By Frank J. Diekmann
If you’ve been keeping your eyes open, CUNA’s Open Your Eyes initiative recently had a little eye-opening announcement of its own.
The credit union trade group’s major new awareness initiative hired as its new leader—a banking trade group executive. And not just any trade group, the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), a long-time nemesis of credit unions that has worked to raise credit union awareness in a different way, such as arguing in favor of killing the tax exemption.
CUNA has named Chris Lorence as its new chief credit union awareness officer, with primary responsibility for leading the "Open Your Eyes to a Credit Union" campaign, the $100-million, three-year initiative designed to raise consumer consideration of credit unions as a financial option. So far, CUNA says it is more than a third of the way toward its fundraising goal.
Lorence, who spent 20 years with the ICBA, most recently as executive vice president of engagement and strategy/chief marketing officer, has an eye-opening statement of his own: he referred to his new job as a “fantasy” come true.
“The impetus behind this for me was the press release from CUNA that this was to be a $100 million campaign,” Lorence said, adding that while still at ICBA, “I thought, ‘They get it. They did the research. They know exactly what the message is to be. They have a clear objective.’ Purely from a marketing standpoint, it’s brilliant move.”
For Lorence, it’s more than just a fantasy, it’s also a return home, as prior to joining the ICBA he held positions with Spectrum Credit Union in San Francisco and FCIC Employees FCU in Washington. His decision to join ICBA was less about ideology than technology. While at FDIC EFCU he helped install the Internet banking solution, saying he “really became fascinated by it.” When an opportunity to be involved in leading a similar technology initiative at ICBA Bancard arose, Lorence said he jumped on it. He would spend 20 years with the group.
“Now, it feels like coming home to credit unions,” said Lorence. “It’s been a fantastic relationship. It’s a kinder and gentler way to do financial services.”
Too often, individual credit unions, the credit union community itself and especially CU boards, suffer––as many organizations do––from a myopic, inside-out view. That’s why there is always great value and insight to be had when someone can offer an outside-in viewpoint.
“I see in credit unions the opportunity for market expansion,” said Lorence, with whom I spoke during CUNA’s America’s Credit Union Conference in Orlando when he was just nine days into the job. “Credit unions have just 7-10% of the market and there is such an opportunity to grow. Credit unions have a great reputation; there is no need to overcome a bad reputation. The consumer is really looking for what credit unions represent.”
As CUToday.info has reported extensively, the Open Your Eyes to a Credit Union awareness initiative began when Jim Nussle joined CUNA as CEO and soon discovered that when he talked about this new job, many people thought he was leading a trade group for secret membership clubs. That led to several years of research, focus groups and message testing examining why more people don’t join credit unions. What was learned was that while more than nine-in-10 people had heard of credit unions, most also had some serious misconceptions—hence, the Open Your Eyes theme and messaging aimed at aimed at addressing two of the biggest misunderstandings.
Lorence said he spent his first weeks on the job in a “cramfest” of reading through all the extensive research behind the campaign.
“It’s all about dispelling two myths,” he reminded, “that people can’t join a credit union and it’s not easy to access your money.”
CUNA was already well into the fundraising piece and had even begun rolling out the primarily digital campaign in conjunction with a half-dozen state leagues at the time Lorence was named to lead the effort. So, what is his role?
“Success is a part of our strategic plan,” he answered. “My responsibility to make this nationwide with as many credit unions and leagues as possible involved.”
Lorence emphasized a point CUNA and its initial steering committee have made from the days the concept began opening its eyes—the campaign is not meant to replace an individual credit union’s own marketing.
But there is one area where CUNA would like support from credit unions, beyond just backing the Open Your Eyes to a Credit Union awareness effort.
“We want them to look to their existing members to share positive experiences and testimonials,” he said.
Onboarding Up to CUs
I asked Lorence about an issue I’ve raised in this space before, which is whether a CU community that has more than one-third of the U.S. population on its membership rolls might be better off investing in training and education around member onboarding—especially at small and midsize CUs.
“The onboarding of members is up to the credit union,” he said. “Credit unions know the value of their own members. I think there is a lot of opportunity in bringing awareness to members.”
I also asked Lorence about another quite-familiar issue inside credit unions, which is how CUs can be pretty reluctant to open their wallets, whether it’s to Open Your Eyes or to any other cooperative effort (ironic, given CUs’ cooperative structure, but fitting given the democratic piece).
“I’ve not heard pushback,” he said. “What I have heard is ‘I’m not clear on how this helps me.’ So, talking with our members is important. It’s also important to understand it’s not about doing what the credit union is already doing. Open Your Eyes is about the amplified effect and connecting to the national effort.”
‘A Big Do-er’
How will CUNA and credit unions know whether the Open Your Eyes awareness initiative is actually creating a vision and doing what it’s supposed to do? Lorence said social media metrics will be key. Those metrics will allow measurements around not just how many people are exposed to it, but also whether it’s the intended audience. If not, Lorence said CUNA will be able to adjust the channels.
“We know not just whether we are reaching consumers in the (participating) states, but how we are reaching them,” he said. “We have had eight million views of the YouTube video to completion. This will only gain more traction as it goes on. I’m not a big hoper. I’m a big do-er. By 2020, this is to be nationwide and gaining traction. This is an opportunity to shine nationally and make it happen.”
Lorence said CUNA will be making announcements in July and September regarding additional state leagues that have signed on. State associations in North Dakota, South Dakota and Indiana are the most recent to come onboard, joining Minnesota, North Carolina, South Carolina and Michigan.
“We’re not trying to change the world,” said Lorence. “We’re trying to change two myths. From the outside in, it looks fantastic.”
Frank J. Diekmann is Cooperator in Chief at CUToday.info and can be reached at Frank@CUToday.infoor @FrankCUToday.info.