Media Media tab illustration Targeting Targeting tab illustration Creative Creative tab illustration Optimization Optimization tab illustration Raoust+Partners Logo Raoust+Partners stacked logo RP Color Raoust+Partners color insignia no words RP Black Raoust+Partners black insignia no words RP White Raoust+Partners white insignia no words vector illustration of four people facing a road man with smartphone and comment bubbles girl with tablet and social media bubbles three people holding signs woman holding flashlight on a question icon

How the credit union community is navigating these unprecedented times.

This page is a communal effort to share our 25+ years of crisis communications knowledge. It draws on the mutual knowledge and experience of credit unions throughout the country on how to best respond to the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial situation it's creating. We invite you to grow this free resource with us by submitting your questions and sharing your experiences through our submission form.

People helping people—it's at the heart of what we all believe. Let's put it into practice with each other.

Time to reach out

Same roots. New foliage.

Heritage Grove FCU's new website gives users a modern experience.

Heritage Grove FCU is a name evoking the quiet serenity of an old-growth forest, but the roots of this Salem, Oregon financial institution run even deeper. The former Oregon Employees Federal Credit Union established a strong, thriving brand with Raoust+Partner’s help back in 2013, inclusive of a new website that was named one of the 100 most beautiful financial websites by The Financial Brand. But, as we all know, even beautiful websites have a life cycle, and Heritage Grove’s leadership team decided 2020 would mark the first major website redesign since. They once again asked Raoust+Partners to undertake the project.

The strength of this brand is evident even when looking at the old website—its identity and purpose leveraging the great outdoors while promising the comforts of communal togetherness. The old website was mission-driven to draw members and prospects inward, advocating members to ‘Stand Tall’ in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath.

The 2020 redesign objectives were, in some ways, starker and at times utilitarian with user experience in terms of navigation and usability Mission #1. The real challenge, then, was to find joy in the openness and clean lines, while paying homage to the organic design elements that defined the initial brand redesign. The choice was made to maintain a clean color palette, based on the brand style guide, with a few updates for added dimension. Raoust also defined a responsive grid approach that simplifies the UX, yet possesses the engaging character of the original site. Finally, the site’s content structure was deconstructed and then rebuilt—based on seven years of analytics data—to better meet members’ and prospects’ needs.

Thus was born a clean, contemporary new website design that combines a framework ideally suited for any device or browser size. By heavily focusing on a mobile-friendly experience, it is clear that for Heritage Grove members and prospects, the future is and will be a mobile-first one.

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, this design approach has taken on even greater significance. As Heritage Grove has been quick to realize, embracing the new normal and bringing as many resources to bear as possible on transitioning to a primarily online banking experience is the key to both existing member retention and the growth and expansion of member base and platform options.

Raoust also made sure that Heritage Grove was not simply a passive bystander in the redesign process. By working collaboratively with them to solve development and content evolution challenges, Raoust was able to build an exciting new front-facing website while providing a fully extensible backend CMS able to accommodate the rigorous customization needs of the credit union. As always, a fully out-of-the-box ADA-compliant site means that Heritage Grove is even better equipped for the needs of its members and the challenges of the years to come.

Raoust is excited to have once again been part of defining and refining this vibrant institution’s ongoing and thriving brand through a holistic web redesign, and we’re looking forward to seeing how they’re able to tackle 2021 and beyond with a renewed sense of purpose.

An opportunity presents itself.

Earthmover's landing page suite. Click here to see for yourself.

In the midst of our brand assessment with Earthmover Credit Union, the world changed. The COVID-19 virus has caused fear and uncertainty. However, it has also presented opportunities for this credit union’s brand and member growth objectives. Raoust was able to take research and surveys we had already conducted and quickly pivot, creating an effective, two-fold strategy.

First, we worked with the credit union to recast several of their existing loan products into a financial relief suite, offering individuals smart solutions to manage their finances through and beyond the economic stresses caused by this pandemic. Simultaneously, we used the basis of our research to frame a compelling and discernible brand story, which we’ve used to introduce these products and the credit union to an entirely new audience—one that has been unfamiliar with Earthmover.

By designing a digital media campaign that incorporates geographical, demographic and behavioral targeting for each product, we’ve ensured that the highest-propensity prospects are seeing, and more importantly, engaging with the campaign.

Our philosophy has always been to learn, adapt, design, build and then engage. From economic recessions to hurricanes to pandemics, we continue to effectively navigate challenging times with our clients, providing them with the strategies and the tools for success.

Beauty meets bounty.

Merck Sharp & Dohme FCU’s new vigor™ VISA® Credit Card shines in more ways than one.

The age-old dilemma of “form over function” is a conversation that we, especially as designers and marketers, never get tired of having. If something looks beautiful but doesn’t work properly, is it successful? Designers will be the first to admit that our eye tends to naturally gravitate towards shiny objects. But if that shiny object fails to live up to its allure, then what is its purpose in the long run?

Creating a product brand that is beautiful and dynamic can certainly increase the chances of members sitting up and taking notice. But if the object of this spiffy new brand doesn’t deliver on its promise, it’s a failure. So, for us it’s always about balance.

Take Pennsylvania’s Merck Sharp & Dohme Federal Credit Union, for example. Having the luxury of pharmaceutical giant Merck as their primary SEG provides an ideal membership base for a new high-end credit card they planned to introduce in 2020. After all, their membership certainly understands the value of function but can also appreciate form. Our mission: Give them both.

Adding this credit card to MSD’s VISA® lineup positions a high-end product, completely proprietary to MSD FCU, directly in front of an ideal prospective audience. Now, pair this branded card with offers such as bonus CURewards® points and 0% APR for 12 months on both purchases and balance transfers made within the first three months, and you’ve got a card that functions—a card that works as beautifully as it is beautiful. You’ve got a card with vigor.

A vigor-ous card, full of strength (spending power), vitality (rewards) and energy (0% APR for 12 months) should look the part. We designed vigor™ with that in mind. Using deep saturated colors and a slight metallic coating, it’s a card that certainly shines inside the wallet and out. On top of that, it’s a card that only Merck Sharp & Dohme FCU members have access to.

In a time when the credit card market is more competitive than ever, offering a truly special card to your members—one that provides both form and function—sends them the message that this credit union truly “gets” its members and has its members’ backs.

Giving hope.

Innovations FCU’s video campaign "Together Towards Tomorrow"

Innovations Federal Credit Union started in 1952 as a single desk drawer, located in a small office at the U.S. Navy Mine Countermeasures Station in Panama City Beach, Florida. It was not much, and founder E.L. Mann had no idea how much impact it would have in the future to the entire Bay County community.

Nearly 70 years later, Innovations FCU has developed into a significant stronghold for this community. Back in 2018 when the entire area was devastated by Hurricane Michael, Innovations’ top priority was to open as quickly as possible to serve their beloved membership. They achieved this, even as many of their team members put their personal lives on hold to do what was necessary to get the credit union open.

So, what happens when a community, still in their post-hurricane rebuilding process, must endure a global pandemic affecting everyone and everything around them? They stay vigilant, but they get proactive. As their name suggests, they innovate.

One of the biggest challenges of being a credit union is to establish strength and stability when the situation seems most dire and hopeless. This is why it was so important to stay positive and keep the Innovations name out in the community’s eye.

It was vital not to promote products and services, but rather, to portray their reliability, their stability, and their calm presence in the community—strong and ready to help.

This ultimately led to our developing what is called the "Together Towards Tomorrow" campaign that is currently running on television, digital streaming platforms, digital media channels and paid social media. This campaign focuses on the resilience and true grit of the Bay County community to work together and face any challenge.

The Bay County community has seen a lot of changes over the years and has faced some adversity along the way. But even a force of nature, like Hurricane Michael or the COVID-19 pandemic, cannot break the spirit of the people at Innovations who live, work and play there.

No one knows just what the future holds. But we do know that Innovations will be there, and we will be standing by their side to help day and night, through good times and bad. We are excited and proud to work with Innovations together towards tomorrow.

Creating the ultimate user experience.

Introducing Launch CU's newly developed website

After issuing a comprehensive Rebrand RFP in late 2013, Kennedy Space Center Federal Credit Union awarded this project to us in early 2014. After undergoing our “Building the Foundation” process, Kennedy Space Center FCU became Launch FCU in mid-2014, and in early 2015 we took their new website—reflective of this new brand—live.

By late 2019, it had been nearly five years since Launch last had a significant change in their website. And, let’s face it. That’s an eternity in the realm of web design. With monthly site visits surpassing 210,000 by late 2019, it was time for a comprehensive and strategic overhaul. Concurrently, the credit union had decided to transition from a federal to a state charter, which also entailed some serious strategic thinking.

Launch brought us in for both projects because they knew that in keeping with the credit union’s own tagline (also developed by us in 2014), we would indeed “Go Beyond” for them.

First, we tackled the name change to Launch Credit Union (dropping Federal) and the subsequent brand updates it entailed. By designing a “unique, but familiar” take on the original logo, the result is now a simplified, yet strong, variation of that original logo redesign. From this process, the direction the website redesign needed to go was made clear.

Where the old website had reinforced the brand in bright and bold ways, this redesign ushers in restraint—more white space and an airier design—while effectively expanding the design to be more device-inclusive, and highlighting its mobile responsiveness. It is, of course, fully ADA compliant.

Having hosted and managed their website these last five years, we also knew that most website updates are performed by Launch staff members, which meant making sure that the content management system was fully customized to meet their technical needs while not being overly complicated to use. Bottom line: The CMS needed to be robust, functional and intuitive.

In addition to the new, eye-catching design, Raoust developed a strongly consistent new style guide that assists Launch staff members in ensuring posted assets will not be a distraction from the content, but instead, be an engaging, welcoming part of the design.

Visually, the new website incorporates increased use of icons, a simpler hamburger-based navigation system and an intuitive online banking form. We utilized a two-column block approach to page content management, with responsive elements, ensuring familiar design flow across desktop, tablet and mobile devices.

Our development team also worked hand-in-hand with Launch staff to develop and hone custom controls for call to action buttons, adding videos, creating custom content blocks, etc., without needing to program individual solutions for each new piece of functionality. Additionally, we designed a custom web skin for their new online loan application platform, which entailed working directly with their vendor to ensure asset management and stylesheets were consistently applied within the application.

After spending over a year understanding fully every objective Launch had for the new site, conducting additional research on our own to hone the scope of work, working through multiple design comps, developing the site itself, and refining the tools and the workflow for using them, the results speak for themselves.

Undertaking a charter name change (which also meant changing the domain name), a website redesign and relaunching both in the middle of a pandemic is a testament to the boldness of this credit union and their willingness to take risks in times of uncertainty. We are proud to have shepherded this process from the earliest days of concepting to the launch of the redesigned site itself...and beyond.

Your members can be integral to your acquisition strategy.

Credit Union of New Jersey’s member referral success story

Sometimes, using the assets your credit union already has can yield the best outcome for the job at hand. There are a plethora of incredible, highly-specific marketing tools available these days; however, the smartest solution can be right in front of you. In this case, that would be the existing membership of Credit Union of New Jersey.

After a comprehensive rebrand in August 2018, we worked with Credit Union of New Jersey to address accessible entry points to membership growth. One of the lowest hanging fruits was the introduction of a simple, highly branded member referral program.

By offering an affordable yet enticing incentive to both the member and the referral, and providing an accessible fully online portal, Credit Union of New Jersey has experienced steady organic new member growth with very little overhead cost. In fact, since the launch of the program in November 2018, they have averaged a gain of 21 new members per month.

Now that may not seem like a huge number, but it’s really a win-win. Win #1: The referral program has acquired these new members at an incredibly low cost to the credit union—just $50 per. In a time when average new member acquisition can be anywhere between $400 and $700*, this referral program is getting the work done at a fraction of the cost. Win #2: That new member already has at least two products with CU of NJ from the outset.

Why is this particular program a success? The referral process is super simple and fully online, while also emphasizing extraordinary levels of care, attention and service. Thus, CU of NJ members have become staunch brand advocates—and with only a few clicks.

Especially these days, a recommendation from a trusted friend carries tremendous weight. When this recommendation is paired with an incentive to join and clear steps of how to earn this incentive, hurdles start disappearing. Regardless of whether the referral has heard of Credit Union of New Jersey, this becomes a tremendous opportunity to introduce the credit union in a highly personal, highly branded and attractive way. Through effective communication by CU of NJ’s onboarding team, the referral is shown that banking with CU of NJ is superior to their traditional banking experience, on top of the incentive they are receiving.

One of the biggest hurdles pretty much all credit unions face is getting and staying ahead of their member acquisition and member retention key business results. By involving your greatest asset—your members—to help take the load off the acquisition side of the equation, well, that’s a good start. A classy, fun, engaging member referral portal can introduce new members to your brand and services in a way that draws them further into a relationship with the credit union.

Time to recognize

A tribute to one of our favorite credit union champions.

Carla Rasetta announces her resignation as CEO of Mills42 FCU.

Mills42 is a “small but mighty” credit union located in downtown Lowell, MA. Carla Rasetta is their CEO and an authentic credit union champion who eats, breathes and sleeps the philosophy of the movement.

She is a dynamo in every sense of the word—as witnessed by her passion for distance running and participation in multiple marathons. Carla has been with Mills42 for 17 years, the last 10 as CEO. During her tenure, she has literally reshaped this credit union in every sense.

We met Carla via a phone call in 2012 when she asked if we were interested in rebranding the credit union, then named M/A-Com FCU.

At the time, the credit union was facing a serious identity crisis. M/A-Com had pulled most of their operations out of the region, along with most of the high-income, white-collar employees who had comprised the credit union’s core membership. Rather than panicking at this turn of events, Carla realized she had been presented the perfect opportunity to recast the credit union’s mission by focusing on the underserved, lower income residents of Greater Lowell—many of whom are first generation immigrants. A very risky decision for such a small credit union, but a passion to help these individuals is just in her DNA.

Of course, we immediately embraced Carla’s mission, and we did what we do: mined what was unique and profoundly special about this tiny little $14 million credit union. M/A-Com FCU became Mills42 FCU—Mills is a nod to the very rich history of the textile industry in Lowell. And, the 42 is a reference to the latitude of Lowell on the globe. More importantly, their new brand position, Build from here, immediately identifies what Mills42 is all about.

Carla’s decision to shift focus to a demographic very few financial institutions, including many credit unions, are interested in working with has been victorious on many levels, including the key business results of Mills42. Examples:

  • Asset growth to nearly $26 million
  • Net worth growth of 44%
  • A negligible loan delinquency ratio
  • Awards of $300,000 in grant funds to further their mission of serving underbanked, lower income members
  • Most importantly to Carla herself, development of a team of credit union professionals (virtually all of whom are fluent in Spanish, Portuguese or Khmer) who are as knowledgeable and as passionate about helping their members build from here as Carla is herself. In fact, Carla is proud to tell you that her team is so fierce that she refers to them as the credit union version of a Navy Seal Team.

Carla has just announced her resignation from the credit union effective December 4th, as she will be taking a role in her family’s business. As you may imagine, this was a mighty tough decision for her and she is very emotional about it. At the same time, though, she knows she has established a brilliant foundation for her successor, and that is a tremendous legacy in and of itself.

There is good news here. We are thrilled that Carla will be taking a position on the Mills42 FCU Board of Directors. She will remain a force to be reckoned with, and we are all grateful for that.

A rising star in the face of adversity.

Meet Credit Union of New Jersey’s Jaime Gangone. Jaime started her career at the credit union in September 2010 as a Business Development Representative and has been promoted several times—most recently to Business Development Manager.

Nothing prepared her for the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic in New Jersey, one of the hardest hit states nationwide. Business Development suddenly looked nothing like it used to: no employees in the office, everyone working from home and all meetings happening virtually. As an integral member of the Business Development team, what could she do to remain relevant to members and SEG’s alike?

They say when the going gets tough, the tough get going. In early April and without hesitation, Jaime took the initiative to set up regularly scheduled webinars—from scratch. With no prior framework to use, she set up this comprehensive program in just three days. Jaime has recruited attendees through email, LinkedIn and Facebook, inviting them to seminars on a wide range of topics, including financial fitness, retirement planning and home buying.

They say when the going gets tough, the tough get going. In early April and without hesitation, Jaime took the initiative to set up regularly scheduled webinars—from scratch. With no prior framework to use, she set up this comprehensive program in just three days. Jaime has recruited attendees through email, LinkedIn and Facebook, inviting them to seminars on a wide range of topics, including financial fitness, retirement planning and home buying.

Response and attendance have exceeded expectations, with webinar participation often above 30 attendees. Many sessions are co-hosted with expert partners to stimulate conversation. From certified financial counseling to the value of credit union membership to various loan programs, solutions are offered and follow-up appointments are scheduled via Signup Genius.

Challenging times call for creative solutions. Jaime is going above and beyond, redefining Business Development for Credit Union of New Jersey. We salute her.

A warrior to the core.

There are dedicated credit union team members, and then there’s Mr. Livingood. Say hello to Travis, $154M Glacier Hills Credit Union’s Director of Marketing since 2012. You’d think with a last name like Livingood, life at his shop would be a walk in the park. You know, living the easy life. You’d be wrong.

If confronting the pandemic and ensuing business disruption wasn’t enough, Travis was tasked with leading their core conversion after Glacier Hills’ IT Director left early in January. This has been a responsibility made all the more challenging since he had never undertaken a project like this and had no prior experience with a core conversion. To compound matters, he had just a few weeks to get up to speed.

Now let us just say that having worked with three different CEOs in the last five years, Travis has learned to be flexible and to adapt. He has worn many hats through the years, even adding the role of IT Management for a year.

Projects of this magnitude require cool-headed thinking and a relentless can-do attitude. Travis has both—in spades. Tirelessly working 12 to 15 hours days, including many weekends, for weeks on end. From integrating high-level plans to planning for emergency scenarios. And, often working outside his comfort zone. But Travis is also a humble man. Never one to seek the limelight, he credits staff and the leadership team for the smooth transition.

The multi-month core expansion will be complete by the time you read this—early July. Much of the process going forward will be automated. Glacier Hill members can look forward to an even stronger financial cooperative for years to come. When CEO Tami Winkler was asked who has really stepped up through this conversion, without hesitation she named Travis.

Warriors come in all shapes and sizes, but they share a common trait: overcome adversity and rise to the challenge. Glacier Hills members can indeed look forward to living good, thanks to Travis. We salute him.

Walking the walk...with one scholarship winner at a time.

Bronco FCU’s scholarship program supports their high school members in a big (and meaningful) way.

As you may expect, over the last 25 years we’ve become pretty acute (and astute) observers of the credit union movement in general and of credit unions with which we have had and still do have relationships, specifically.

We are a group of folks who believe strongly in giving back, so we appreciate and applaud credit unions that don’t just espouse the "People helping people" philosophy of the movement, but that actually live it. Our longest continuous client (15 years now), Bronco FCU based in rural Southeastern Virginia, is one shining example.

If you’ve been around this long, you’ll remember vividly the chaos, stress, uncertainty and near panic of the late 2008 (and forward) economic crisis and mortgage meltdown. Of course, virtually every credit union suffered to some extent. But Bronco suffered the proverbial double whammy. In the fall of 2009 the area’s largest employer, International Paper, closed its mill in Franklin, laying off over 1,200 employees—most of whom were long-time Bronco members...with mortgages and other loans outstanding at the credit union. The credit union has managed this daunting challenge over these last years, making some extremely tough decisions along the way.

Remarkably, through it all Bronco’s commitment to their scholarship program has been unwavering. And, it’s one of the most aggressive programs we’ve seen.

Typically, scholarships have reached at least $20,000 per year. And they’ve actually awarded $23,000 to ten deserving high school seniors in each of the past several years.

Awards range in size from two $5,000 John Alan Glasgow Scholarships (in honor of a retired staff member’s son who died tragically in a car accident when he himself was a teenager back in 2000), to two $3,000 awards (the Charles A. Wrenn Scholarship honoring their long-time Board Chair who passed away in 2018) and the James C. Copeland Scholarship honoring this long-serving Board Member, to the $2,000 Robert T. Petty Scholarship (in honor of the credit union’s former CEO who passed away from cancer in 2017) to multiple $1,000 Bronco FCU Scholarships. As you can see, their scholarships are meaningful in two ways—they provide much-needed financial assistance to high school members going on to college, and they commemorate individuals who have been a part of the credit union’s history.

So, while Bronco has had quite the challenge navigating these past 11 years, their focus has remained fixed on the future and on the role they can and do play in shaping the futures of some of their best and brightest high school members. Kudos, Bronco. You walk the walk like the champions you are.

How to be an Earthmover.

There are earthmovers—you know, the folks who move tons upon tons of soil to build structures. And then there are Earthmovers. Individuals who create seismic shifts of a different kind. Meet Kelly McDonough, President/CEO of $323M Earthmover Credit Union in Aurora, IL. Newly appointed in 2019, Kelly brought her own strong midwestern roots and made it her mission to strengthen the shop’s midwestern culture, all while fully harnessing the power of her team. And then COVID-19 hit.

To say that Kelly was proactive would be giving her short shrift. Closely following the development of the virus in Wuhan, China, in late December 2019, she relied on her experience in crisis mitigation. Her background, which includes a Masters’ Degree in Business Continuity Management, gave her both the insight and the know-how to handle the looming pandemic, by foreseeing the tightening restrictions and resultant branch closures.

In early January, well before Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker issued stay-at-home orders and ordered businesses shut down in mid-March, Kelly had begun to prepare for remote staff operations to make sure their members would continue to receive seamless service. She presented her pandemic plan, which included issuing laptops to staff to facilitate remote access, to the board in February. The plan proved to be both critical and fortuitous as events were unfolding rapidly.

This kind of decisive action led to an organized transition to branch closures without leaving the credit union scrambling. Members never felt blindsided, staff never unprepared. Member FAQs were written and distributed before the shutdown, remote services well established. Under Kelly’s leadership, Earthmover Credit Union had its continuity plan well in hand, reassuring members that it is an essential business, indeed.

Earthmover Credit Union is recognized among the top 200 healthiest credit unions in America. From capitalization and deposit growth to loan-to-reserve ratios, Kelly upholds a long tradition of stability and commitment to excellence. No obstacle is too large to overcome. Carrying on the proud tradition of earthmovers from Caterpillar—the credit union’s original SEG—Kelly and her team are truly Earthmovers in their own right. We salute them.

Time for us to opine

Balancing long-term brand marketing and short-term demand marketing.

By: Olivier Raoust, CEO Raoust+Partners

A little background: I was raised in the “old school advertising” world. So-called brand marketing was often derided in favor of short-term promotional advertising. But that was back in the dark ages—pre-internet—when print ruled (primarily newspapers and direct mail), and TV, radio and billboards were often out of budget reach for most clients. In other words, there were far fewer distractions from countless sources and social media.

And yet, smarter and more strategic advertisers, like Volkswagen and J. Peterman, long ago knew the key to market share and long-term growth called for a balanced approach between demand and brand.

In our multi-screen, shortened attention span universe today where every advertiser is competing for eyeballs, the battle between long- and short-term metric is an ongoing one. And marketers often lean more heavily on demand marketing when they are looking for measurable near-term impact, while brand marketing is mostly for the long haul and takes more time to measure. While both have their own USPs and advantages, the inability to see results in the short term is often the single most prolific barrier to brand building among marketers. But this stance leaves your members vulnerable to the “next shiny object.”

Neither brand marketing nor short-term demand marketing can work in isolation. The key is to balance acquisition and member growth strategies. This marketing truth gets missed all too often. Instead, play the short-term and the long-term marketing puzzle just right. Your credit union needs brand activity to create demand in the long-term, and activation to convert that demand efficiently into revenue in the short-term.

Navigate between rational ads and emotional ads. Just as buying decisions are both rational and emotional, your marketing should also be a mix of both since both have their place under the sun. While rational ads are more effective in demand marketing, emotional ads work better for brand building. Rational ads certainly have their use for and are more effective for your current members (your lowest hanging fruit), while emotional ads are more effective for those elusive future members.

In closing, successful balance of brand and demand marketing underlies these five principles of marketing growth:

  1. WHO are you targeting?
  2. WHAT are your business goals?
  3. WHEN are you engaging members and prospects?
  4. WHERE are you marketing?
  5. HOW are you engaging members and prospects?

Focus, focus, focus. Get comfortable leaving sets of potential members behind in order to tell a more focused and compelling story. That simply means: Don't try to be all things to all people because your credit union cannot be. Find your niche and grow affinity over time, then you can start to look at branching out into more products and services.

Disruption, really?

By: Olivier Raoust, CEO Raoust+Partners

We frequently hear the word "disruption" bandied about in financial services. From FinTechs to the myriad of pundits, disrupting behavior has become the new standard, apparently. It sounds cool, hip and rebellious. Sure. But it also sounds like change for the sake of change only—without consideration of the outcome or unintended consequences.

In the midst of a pandemic and civil unrest, the last thing consumers want is more "disruption." And while digital adoption has gained ground-force, largely because of branch closures, the average credit union member is looking for safety and security. Period. And frankly, who can blame them? Aren’t we all?

That said, I refuse to believe we are experiencing a "new normal." During this pandemic, that term has also been tossed about freely. The future—our future—is not cast in stone. Accepting this norm is nothing more than a concession.

Crises often bring out the best in people. Credit unions are uniquely positioned to serve members’ needs in highly personal terms and with highly creative solutions. Rejoice in the culture and diversity your credit union so richly celebrates. Give real meaning to "People Helping People," while pursuing a new, more relevant vision of the future at the same time.

But, hmm. I wonder if "disrupting with a positive purpose" just doesn’t sound cool enough?

Now is the time to reinforce your brand identity.

By: Olivier Raoust, CEO Raoust+Partners

So, you think your credit union’s brand is discernible and compelling. Sure, you have a highly loyal, albeit small, membership core who depends on your financial resources. But what about the (much) larger membership base who looks at your credit union as just one of several FI’s amongst their banking options? Or worse, what about the members who don’t even consider the credit union when they finance large purchases? Can your brand foundation compete effectively through this unprecedented health and economic crisis? It cannot if marketing has taken a back seat due to shrinking revenues.

Here’s the reality: The fundamentals of marketing, as well as of human behavior, don’t change—only budgets and resources do. During these difficult times, marketing will give members a reason to hope and a reason to spend. Analyze your marketing plans, not in terms of budget, but in terms of opportunity. While the pandemic has paused the world, it hasn’t stopped it. While it has created stress and confusion, it has also spurred creativity and challenged all of us to ‘do better.’ It is against this backdrop that your brand pillar, your credit union’s ‘raison d’etre’ and your mission can really shine.

How can your credit union keep pace, you may ask? Be open to change. Whether it’s rethinking your retention strategy, trying out new methods of messaging or reprioritizing your products to more align with member needs now, agility is key.

Understand your brand’s mission. Deliver a purpose-driven message. Marketing shouldn’t just be ticking a box. And, think more organically because the buying cycle has changed and will continue to do so. Create new demand for your old services.

  • Use member stories to show, rather than to sell.
  • Show empathy for your audience: Even if your members are not buying right now, you can send a ‘hope you are safe during these times’ email.
  • Create a series of podcasts: Talk about how your credit union has helped members.

Bottom line: branding is more important than ever. All that needs to be done is ‘retelling your credit union’s story’ using the right messaging and the most effective platforms.

The faster you go, the slower you get.

By: Olivier Raoust, CEO Raoust+Partners

Meet POOR (Philippe, Olivier Sr., Olivier, Jr. Raoust) Motorsports

What drives you? What are you passionate about? Helping your members, helping your neighbors, helping your community? All very worthwhile and worthy endeavors. But what really drives you deep inside? For some of us it might be climbing that elusive mountain or running that marathon. For me, it’s racing—more precisely endurance sports car racing. No, not just getting in your car and ‘going fast.’ That’s not racing; that’s being reckless.

Driving has always been a passion of mine. I learn so much from it. Having the experience as both a driver and a coach for the past twenty years, then trying to figure out how to improve performance, has been enlightening. When you drive, you get information from most of your senses. You see, hear, smell and feel the motion of the vehicle. All of this input helps you to be aware of your driving environment, to predict what might happen and to assess how to react. I enjoy the challenge of finding the right way to express my passion in what we so often feel through the seats of our pants.

Competition is what drives me—overcoming the challenge of spending up to two hours at a time in intense battle on track—very often in demanding physical environments with tight quarters, hot surroundings and always on the limits of adhesion.

Or as we prefer to call it, keeping the rubber on the track. Depending on my teammates’ experience and input is also vital in this pursuit. We work as a team to overcome adversity with a singular focus: proving to ourselves that we can succeed is what drives us.

Overcoming the odds is indeed what all of us are confronting these days. In the midst of a pandemic and economic hardship for many, I find many parallels between racing and meeting the current crises head on. Similar to a racecar, our world is constantly accelerating with kinetic energy. Keep a cool head, look far ahead, anticipate problems and be ready to react instantly. Much as sensory input helps your brain understand and decide when to accelerate, steer or brake, let your members’ voices and input help you steer your credit union in the right direction.

In racing circles there’s an oft-spoken mantra: the faster you go, the slower you get. I reflect on this every time I’m in my racecar. I force myself to clear my thoughts, to focus so intensely that time does indeed slowdown, which in turn improves my lap times.

Perhaps you can turn your passion into action for your credit union.

Punching above your weight.

By: Olivier Raoust, CEO Raoust+Partners
An update on Merck Sharp & Dohme FCU’s new vigor™ Card

A product, in this case a credit card, that has been branded and packaged exclusively for your members is one way (and really, one of the ONLY ways) a small financial institution can still carve out that all-too-critical niche and succeed. Let’s face it. Even credit unions that are several billions of dollars in assets are still small financial institutions, given the fact that all credit unions are competing (regardless of where they are located) with Wells Fargo, B of A, Chase, Capital One, Santander, Quicken, Sofi…etc. And, these are just some of the national players that spend billions and billions each year in advertising.

There is one thing I’ve come to know through my decades of experience: Nothing, but nothing, can ever replace a “sticky” brand—especially in a marketplace of look-alike products. This is how credit unions, large and small, can compete effectively, and to use an old boxing metaphor, punch way above their weight. The old adage, “perception is reality,” has never rung truer. Sure, chopping and dicing data every which way will amplify results. But without a distinctive and well-articulated brand definition, layering a plain vanilla execution will severely curtail results, or worse, just fall flat.

Merck Sharp & Dohme FCU’s vigor™ VISA® Credit Card illustrates the power of a compelling brand strategy, as well as validates this marketing strategy.

Because in a time when the credit card market is more competitive than ever, offering a truly special card to your members—one that provides both form and function—sends them the message that this credit union truly “gets” its members and has its members’ backs.”

MSD FCU took this bull by its horns. Sure, it cost them money—for the brand design, packaging, trademark process, launch campaign, plus offers—but it didn’t cost them as much as you may think. And, that one thing I’ve come to know about a sticky brand over these decades of credit union marketing strategy—did it pan out?

Facts, nothing but facts, because numbers don’t lie.

The one-year goals MSD FCU established for this card prior to launch:

  • 200 new cards issued
  • $2.5 million in approved credit lines
  • $750,000 in balance transfers

What they’ve achieved from May 27th through August 31st (basically, 3 months):

  • 254 new cards issued
  • $3.4 million in approved credit lines
  • $500,000 in balance transfers

The lesson to be learned here. You can compete and quite successfully. Start punching way above your weight.

Plan for the best. Prepare for the worst.

By: Olivier Raoust, CEO Raoust+Partners

Building a bridge from the present crisis to the post-pandemic future.

For decades, America’s economy has been built on consumer spending. Historically, credit powered much of that spending. In fact, it’s fair to say that if none of that credit existed, Americans would live vastly different lives. COVID-19 shutdowns have pulled the rug out from under this traditional behavior. Many have lost their jobs or substantial parts of their incomes, and with that, their ability to make payments on borrowings.

According to J.D. Power, two out of five Americans have seen their income drop by 25% or more. Just 52% of us still pay all of our bills on time. A solid third of the country believes an even worse impact on their finances from COVID-19 is coming.

Lenders and financial marketers face a steep and potentially treacherous challenge trying to figure out what the immediate future is for the types of credit they sell. Given the highly unusual nature of the COVID-19 economic slowdown, prior patterns only tell us so much and can even be misleading future indicators.

What lies ahead, then? Credit unions will need to reassess the potential for growth going forward. It is against this backdrop that your credit union must rethink the way you deliver services, the products you offer, your relationship with members and your role in the community.

For decades, credit unions have been guided by their omniscient and omnipotent Strategic Plan. But is your current Strategic Plan even relevant in this current environment? COVID has tested every aspect of the traditional banking model: employees working from home, branch closures, challenged back office operating systems, mobile banking capacity, etc. And it didn’t happen over a period of years. It happened literally overnight.

To quote Jim Marous, publisher of the Digital Banking Report and co-publisher of The Financial Brand, "Traditional strategic plans have always been an iteration of previous strategic plans. This is unacceptable. We need to blow up previous plans because the old rules no longer apply. The consumer has changed, the competition has changed, and the technology to impact transactions and engagement has changed. Today’s strategic plans need to be built with the ability to pivot immediately when marketplace dynamics change.”

Sounds like a daunting challenge, especially when boards, often with their share of intransigent, old-school members, are involved. But your credit union can find its way forward—and victoriously—although fundamental change will likely be involved.

Take a cold, hard, objective look at how your credit union has navigated this pandemic. And, learn from this assessment. Because COVID-19 is not going to be the last pandemic we experience, that is for sure.

Reconsider your mission statement. Does it still reflect trending values, motivations and purpose? Ask the tough question: If your institution disappeared tomorrow through merger or failure, would anyone care?

Plan for this turbulence, and worse to come, to last for many more months and for it to affect all of your stakeholders.

Then revisit your Strategic Plan and, well, just build it smarter. Build it more realistically. Build it with more flexibility. Build it to address what the future is likely to be, versus what the leadership team would like the future to be. It can become an instrumental and integral road map once again.

In our next issue, we’ll address how your credit union can grow—and grow victoriously—in a rabidly competitive landscape.

Community Q&A
 Top Question: 
Does my credit union's story actually matter in the current cultural climate?

The quick answer: Yes. Your story drives trust, and trust drives action.

There are 3 parts to your story:

  1. What you say
  2. What you do
  3. What members say

What You Say
Emails. Social media posts. Billboards. The "about" section on your credit union website. This is the first part of your story unfolding in real-time for the world to see. But are you following through on what you say? That leads us to...

What You Do
The #1 reason consumers trust brands: they deliver good products and services. They don't just talk, they walk the walk. Great rates, friendly service, making members smile, the whole shebang. This is the second crucial piece of your story. If done well, this will lead to social proof (aka positive ratings and reviews), the all-important finale.

What Members Say
The #2 reason consumers trust brands are positive ratings and reviews—especially those on social media. 3.5 billion people use social media. That's 45% of the world's population. Of those, over 90% of millennials and 77.5% of Gen X have social media accounts. What's being said about you?

Explore Additional Questions

We're looking ahead to 401(k) withdrawals. So what kind of communication can be provided for riding the storm and keeping retirement funds safe where they are?

Most important: do not mislead or give information slanted to the credit union's benefit.

Since you know this is a major concern for your members, be proactive. Answer the question before it gets asked. This is not a one-and-done topic, meaning you need to plan to communicate consistently on this issue over the next few months.

Do your research and create your credit union's "talking point" – and be ready to change it if need be.

The channels we recommend using for this would include:

  • Member-facing Staff (make sure they know how to answer this question, and are not injecting their own spin, fear, or opinion)
  • Social media (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) and blog posts:
    • If you have a resident expert at your credit union, post an article (or several) from them
    • Post links to articles written by recognized leaders and websites (even if they quote a competitor)
  • eMail Blast
  • Direct Mail
Is it okay to tout the generous donations to charitable causes we've made during this time?

We would suggest that "touting" is not your best approach here; it might come across as chest-pounding. However, being transparent, truthful, and timely when communicating news is always a good idea. Write a straightforward press release, send it to your local business publications, and post it on your website's "Media" section.

Should I stop marketing for the time-being?

This is the #1 question, right?
History shows us the businesses that best weather crises are those who DO continue to market throughout the crisis. They find a way to promote without profiteering. The best way to do that is to focus your marketing on:

  • Products that will help stretch monthly budgets
  • Products that will safeguard and grow savings, while maintaining access to the money on deposit
  • Products that will bring low-cost money into the household
If your current inventory of products doesn't address these needs, consider innovating or tweaking, for instance:
  • Now may be the time to roll out that small-dollar, low-interest loan; car title loan; credit-check-free line of credit; flexible short-term CD; high-interest Savings Club; or other products and services your members may need.
  • Or look at the criteria of existing products? Does it make sense for members to lose accumulated dividends if they withdraw funds from their Christmas Savings Club account?
Should I suspend my member onboarding and cross-selling efforts?

Short answer is no. But, do look at the content. Now may not be the time to cross-sell specific products; for instance: In your markets would it be wise to change your new auto loan message to an auto loan refi message?

Facebook scares me right now. Is it really a good idea to use it and the other social media channels?

There's no denying it: social media is shaping our fears and responses to the coronavirus pandemic. As such, it's tempting to avoid these platforms for the foreseeable future. After all, why take the risk of alienating members or being misinterpreted during such a volatile time?

Because credit unions that abandon social media will miss out on a big opportunity to provide beneficial information to their members during their time of need.

The key to success is to avoid politics and instead remain optimistic—and make sure all communications align with your organization's talking points, which might include:

  • Changes to your operation, such as lobby closures and the expansion of over-the-phone or drive-thru services
  • How-to videos: start with your remote deposit feature and Bill Pay service and add videos from there
  • Articles with strategies for stretching a monthly budget
  • Links to activities that can help alleviate the isolation, such as online dance parties
  • Social media is full of people using their talents to comfort others: it's okay (and encouraged) to link to them
  • Directing people to sites and groups that are listing ways to help (giving blood at local blood banks, for example)
My CU is grappling with how to make changes quickly and rapidly. How can we inform members more efficiently?
In this case, efficiency needs to be defined by how quickly the message can be broadcast to as many members as possible, rather than by how quickly the task can be completed by the credit union. Therefore, multiple channels will be needed to ensure the greatest number of members will be informed.
Hopefully by this point, your credit union will have developed a holistic and cohesive look and feel for all COVID-19 response assets you have been deploying or plan to deploy in the near future. It is critical that members immediately recognize a specific COVID-19 response update by its appearance alone, which will ensure that they are actually reading what you are communicating.
Start with the channel that is the quickest to update and then the next quickest, and so forth, until you have made it through the list:
  • Website Alert
  • Website Home Page Banner Updates to be fully sensitive and responsive during this health emergency
  • Landing Page, such as this one, to curate and manage all member messaging
  • "Behind the PIN" Ads for online banking, bill pay, mobile app, PFM, credit card portal, etc. (if applicable)
  • Social Media Accounts (Twitter and Facebook are your best channels to share news)
  • eMail Blasts
  • Branch Exterior Electronic Message Centers (it depends on the message, but this is an excellent channel to communicate changes to your branch operations)
  • Mobile App Push Message
  • inBranch Video Screens (if your branch lobbies are still open)
How do I avoid being "tone deaf"?
Think through your membership, and act and speak wisely. For instance:
  • If you are a low-income designated credit union, promoting your high-interest rate checking account that requires a $5,000 minimum deposit, probably should not be a banner on your home page.
  • On the flip side, if your membership base is high income and unlikely to lose their jobs as restaurants, bars, gyms, et cetera close, this is exactly the product to promote.
How can we ease the stress of members?

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Even the most mundane information is worth sharing with your members. Spend time with your team thinking about the fears your members may have, and the ones they've openly voiced, and address them accordingly.

 Real-Life Tip:  Before promoting your short-term and title loans, find out if your underwriting guidelines for these loan types include a membership-as-of requirement (such as, "membership as of March 1, 2020 required").

This seems obvious, but in today's environment it can easily be overlooked and it's important to not waste resources delivering a message to an audience who cannot take part in the product you are promoting.

Should my collections team make changes based on COVID-19?

Yes. Consider the extreme circumstances we've found ourselves in and shift your tone and expectations accordingly. Many people don't have the income they depend on and might be under more stress and uncertainty than they've ever felt in their lives.

What's the best way to train our staff to handle COVID-19 communications?*

For starters, the Leadership Team needs to:

  • Agree to, compile, and present "Talking Points" for your entire staff. (Resist the urge to simply email these or post them on your intranet site!)
  • And then divide your "communications" into channels: direct and marketing.

By "direct" we mean anyone who speaks directly with a member. And by "marketing" we mean all indirect methods of communicating, including both digital and traditional channels.

For direct communications, role playing is essential to make sure staff know how to address situations that don't go according to the script.

For marketing communications, every channel, campaign, and deliverable should be scrutinized. Start with your website. Next, up is your existing programs. Do they align with the priorities, tone, and messaging in the Talking Points?

Be nimble. We're willing to bet that within 5 minutes of publishing the Talking Points, a member will need a drive-thru teller to address something that is not covered in said Talking Points. Now what? Have a system in place.

A final point: Implement a knowledge share system in your shop. Use your intranet or email system to accumulate experiences and develop a singular response.

No questions in this category have been added yet.
Social media is feeling glum. Is it too soon to start posting entertaining or uplifting content?

Entertainment is exactly what people need now. Yes, the world is still in the midst of a pandemic, but that doesn't have to be the only thing you post about. People want to feel normal again, and one way to do that is to show your credit union's creative side.

When David Southall (the CEO of Innovations Federal Credit Union) was surfing TikTok, he came up with an idea: he'd use the Blinding Lights Challenge as an opportunity to rally his team members who were (mostly) working from home. A bonding opportunity was created, as was a chance to give Innovations members something to smile about. The result was a compilation video we put together for cross-channel posting.

This isn't David's first rodeo. In fact, gathering his team to create social media videos is an annual event. It's leaders like David who see the value in bringing his team together in the name of entertainment, especially when they—and the members—need it most.

Be Purpose-Driven

As both your existing members and prospects keep an eye on the current economic situation, providing them with legitimate, safe and reliable financial lifelines is a win-win.

When they're searching for financial solutions to help them now and for years to come, they're also being targeted by scams and predatory lenders. Now is the time for your credit union to step in and shine.

Your credit union can rise up as a purpose-driven brand or it can die as a commodity.

Contact us to get started

With our 25+ years of credit union experience, combining empathy with solutions-based marketing, we can maximize your digital and social potential, while remaining agile during turbulent times. For us, it's second nature.

After all, we've been on the front lines before–through the dot com bust of the late 90's; 9/11 and its subsequent economic crisis; Hurricanes Isabel, Katrina and Michael; and the financial and mortgage meltdown of 2008-2010. Raoust has remained at the forefront of solutions for our clients. We can help.

Have a question or comment for our team?
Become a part of this ever-growing resource for credit unions across the country by submitting a question or sharing wisdom you've learned during these challenging times. Together, we can help reassure our members—and each other.
Sign up for the Raoust Digest
A few times a month we send out a thoughtful, informative and relevant email related to credit unions, culture, design and ideas floating around the office.If you'd like to check it out fill out the form below.
Contact Us