas’ B.S. Free sticky note highlights an example of the targeted jargon. To view a larger version, click here.

A digital marketing banner captures a key element of Canvas’ branding effort.

One banner uses all three of the major visual elements of the No B.S. branding effort. To view a larger version, click here.

Playful But Serious, And Compliant

Jargon: Meet Canvas

According to Canvas Credit Union’s new anti-jargon campaign, B.S. is Bank Slang, which is what you hear when you’re trying to afford life, but your bank makes it sound really confusing through tricky words or jargon-filled phrases.Tansley Stearns, the credit union’s chief people and strategy officer, gives three examples of the Canvasization of banking jargon at her Colorado credit union.


  • Traditional Definition: The action or process of gradually writing off the initial cost of an asset.
  • Canvas Style: Makin’ regular payments to pay off your auto loan.


  • Traditional Definition: Computers working together in a network that coordinates electronic payments and automated money transfers to permit efficient matching and processing among all applicable financial institutions.
  • Canvas Style: Money transferrin’ electronically in and out of your accounts. Example: your direct deposit or bill payments!


  • Traditional Definition: A person who acts on the financial behalf of another person, especially with regard to the relationship between a trustee and a beneficiary.
  • Canvas Style: The Canvas Family doing the right thing for every member every time.

The Super Bowl Sunday TV spot ran locally twice during the game and then three times in the news program following. It garnered 1.1 million impressions, Stearns says, and generated 9,560 total visits and 17,943 website page views.

An internal marketing agency has led much of the work including video production with a cast that features family members, such as Stearns’ dad and the campaign continues to inform internal and external communications. It also hasincreased trust among the community, according to member feedback, and encouraged internal engagement through such things as a jargon equivalent to the swear jar.

We’re playful about it but serious about what we’re doing, Stearns says.

As far as who defines what’s actually jargon, the credit union exemplifies an old expression made popular by the Supreme Court in a 1960s decision about something else entirely.

We know it when we see it, the chief people and strategy officer says. You use an acronym or some term while you’re talking to a non-credit union friend and they look at you funny? That’s a good sign.

And according to Stearns, shunning jargon for more straightforward phrasing actually underscores how knowledgeable the credit union is.

A great sign that someone is truly an expert is when they can explain complex things in simple, easy-to-understand terms to someone who doesn’t live and breathe this stuff all the time, Stearns says. Being able to do that requiresthem to be stronger in their craft.

Of course, there are compliance rules the credit union must follow, and Stearns says the credit union’s legal team has been helping to make sure Canvas meets legal requirements while simplifying language as much as possible.

Keep Moving The Needle

Key to the campaign’s success, Stearns says, is the neighborly touch Canvas brings to financial services.

You have to be grounded with your members, she says. Listen to them so you can understand their needs and respond in fun and easy-to-understand terms.

Working comfortably in multiple media also is critical, Stearns adds, especially in video. Canvas has two in-house videographers on its team. Plus, the credit union eschews stock photos in favor of real people.

We’re playful about it but serious about what we’re doing.

Tansley Stearns, Chief People and Strategy Officer, Canvas Credit Union

Stearns says the credit union is continuing to work with Filene to see if it’s moving the needle on its goal of making Canvas a household name in the Mile High City. And, she says, although the formal B.S. Free campaign will eventually end, theideas behind it will last.

It’s now in our DNA, the longtime credit union executive says.

She also says member feedback to the edgy campaign has generally been positive, but that there has been some pushback it’s just generally not about the language.

We still get people who tell us, for example, they don’t like the color orange, Stearns says. But we really love orange and we love our brand!


May 11, 2020

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