Credit Unions: Don’t Refer To Members As Owners

The CU Realist, oops, I mean CU Skeptic, recently wrote:

One idea mentioned (in this and other posts) is the thought that if credit unions refer to the people that consume their services as “members” or “owners” this will cause people choose credit unions over banks. While I understand both terms are correct references to the privileges granted to those at a credit union, and I agree both are neat, cool ways to think of these people, this notion ignores the role that drives the interactions of these people and the role they identify most with: “customer.”

My take: I agree with him on the owner term, but disagree on member.

I own shares in a number of companies. I think of myself as an “investor” in those firms, not an “owner.” My ability to influence decisions, direction, and changes is non-existent. It would be an insult to my [albeit limited] intelligence for those firms to call me an “owner.”

It’s an analogous situation with credit union account holders (how’s that for avoiding the controversy?). These people are looking for checking accounts, savings accounts, car loans, etc. They’re not really looking to become an “owner” of the credit union.

Now, the Skeptic could probably take my logic and say it’s the same with the term “member”. In fact, I don’t believe that people become members of credit unions because they want to be a member, but because they need a financial product, want it from the CU, and therefore become a member.

But I do believe, however, that CUs should continue to use the term member when referring to their customers. Why? Because it implies a different treatment or customer experience.

The critical decision CUs must make isn’t deciding which term to adopt (member vs. owner), but living up to the promise and expectation that whatever term they choose implies. And, in fact, shape their customers’ expectations for that term in the first place.

They could try to shape expectations around the term “owner”, but that seems to me to be an uphill battle, not worth fighting. I’d go with member.

And membership has its privileges, right?

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