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Membership Growth: Understand Your Market
Thursday, November 19, 2015 6:30 AM

Membership Growth

Dean Borland, SCMS, CUDE, VP Product Development, Credit Union Resources

From the Credit Union Resources Blog

Over my past few posts, I have tried to make a case for membership growth as a credit union strategic imperative, especially targeting Millennials, those born between 1981 and 2000 (ages 15 to 34). I cited a March 2014 Pew Research Center study titled “Millennials in Adulthood: Detached from Institutions, Networked with Friends,” and six insights from the study that might be useful to credit unions seeking to attract Millennials.

  1. Millennials are “digital natives,” connected to personal networks of friends, colleagues and affinity groups through social and digital media. Like it or not, to capture the attention of Millennials, credit unions will need to have a strong “social media presence.” HINT: Millennials are very reliant on their technology. Successful credit unions will have specific social media and mobility strategies. Hire a Millennial to run your social media initiative, do not rely on a Baby Boomer to get it done for you. Convenience, not social responsibility, drives Millennials’ technology preferences. Forget green; go for “easy.”
  2. Millennials are buried by student loan debt. Consider whether a student loan restructuring program is possible and help Millennials build a solid foundation through financial education. HINT: Millennials may not attend an evening workshop, even if you bait them with pizza. Consider how financial education can be imbedded into product and service offerings as well as social media.
  3. Millennials are not “marrying-up” like previous generations. They probably will, but they will have to be gainfully employed before it happens. After marriage, Millennials will likely build households just like the generations they follow, but the cycle was delayed by the effects of the Great Recession – their prime borrowing years will be later in life.
  4. Millennials are racially diverse, suggesting there will be a variety of ethnic influences relating to heads of household and household decision-making. Be sensitive to who in the household is responsible for making financial decisions. It generally takes a couple of generations for immigrant families to assimilate culturally.
  5. Millennials are generally mistrustful of people but have a favorable view of business and are optimistic for the future. Trust is a basic imperative for credit union success. ALWAYS demonstrate that you have the member’s best interests in mind. Be open, honest, and transparent.
  6. Most Millennials don’t’ believe they will get full benefits from Social Security. As a result, they may be more conscientious about saving for retirement than their Baby Boomer parents, especially when they realize that their parents spent the inheritance for which they are hoping. Again, provide financial education with an option for wealth management might be in order.

What do these insights have to do with credit unions? Everything! Credit unions need Millennials if they are going to grow and prosper. To attract new members from the Millennial generation, credit unions must create value in products, services, and messaging (marketing) to appeal to Millennials’ preferences while avoiding things they might find distasteful.

Most credit unions do not have the scale to be “everything to everybody.” I often refer to credit unions, particularly small credit unions, as “boutiques.” Retail boutiques cannot compete with the depth and breadth of products department stores offer; but they can thrive on specialty products and services that make them stand out to a specific market segment. I believe small credit unions should consider themselves as financial boutiques, with clearly defined specialties delivered to their own target market. Millennials will likely be targets of successful credit unions in the future.

The challenge is to define your niche, create a value proposition, and deliver on your promise. 

If you need assistance with Strategic Planning, Succession Planning, policy development or board member education, OnBalance is here to help.  To learn more about all of the products and services we offer visit us at or contact Karen Houston-Johnson at, Howard Bufe at or Dean Borland at