The ‘Community Credit Union’ fallacy

For many credit unions, expanding their charters is a common growth strategy. Often, a credit union’s first reflex after getting a community charter is to add the word “community” to its name.

The reasoning goes something like this: “Our community charter should fuel future growth. The only problem is, people don’t know they can join. We need a way to say, ‘We’re open to everyone!’”

The solution: ‘[Fill-in-the-Blank] Community Credit Union.’ The word “community” represents a “community charter,” and everyone knows a community charters are “open to the community,” right?

Wrong.

Reality check:
Industry insiders often make the mistake of crediting the general public with more knowledge about credit unions than they actually have. We forget that Joe Average struggles to grasp the basic concepts of “joining” and “membership,” much less subtler credit union terminology, like “shares” or “CUDL.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the word “community.” There are plenty of successful credit unions incorporating “community” into their names. Just don’t be fooled into thinking the word “community” will help the general public realize they can join.

Over 500 credit unions have slipped the word “community” in their names – that’s one out of every 16. Yet after changing names, many are still frustrated by stagnant member growth. This is most prevalent among credit unions who retain their main sponsor’s name — for instance, turning ‘Company Employees Credit Union’ to ‘Company Community Credit Union.’ It seems logical, because this formula preserves heritage in the old name. Employees Only signThe big problem is that no matter how many times you say “everyone can join,” people just can’t get past the ‘Company’ name. They understandably assume that only employees of the Company can join. Research bears this out over and over.

Bottom line: You can’t just tack a word like “community” onto your name and hope it works. Supporting a community charter takes good old-fashioned marketing muscle.

Most credit unions with newly-minted community charters don’t have brands that are ready for primetime. If you’re going to go through the process and expense of changing your credit union’s name, embrace the opportunity to truly rebrand your identity.

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