Affinity-Based Banking

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Tim McAlpine recently blogged about affinity positioning for credit unions, advocating for CUs to define their field of membership around affinities like, among others, women, golfers, blogger, and Emos (my favorite — I can’t help but imagine how pitiful waiting in line at a branch at that CU would be.)

This concept shouldn’t be limited to just CUs. Banks should adopt this strategy as well — and focus on three affinity groups:

  • Pimps. No, not that. Pecunious IMpatient Perfectionists. Those of us who don’t tolerate mistakes and will not, under any circumstance, tolerate waiting in line to talk to someone. In fact, we don’t ever want to have to talk to anybody at a bank. There’s no reason to — if they don’t ever screw up, why would we need to talk to them? A bank that caters to this affinity would become the Southwest Airline of the financial services business. Southwest isn’t just low cost, it’s most efficient — always on-time, and not afraid to tell a customer to sit his fat, lazy butt in the seat so a plane can get out on time. I love that airline.
  • Asses. More affectionately (or appropriately) known as Advice-Starved Savers. These are the folks who want — and need — objective advice and guidance regarding their financial decisions. Decisions that, more often than not, relate to saving and spend management, and not asset allocation and portfolio management. Members of this affinity group are younger and less affluent than Pimps, so they need a bank that offers a high-touch environment, with knowledgeable reps available to provide advice and guidance that’s objective, and not overtly sales-oriented.
  • Poops. These are the People-Oriented Old People who cling to the old way of banking — you know, in branches. They like having friendly branch personnel who call them by their name and help them fill out deposit slips. No need to develop online banking features for them — they’re still trying to figure out how to send email to their grandchildren. They’re happy to come into the branch, sit around drinking stale coffee, and chit-chatting all morning.

These are the affinity groups banks and credit unions should be focused on!

But, more seriously, the real message is that these affinity groups underscore the issue so many banks and CUs face today: It’s hard enough developing a competency to serve one of these affinities, let alone serving all three.

Yet that’s what most banks are trying to do: Be all things to all people.

And that’s why affinity-based banking (or credit unioning) won’t work. It’s been tried before — remember the Women’s Financial Network? Or Bank Blackwell? Just because a group of people share an affinity for something like golfing or Harley-Davidsons, it doesn’t mean that their financial needs are similar.

Having said all this, when Tim helps someone set up the Deadheads Credit Union, who will issue me a credit card with a picture of Jerry Garcia and the boys from 1969 on it, I will be the first to open up an account.

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