I was recently reading an article from Vice, and it struck me that the term ‘credit union’ is really a shared brand. This is arguably the industry's biggest problem because, despite the fact that everyone can join a credit union, 40% of consumers don't believe that they can join a single credit union. They believe it because it is too hard (but not quite impossible) to join a credit union.
In most states, it is way too difficult for consumers to find a credit union they are eligible to join. I think this passage from the Vice article captures it best:
“I was pretty much sold [on joining a credit union] at this point and headed to an online search tool that helps people find credit unions in their community. The list I got back was disappointing: Everything in my area was named something like Epiphany FCU, or else was clearly meant for the Polish population of the neighborhood to the north of mine. I had to ask: Would any of these places even take me as a member?”
The problems is not only credit union novices that have this problem, even long time industry professionals face the same problem. Credit union executives generally believe this problem doesn’t impact them because they think their credit union is easy to join. That is only because they are unable to put themselves in the shoes of a consumer who isn't as familiar with credit unions.
The consumers that do try to join a credit union almost always fail. Only about 1 in 10 people are successful in trying to join a credit union online. The shared credit union brand is partly to blame, which leads consumers to approach joining a credit union with a degree of apprehension that results in a higher likelihood to abandon the application process. Even if you believe it is easy to join your credit union, consumers will associate an experience they had with another credit union with all credit unions because of the shared credit union brand.
More than 70% of consumers abandon online membership applications, because they are either ineligible or the concept of eligibility creates confusion, which they associate will all credit unions. Finally, of the 16% of consumers who complete credit unions’ online applications, 30% are denied membership due credit unions’ aversion to perceived risk.
Consumers will continue to believe they can’t join any credit union as long as they continuously fail in their efforts to join a credit union. Credit unions must collaboratively solve this problem. Increasing consumer awareness and ultimately openness to joining a credit union isn't an issue of messaging. The issue is actually making it easier to find, join and borrow from credit unions! Legislators and regulators may tinker around the edges, but fields of membership aren't going away any time soon.
CUCollaborate developed a solution, JoinCU, that addresses the problems fields of membership create for online consumers, making it easier for them to find, join and borrow from your credit union. The majority—88%—of consumers research products and services online before they buy; without better online membership options, credit unions won’t even be in the running.