LONE STAR, Texas (8/25/08)--By using “very direct forms of marketing,” striving to be the first in the area in technology, and designing programs that target specific groups, North East Texas CU (NETCU) has realized solid membership growth, which it projects will continue.
The $94 million asset, Lone Star, Texas-based credit union experienced 5.7% membership growth from 2006 to 2007, and projects 8.2% growth this year. NETCU is a community credit union serving members who live or work in Morris, Marion and Upshur counties, and anyone who lives, works or attends school in Titus County. This is the eighth installment of News Now’s
Membership Growth series of interviews with fast-growing-membership credit unions. The series is part of an initiative of the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) Membership Growth Task Force. The series focuses on fast "organic" membership growth, not growth by merger or indirect loans. The task force, chaired by Dick Ensweiler, president of the Texas Credit Union League, was convened at the request of CUNA's Immediate Past Board Chair Allan Kemp McMorris. Its purpose is to investigate, report on, and encourage credit unions to embrace opportunities, techniques and processes that will increase credit unions' membership retention and growth. By conducting direct visits with small groups, and participating in community events both formal and informal, NETCU has successfully reached out to members, Kay Stewart, president/CEO of the credit union, told News Now
. “We are located in a rural area, and we found that these very direct forms of marketing have better served us than print and broadcast advertising,” Stewart explained. “We tried TV commercials, but the TV viewing area is so broad that the advertising went out of our area. And it was so expensive. It wasn’t cost effective. “The key for us is working in the community and community events,” she added. “For example, it is raining today. So we are handing out free rainwear containing our credit union logo. We also hand out our rainwear at football games. Whatever fits with an event, we try to get involved somehow.” The credit union targets Hispanics, youth and small businesses, and “anyone else we can find,” Stewart said. For Hispanic members, NETCU uses financial literature and loan applications printed in Spanish, and an audio response system that allow members to choose English or Spanish when they call in for information or to check on accounts. “We also have Hispanic employees at all our branches and a Hispanic loan officer,” Stewart said. Regarding the youth market, the credit union has always offered a youth savings account, but also started a program called “Dollar Dog,” for kids up to 12 years old, in three schools. Now it is in seven. One NETCU employee dresses up in a Dollar Dog costume and goes into schools to tell students about NETCU’s youth savings program. Students in this age group can open a savings account with as little as $5 and can make deposits as small as 25 cents. They also can go the NETCU website and play games. Students initially receive program T-shirts, and the credit union goes to the schools once a month to take students’ deposits and present students with little gifts for making the deposits. From January to May of this year, 150 new youth members signed up, and their average account balance was $100, Stewart said. Two new NETCU youth programs will start this fall. One is called Cha-Ching, which targets 13- to 17-year-olds. The program will feature a website for participants to download music, and will teach them how to open a checking account. As part of the program, credit union employees also will go to schools to teach financial literacy using materials from the National Endowment for Financial Education program. NETCU also will introduce the Edge Account program in the fall for 18- to 24-year-olds. The program will offer young adults their first credit cards and first loans, and will in essence be a bridge into financial adulthood. All three youth programs will have spots on NETCU’s website, which allows participants to enhance their financial education online. The credit union also goes directly to small businesses to recruit members. “We’ll go anywhere to get in front of people,” Stewart said. “We buy lunch for employees at their place of work and make presentations with PowerPoint. We have had a lot of success with this. We’ll sign people up for the credit union on the spot. ” Not only does NETCU attempt to attract employees, it also tries to attract small businesses as a whole. “We have maxed out our small-business loans, and we’ve started our own CUSO (credit union service organization) to make more business loans,” Stewart said. NETCU became a community credit union in 2000 when it went from a federal to a state-charter to serve a broader area of people, Stewart said. NETCU has always strived to be the first in technology in its area, and this is a key priority for the credit union. “We’ve been the first to use ATMs and an audio response system,” Stewart explained. The credit union also sends e-alerts to notify members when their accounts drop down to a certain amount so they don’t get overdrawn. Another technology first for NETCU is its online banking product called Net Teller. The credit union is upgrading the product in 2009 so members can join the credit union and obtain loans online. In a month, NETCU will start its Easy Saver Program, in which NETCU will deposit funds in the savings account of members for every debit card purchase they make. NETCU, which has five branches and one real estate office, will add one more branch by the end of the year. “We’re in the process of installing electronic informational signs at all seven locations to advertise and to disseminate information to our members,” Stewart said. To contact the CUNA Membership Growth Task Force, e-mail its account at firstname.lastname@example.org