Why Some Young Professionals Aren't Joining Credit Unions

Credit Union Journal | Monday, November 19, 2012

By Frank Diekmann

Las VEGAS-The challenge in recruiting young people in the coveted Generation X and Y were on full display during a live focus group here last.

The panel of four people, three women and one man all in their twenties and at the front-end of their respective careers, expressed generally positive feelings about their current bank relationships and little knowledge about credit unions beyond that which they have learned while preparing for the focus group.

The four participants were drawn from a larger focus group conducted earlier in California and Nevada and fielded questions from moderator Neil Goldman and the audience, providing some unvarnished insights into what drives their behavior. The focus group participants said they became bank customers for reasons ranging from the bank being the place where parents had accounts to being paid up to $125 to move their business. All are customers of large banks, including Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

Only one of the four has joined a credit union, and that person has maintained his bank relationship. Getting the others to move won't be easy. "I haven't fully looked into moving," said one person. "I would like to if I needed to switch, but I don't really have a real reason to do it."

Aware, Easy To Join, But…

One focus group member who works in a building with a CU branch, has seen the CU's signage, has had coworkers recommend that she join the CU and who knows the name of employees in the branch, said she still doesn't plan to, as opening another savings account seems like a "hassle."

One young woman said of her relationship with Wells Fargo, a relationship chosen because a branch is three blocks from her home, "They are nice and friendly. They know my name. It's nice to have a personal connection there." But she also conceded that she has sensed a nervousness among branch staff over losing their jobs, and the response is often an over-the-top environment with "balloons" and other giveaways.

One of the focus group members said she found the words "join" and "member" to be a negative, implying a "monthly fee like a gym membership." The other three said the terms are not a hurdle, with one saying "it implies that you get benefits."

Little Knowledge Of 'CU Difference'

All participants indicated little knowledge of what makes credit unions different or individual CU brands, although each could name at least one CU. Goldman noted that 50% of those in the California and Nevada focus groups were not sure whether they could join. Several of the focus group participants identified perceived hassles around moving billpay as a reason for not leaving their bank, even when they know fees are high.

Three of the four made clear that mobile banking is a must-have service for them.

The fourth person said she never uses mobile banking, but has used her bank's online service. "I like going to a branch because it's just more personable," she said. "I like to see who's handling my money."
That comment led Goldman to note that "There is a cautionary tale here about stereotyping, that all "young people just want technology and not branches. That's why I believe in psychographics, not demographics."

One other note out of the focus group: When asked what effect Bank Transfer Day had had on them, all four said they were unfamiliar with it.