The Cards CUs Should Be Sending Every Holiday (And All Year)

By Frank J. Diekmann

Diekmann Frank

I have an idea to pitch this holiday season and I’m looking for some (cooperative) elves who just might be willing to unwrap it and get it under CU Christmas trees a year or two from now.

Perhaps I’m wrong—and thanks to all in the CU community who have always been all too happy to let me know when I am–but I’ll bet you’re feeling something, too, again this holiday–and if you can, then you also understand there is more than just an untapped market opportunity for CUs, it’s a chance to do good at the same time.

Here’s how.

It’s very likely if you’re doing any holiday shopping for kids this year, you’ve bought a gift card(s).  As reported recently, for the 12th year in a row gift cards are the most desired gift for Christmas, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation.  And let’s face it: they’re pretty popular among givers, too—especially for those who start their shopping on the 24th. Gift cards make the shopping easy. No trying to find the right gift for the kid for whom no gift is ever right. Not trying to figure out which gift is least likely to be returned. No once a year trip to the mall (hey, where did all the stores go?). No clicking through holiday gift websites. Just grab some gift cards, slap the recipients’ names on the envelopes provided, and you’ve got the holidays covered. Now, back to the holiday punch. 

An Empty Feeling

It’s easy, sure, but it also leaves an empty feeling, doesn’t it? Giving a gift at the holidays is supposed to deliver cheer and good tidings, to enrich the spirits of both the giver and the recipient. But with gift cards it rarely feels that way—even more so when you can’t be there at Christmas and the cards are mailed to grandkids or nieces and nephews. 

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It feels hollow and transactional and ultimately disappointing, like leaving a Christmas Village only to see Santa in the parking lot cramming himself into his less-than-jolly old Kia with a cigarette in one hand and a six-pack stuffed into his cap in the other. 

In other words, the once-a-year experience should be better and more fulfilling—credit unions can make that happen. 

Gift cards aren’t going away, and may even morph into the even more impersonal e-transactions in which the gifts are just sent from one mobile wallet to another. But credit unions could bring some of the yuletide warmth of Christmas Past to the Christmas Present and Christmas Future by selling gift cards with a do-good twist—tapping their own expertise in financial education.

Unwrapping a ‘What If?...’

What if credit unions sold gift cards during the holidays aimed at kids 12 and under on which the stored value couldn’t be tapped until the recipient completes an online fin ed tutorial? Once the young recipient completes a 10 or 12 question education session on finance, and then perhaps watches a short but entertaining video on the importance of handling money in the right way, the card is then unlocked—or unwrapped—and can be used.

How often have we all heard it or thought it? Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, even older acquaintances, all feel “kids these days” don’t know how to handle money, don’t understand why it’s important to save for a rainy day, don’t deserve even a lump of coal when it comes to finance (we’ll set aside for a moment the fact many of those same people could use the same tutorials themselves).

Red Rider BB Gun of Ideas

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This has all the potential to become the Red Rider BB gun, feel-good, eggnog of the season for credit unions, their members and even non-members, gift givers and recipients (and no one has to get their eye shot out, so a real win-win-win). 

Think of the brand value this would bring to credit unions in reinforcing the whole concept of acting in the best interest of consumers? Think of the positive feelings it would engender in parents and grandparents and others that yes, I bought the gift card they wanted, but I also gave them something extra, lessons that might last a lifetime. Think of the positive press and social media coverage, the opportunity to go viral for something good for a change?

And the incredible value to and opportunity for credit unions doesn’t stop there. At the time the card(s) are being bought in-branch or online (fulfillment could be automated), the name and email address of the buyer can be captured so they can be sent an email notifying them when the tutorial has been taken/viewed—thanking them for enriching the child’s education and subtly reminding them of how a credit union can play such a role during a lifetime (hint, hint to non-members). 

And if the child doesn’t take the tutorial within a certain period, another email can be sent to the buyer so that they, in turn, can offer a gentle reminder to the recipient to do so. (Thanks for making sure my gift didn’t go wasted, credit union!)

Not Just for Christmas

And there’s no reason to limit these special CU financial ed gift cards to just the Christmas season. They can be offered year-round for birthdays and other celebrations in a child’s life, which means a 365-day opportunity to capture email addresses and good tidings, engage with members, and bring non-members into the fold. 

Finally, imagine how good front-line employees would feel selling the cards, giving them positive reinforcement about the jobs they do every day and what credit unions are all about.

To cover costs, the cards could be sold at a slight premium over face value, as they already are. And perhaps any value left untapped on the cards after say, five years, could flow back to the National Credit Union Foundation for its financial education efforts. 

Credit unions already have most of the infrastructure in place to do all this, the financial education pieces (the challenge will be in narrowing it down), skills in creating educational and entertaining videos, the payments pieces, and more. 

Who Will Fly With Rudolph?

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In a credit union community in which we have CO-OP Financial Services, PSCU and Trellance in the payments and cards space; where we have numerous financial education providers such as the NCUF or the RMJ Foundation; where we see creative and imaginative CUSOs pitching proposals at NACUSO’s Next Big Idea competition, and where we have so many bright minds, such as Filene’s i3 initiative and the NCUF’s Development Educators, surely the credit union community can come together and create more than just holiday cheer for everyone. 

So, who will take the Rudolph by the nose and run with it?

Frank J. Diekmann is Cooperator in Chief of and can be reached at

Section: Standard
Word Count: 1592
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Copyright Year: 2019
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