Four Key Success Factors Drive Membership Growth

Overall credit union membership grew at the slow pace of 1.7% over the past 12 months ending Sept. 30. So how are some credit unions achieving double-digit growth rates?

Two very different credit unions illustrate some common themes we’ve found in our research on credit unions that are successful at growing their membership bases. The first is BCU, formerly Baxter Credit Union, headquartered in Vernon Hills, Illinois. The other is HawaiiUSA. Both these credit unions have not chosen community charters, but are succeeding in developing employee-based membership by presenting a clear message, showing excitement for the credit-union goals, building networks, and overdelivering to their members.

Have a Sharp Focus

Know what your credit union does best and do not try to be everything to everyone. Both BCU and HawaiiUSA have demonstrated that they can grow their membership base much faster than the average credit union by focusing on a specific strength.

At one extreme is BCU, which focuses on serving employees of very large companies, specifically Fortune 100s. BCU recently added two new sponsor companies, Cardinal Healthcare and Boston Scientific, and are “throwing the net” to all corners of these organizations.

HawaiiUSA, on the other hand, has over 2,220 SEGs—many of them sole proprietorships. Due to the high cost of living in Hawaii, many residents operate businesses out of their homes, in addition to their “day jobs.” The need to keep these business accounts separate from their personal ones has proven to be a growth opportunity for HawaiiUSA.

Be Excited about Your Goals

Whether it’s your executive team, the business development staff, or your front-line tellers, passion for the credit union ideal and excitement behind your specific strategy are necessary components of a member growth strategy.

At BCU, it starts with their strategic planning efforts. The planning team identified partnerships and alliances as a key strength and one place where they should direct their efforts at being not only good, but also the best. This message is filtered down throughout the organization and drives their focus on employee-based membership for large companies.

At HawaiiUSA, the entire credit union is the marketing department, according to Scott Kaulukukui, senior vice president of communications. He gives credit for driving a lot of the growth to the service culture of the front-line staff and to the business development officers, “who are ready to go whenever they are needed, whether it’s at six in the morning or seven at night.”

Network Network Network

Networking is a key component of any SEG-based credit union’s membership growth strategy, whether it is with executives from sponsor companies or through local networking organizations.

Officers at BCU cultivate relationships with current and former Baxter employees. As these contacts continue their careers at other companies, they have proven to be successful at opening doors and ultimately to signing companies up as new SEGs for BCU. HawaiiUSA’s focus on smaller SEGs drives them to participate in local networking organizations, like the chamber of commerce or a local SHRM chapter.

This key success factor ties in strongly with the previous one. The only way to effectively network is to convey the passion and excitement about credit union membership to your potential partners.

Overdeliver the Goods

Overdeliver is a common theme among credit unions successful at growing their membership. It starts with the first visit to the potential sponsor company and continues throughout the relationship.

With the addition of their two new SEGs this year, BCU is facing a potential new membership base of over 110,000 employees. In order to deliver what they promised to these new sponsor companies, BCU developed a list of what it would not do this year—including signing up other new SEGs—in order to deliver on their promise of being the best financial service provider to Cardinal Healthcare and Boston Scientific.

Scott Kaulukukui is a firm believer in this value as well. HawaiiUSA makes sure its infrastructure is set up to support its new members. Maintaining front office morale and a focus on a “sales and service” culture have been successful components of not only serving their new members, but also of converting these members into ambassadors for the credit union.

Alix Patterson is vice president of marketing and communications for Callahan & Associates, Inc. This article first appeared on and is reprinted with permission.

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