Credit Unions, Welcome to the Financial Crisis

Before last Friday, credit unions had remained fairly immune to the fallout from the financial meltdown. But with the implosion of U.S. Central and WesCorp, credit unions are now knee deep in the economic crisis.

Welcome to hell…

Credit unions have some serious explaining to do. What happened? Who did what when? What’s the difference between a “corporate credit union” and a “natural person credit union?” And the million-dollar question:

“Are credit unions safe?”

There are some credit unions who got started with the damage control over the weekend by posting updates about the situation on their websites. That’s a good start, but it’s only the beginning.

Here are some of the things credit unions — all of them — need to get started on immediately. Today. Now.

  • Staff – They are going to be bombarded with questions all week. They are going to have to explain things in plain, simple English, which means they first must understand the situation themselves. And remember, every concerned member with a question gives you the opportunity to talk-up your strength and safety. Even if members don’t call specifically about the NCUA seizures, you should take the time to see what they’ve heard and offer reassurance.
  • Website – Build a page dedicated to explaining what happened and what it means to members. Link to this page right off your homepage, preferably with a banner ad.
  • Direct Mail – Craft a letter. Send it to all members. If you don’t have one in the mail by Tuesday afternoon, you’ve taken too long.
  • Email – Send one in the next 24 hours.
  • Public Relations – Don’t wait for the press to call you. Contact them right away. Don’t wait until Tuesday or Wednesday. Do it today. You may only have one chance to get the right story out. (Update: Here’s a good example.)

If you didn’t do business with either of the failed corporates, tell them. If you have a capital position worth bragging about, do it. You can’t overwhelm members with too much information in this situation. People are starved for information about the health and well-being of their financial institutions. Embrace this as a chance to fully explain your position.

When you’re done taking care of the most important communications priorities, you can circle back and take a look at all your other communications channels to see what else should be used to convey your message — statement stuffers, on-hold message recordings, newsletters, etc.

Bottom Line: Members are going to be scared as hell, so you need to do everything possible to reassure them. Fair or not, they are going to blame ANYTHING they perceive as negative — any change in rates, any change in fees, any change in their favorite teller’s attitude — on the implosion of the corporate credit union system.

Note: If credit unions go out of their way to reassure an anxious public now then find themselves taking TARP money sometime down the road, the industry will lose all credibility, all the good-will and all the consumer confidence that’s been built up over the last few months.

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