Give The People A Platform

Sometimes all members need to generate referrals is the opportunity to interact with others.
Drew Grossman

Aside from annual meetings or the occasional run-in at the branch, how often do your members interact with one another? How often do they interact as a group with members of the general public? If you are like many credit unions, the answer is probably not very often.

Individual members might already be promoting your credit union on their own, but if your institution wants to make a bigger splash, look for new and different ways to put your members in touch with non-member groups. Public events, volunteer efforts, and activities sponsored by the credit union all provide opportunities to encourage referral interactions.

Here are some key examples of how credit unions have created scenarios in which members have the chance to talk positively about their financial institution, even if referrals aren’t the driving force behind the tactic.


  • Members 1st FCU
  • HQ: Mechanicsburg, PA
  • Assets: $2.4B
  • Members: 242,091
  • 12-MO Member Growth: 10.80%
  • 12-MO Share Growth: 7.85%
  • 12-MO Loan Growth: 8.60%
  • ROA: 0.96%

Put Your SEGS To Work For You

Conducting on-site presentations for employees at its more than 5,000 SEG facilities has been a winning strategy for Members 1st Federal Credit Union ($2.4B, Mechanicsburg, PA). As of second quarter 2013, its annual membership growth was 10.8%, according to Callahan Associates’ Peer-to-Peer analytics. That is more than double the average 12-month member growth of 4.40% experienced by its asset-based peer group. In a 2013 satisfaction survey, 41% of its members reported joining the credit union because of their employer, with another 36% joining because of a referral from family or friends.

We see statistically that the SEG process is working, says George Nahodil, chief marketing officer for Members 1st. Even if you’re a community charter, you should be doing the SEG process. If you’re not, you’re missing the opportunity to connect with people.

Members 1st has a dedicated team of four account executives who give presentations at SEGs based on the financial need of employees. The credit union’s 55 branch managers also present on topics within their field of expertise. The sessions typically coincide with other company-wide events that assemble all employees. During the presentation, Members 1st distributes credit union literature, explains the benefits of joining, and signs up new members; it even provides lunch on occasion. In addition to putting Members 1st face to face with potential members, the gatherings provide an opportunity for current members to talk to coworkers about their relationship with the credit union. For an event with 200 employees in attendance, Nahodil says the institution expects to bring in about 20 new members.

But formal events like SEG presentations aren’t the only way the credit union encourages new members to join. Members 1st also offers a $5 reward to members for referrals as well as $5 for the new member. And during its Cash For You promotions, it increases those payouts to $25.

We might say, this is only good for today or for this week, so you’ve got to act quickly,’ Nahodil says. We’ll also run referral specials whenever we go into the SEGs.


  • evolve FCU
  • HQ: El Paso, TX
  • Assets: $305.5M
  • Members: 40,850
  • 12-MO Member Growth: -9.79%
  • 12-MO Share Growth: -4.66%
  • 12-MO Loan Growth: 6.24%
  • ROA: 0.52%

An Open House, Free Entertainment, And Healthy Food

If a credit union can’t go out and speak with non-members, then it can bring them in. evolve Federal Credit Union ($305.5M, El Paso, TX) and Teachers Federal Credit Union ($4.9B, Smithtown, NY) have each created community events that draw members and non-members alike. And if a little doting on the brand happens to occur while these groups interact, so be it.

El Paso, TX, is home to a thriving arts culture that is heavily influenced by the area’s university and community college. Although not after referrals specifically, leadership at evolve wanted to increase its reach within the 18-to-35-year-old demographic, so the credit union began hosting art events and film shows at its branches. evolve admittedly is not growing as fast as it once was it posted negative 12-month member growth for second quarter but it has a deeper member penetration and a stronger average member relationship than similarly sized credit unions. According to Callahan’s Peer-to-Peer, analytics, evolve served 6.90% of its potential members at midyear compared to 4.15% for credit unions with $250-500 million in asset, and its average member relationship is nearly double its asset-based peer group’s average, $11,538 versus $5,890.


  • Teachers FCU
  • HQ: Smithtown, NY
  • Assets: $4.9B
  • Members: 231,499
  • 12-MO Member Growth: 2.89%
  • 12-MO Share Growth: 7.08%
  • 12-MO Loan Growth: 0.38%
  • ROA: 0.86%

Instead of a one-time event, Teachers hosted a weekly farmers market in the parking lot of its Hauppauge, NY, branch. At the market, which was open every Thursday this past summer, more than a dozen vendors offered fresh produce, baked goods, jams, jellies, and other assorted products. TFCU’s main goal with this promotion was to bring healthy food to its community, especially to nearby food deserts such as Brentwood, NY. However, the markets also provided a venue for members to interact with one another and the community at large. Teachers’ 12-month member growth for second quarter lagged behind its asset-based peer group average, 2.89% versus 4.40%. However, according to Callahan’s Peer-to-Peer analytics, Teachers’ average member relationship was more than triple its asset-based peer group’s average, at $27,301 versus $7,958.


  • State Employees’ Credit Union
  • HQ: Raleigh, NC
  • Assets: $26.7B
  • Members: 1,837,150
  • 12-MO Member Growth: 3.69%
  • 12-MO Share Growth: 6.49%
  • 12-MO Loan Growth: 3.73%
  • ROA: 0.42%

Proactive With The Press

State Employees’ Credit Union ($26.7B; Raleigh, NC) uses what it calls WOMP, word-of-mouth potential, to create buzz in the community. Through press releases, reporter outreach, public relations, and a healthy dose of member involvement, SECU makes sure its public image accurately reflects the institution’s values.

When SECU wants to quickly distribute news or a positive credit union story, it sends press releases to media contacts as well as to all its branch advisory boards. In turn, branch advisory board members and SECU’s more than 3,000 member liaison volunteers disseminate the information, helping SECU reach deeper into the community than what newspapers and other formal channels provide. This organic public relations strategy opens the door for members to talk up the credit union to the community and non-members.

Judging from midyear performance data, members are not only joining the credit union but also fully using its products and services. Its 3.69% 12-month member growth was slightly lower than the 4.40% posted by credit unions with more than $1 billion in assets, according to Callahan Associates’ Peer-to-Peer analytics. However, the largest credit union in North Carolina far exceeds its asset-based peer group in terms of average member relationship, $21,006 versus $7,958.

Referrals are one of the most powerful ways to bring in new members and drive further engagement. But if a formal program isn’t your credit union’s style, look to the needs of your community and tap existing resources to create a stage for productive conversations. Your members likely have a lot of good things to say about you. All they need is the opportunity.

3 Ways To Secure Referrals At Public Events

  1. Return: Give back to your SEGs and listen to their needs. If on-site events are all about your goals rather than the company’s employees, their support will eventually wane.
  2. Reward: Make a compelling offer. If cash incentives aren’t your style, consider rate discounts, drawings, or other options to make switching financial institutions worth the hassle.
  3. Customize: Tailor events to fit both existing membership and the community. Are you situated in an outdoor Mecca or a culinary capital? Find our what matters most to people in your community and then join these activities.
October 2, 2013

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