Fishing For Gen Y

Bring a millennial into a credit union environment and the institution will survive for a day. But bring a credit union into a millennial environment and it will thrive for a lifetime.

To remain viable, credit unions must attract young adults as both members and employees. Listerhill Credit Union ($674.5M, Sheffield, AL) is succeeding on this front. In fact, more than 50% of Listerhill’s new members in third quarter 2015 were millennials, according to vice president of marketing Kristen Mashburn.

That’s a number we’ve tracked for some time and one we’ve seen rise tremendously in the past few years, she says.

To better appeal to this generation, the credit union has beefed up its presence in its two main communities The Shoals area of northwestern Alabama and Maury County, TN. It has leaned on young employees to co-create a culture, and, in some cases, turned over the keys to its biggest outreach efforts to millennials themselves.

In this QA with Mashburn and Ann Davis, Listerhill’s vice president of human resources, the two discuss the steps and strategies that have attracted members in this key demographic.

What marketing channels have yielded the most success in reaching young adults?

Kristen Mashburn: Because we want to be where these members are, we often take a guerilla approach. We do broadcast advertising, television, radio, all those sorts of things, but they just help to round out those in-person efforts.

We focus on ways we can cut through the clutter, including campaigns that encourage word-of-mouth advertising. For example, we set up a flash mob on the campus of the University of North Alabama to make people aware that we were opening a branch. We have a connection to fraternities and sororities there that do Step Sing a step dance competition for charity every year and they were happy to be part of it. In return, we gave money to their charities. The students choreographed the entire thing themselves and we gave them a free T-shirt to wear. We set it up pseudo secretly so no one else on campus knew what was going on and afterward passed out flyers to explain who did it and why.

How do you publicize the credit union’s brand as well as its core mission?

KM: We run ads and other things that talk about how, by doing business with us, they’re investing in part of the community that’s specifically geared toward young people.

For example, UNA’s Student Government Association asked if we could do something to help students think critically about the financial decisions they’re making and where their money is going. So we put together a budgeting fair where students made certain choices in the beginning of the event, and then we gave them incomes and expenses that simulated their future financial life in those scenarios.

Does that preference for in-person outreach extend to the general community as well? Can you reach young people and other groups at the same time?

KM: We try to be involved in our community and find ways to donate to events and causes that make sense for us. We tend to be involved with events that are grass roots and interesting, like art festivals and music festivals, because that’s us and that’s also where a lot of younger people and families tend to be, too.

This past year there were some people who had an idea to put together a music festival called the Muletown Musicfest, Muletown being the nickname of the city. We thought it was cool because we’re really tied to music here in Muscle Shoals. They’re in Columbia, TN, which is near Nashville, so they have that connection, too. That partnership brought in around 100 different bands and drew people in to local businesses.

We are also a big sponsor of First Fridays. It’s an event held in downtown Florence, AL, that brings art to the streets. It draws thousands of people downtown.

How does your monthly magazine target millennials?

KM: For the past four years, we’ve produced a publication called Set Magazine that’s written by young people in our community for young people in our community. One of the reasons we started supporting it was because we simply didn’t have enough traditional ways to advertise to young people that actually appealed to them.

It’s definitely got that independent newspaper style. The articles are all hyper-local and focus on our community and events happening in town. For example, if it’s exam time, we’ll do a write up of the best places to cram before an exam and include a list of all the best coffee shops. It gives young people an opportunity to write about things they care about as well as build their portfolios.

How do you handle production?

KM: We employ an editor to put it all together, and we produce both a print and online version. We use a digital publishing platform called ISSUU for online because of the magazine’s illustrated and graphical components. We also print 8,000 copies and distribute them all over to the area. And we’re the sole advertiser.

Why is a print version important to this strategy?

KM: When I talk to people in the industry the first thing they ask is, Why would you put together a print publication for young people?’ Well, that reaction is exactly why. We’re putting together a print publication for young people because it’s weird. It’s different. It’s interesting to walk in somewhere and see this publication sitting there. That’s exactly the kind of thing that appeals to them.

Why didn’t we build an app? Why didn’t we build a website? If we’re competing with a mobile app, I’ll go ahead and tell you there will be a bunch of cooler mobile apps than Listerhill Credit Union can put together. But if we’re competing against local magazines for young people, we’re the best one. And the cost to print 8,000 copies is roughly the cost of one newspaper ad.

Beyond building awareness of the credit union’s products, services, and mission, how are you getting the next generation interested in a career with Listerhill?

Ann Davis: There are probably three of us on the senior team that will look at retirement within the next three to four years. We’re starting to wrestle with the issue of succession planning, and our millennial strategy will be a big a part of that process.

For example, we get some of our best talent out of our UNA branch. We’ve had quite a few come through and move up the ranks. There’s an employee in our training department as well as one of our branch managers who came to us through that program.

The problem is, there’s not enough vacancy for huge upward mobility. Let’s say I have five employees out there and they all turn out to be spectacular, I don’t have five openings to move those people into.

When you do move employees over, how do you make sure you are choosing the right young people?

AD: We’ve begun testing employees before they start in a role, which gives us a good baseline to see whether they’re a good fit for the credit union. This includes the Wonderlic, which is a cognitive ability test, as well as more practical, role-specific assessments, such as cash handling tests for tellers.

Last year, we also implemented a customer service test. Now that everyone here has had the test, I can run a profile of any department to see exactly how to best match personalities and strengths.

Have you changed any internal policies to attract or better satisfy younger employees?

AD: We made some changes to our dress code, but I don’t think that was millennial driven. An employee who worked at a drive-thru branch asked me, Why won’t you let us wear jeans? I had to admit I didn’t know. From the outside, you couldn’t tell what they had on. So now, they can wear jeans.

The only day of the week that I’m incredibly popular is Thursday. That’s payday and the day I send an email that says what the dress code is for Friday and Saturday. Usually it’s going to be jeans, tennis shoes, and the shirt of your choice, as long as it’s still appropriate for the workplace. There’s a great deal of interest in football here, so we make sure people can wear their Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, or in my case Memphis shirts.

In the summertime we also let people wear flip-flops. We don’t allow shorts yet, but I wouldn’t be opposed if there was a groundswell of support. Overall, these small changes have helped employee morale and we’ve had no issues.

January 20, 2016

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