Trust. It’s your most valuable currency.
September 02, 2022
Todd Henderson

Trust. It’s your most valuable currency.

A practical guide to helping Credit Unions grow membership in a virtual world.

Covid-19 changed the world—and how we do business in it. The digital acceleration in 2020 was profound—witnessing what McKinsey calls Digital Darwinism—not so much survival of the fittest as survival of the most digital. Trust is currency in the digital age, and trusting your bank means you know they have your best interests at heart. And that trust is the heart of the matter. (2021) notes Credit Unions already enjoy much higher than average good working relationships with their Members. In fact, while only 52% of customers of national banks and 60% with regional banks consider themselves satisfied with their bank, that figure jumps to 72% for Credit Union Members.

While Credit Unions are considered to be one of the most popular forms of banking in the US, they are also one of the least advertised and have relied primarily on great customer service and satisfaction for continued growth. However, a paradigm shift has taken place between the digital world and our day-to-day interactions with people. Our connections, our relationships have shifted to the virtual world.  

In addition, we are seeing significant generational differences in the emerging digital age—each with very different expectations. While 52% of Boomers may bank on laptops and tablets, 60-70% of Millennials and Gen Z use their phones. Boomers have been historically loyal to their banks over a lifetime; Gen Xs were impacted by bank failures and are, as a result, less trusting.  Millennials and Gen Z are much more heavily influenced by technology. In one survey, more than half of everyone except Boomers would consider banking with a non-traditional player such as Amazon or PayPal (BAI, 2021).  

Add to this the largest generational wealth transfer in history—Boomers are predicted to pass $8.8 trillion in assets to the next generations over the coming decade. As these trillions of dollars transfer from generation to generation, Credit Unions could be at the forefront of trusted financial institutions managing the transfers, the investments, the futures of the people who trust them with their money.

How can Credit Unions capitalize on the huge trust capital they have built over many years and use that currency to expand their member base into the future? They can respond to the changing needs of their Member base—building on Trust. Trust IS capital for Credit Unions. Cindy Ballard, Chief human Resources Officer, ICM Partners (Business Insider, 2021): “Trust is earned by being authentic.” Credit Unions have been trusted authentic partners with businesses, with communities, and with individuals and families for over 100 years. And can continue to do so in our much more virtual world by maintaining the authentic touch of trusted service. The original Credit Union motto: “Not for profit, not for charity, but for service,” has been successfully demonstrated in over a century of business. Now it’s time to define the next more virtual century with the same trusted touch.  

The Future Came Early – Now What? 

The question for Credit Unions in maintaining and growing Membership becomes how to maintain the authentic touch of trusted service when most of the “touch” will be virtual? New ways of engaging members and potential members will define Credit Unions’ new future. We have given some thought to how the industry might venture forth and meet that challenge.

Trust is currency in a digital world.

Credit Unions have a service that is differentiated from “big banks” based on human connection, personalized service, and tailored offerings. The challenge is to find the most personalized approach in a virtual world. The answers will be in the creative and bold use of technology that can capitalize on this foundational strength. With the overall goal of maintaining and increasing memberships, Credit Unions need an overarching digital strategy; a content marketing strategy that builds on this platform; and strategies targeted specifically to individuals, families, communities, and businesses.  

Digital Strategy

A recent research report on digital financial banking indicated 82% of respondents want their institution to offer easy digital experiences. And 80% want to know their bank cares about them as a customer. These data help frame Credit Union’s approach to digital services. A digital strategy must be two-pronged in focus: human engagement and interaction AND services. An authentic trusted touch of service would seamlessly combine both.

The strategy must account for generational differences. The Hero Digital research (February 2021) report notes: 

  • Gen Z is just starting out on their financial journey and looking for a trusted brand to help them navigate
  • Millennials (Gen Y) have grown up heavily influenced by tech companies and expect the same convenience from their financial institutions
  • Gen X has experience with multiple financial recessions and scandals as adults and, not surprisingly, may be more skeptical
  • Boomers are generally satisfied with the status quo and need to know they are protected

When asked about current digital use preferences, Gen Z and Millennials topped the list for “entirely digital” while Boomers were significantly higher in preference for services “entirely in person.”  

The research report identified important questions in designing a digital strategy across generations:

  • How can you create a genuine connection with Gen Z through digital beyond transactional activities? 
  • Have you planned a roadmap of digital features that are on par with Millennial’s expectations?
  • As branches become less of a focus for day-to-day primary transactions, how can you maintain a strong relationship with Boomers?

The strategy must reflect both an omnichannel approach to linking services across the platform while weaving in the human touch. 

Marketing Strategy

Focus on Trust: Credit Unions are trusted experts in the financial services space, as well as trusted advisors. The content would be relevant to the day-to-day lives of Members—areas such as steps for saving for retirement, teaching children to bank, how to secure a mortgage, establishing lines of credit, getting the best car loans, maximizing investments in education. 

Keeping in mind the accelerated rate of digital technology, expanding the trade area is important. Most Credit Unions’ focus their advertising in a roughly ten-mile radius around their locations. One way to expand Membership would be to expand the marketing footprint. In the digital world, miles become meaningless except for the in-person connection.

Individuals and Families

Consider Digital Advocates onsite and online who can assist Members and potential Members in navigating the digital system. Make it easy for people to have a good experience because, as with any product/service, the best people to help get the next customer are current customers. 

Put together a referral program with incentives for existing Members to bring in friends and family to join. Make it attractive for Members to bring in new Members and make it attractive for the new Members to stay long enough to experience the authentic trusted touch of service.

Create social channels dedicated to life events that the Credit Union has made possible (e.g., starting college, car/home purchases, first day of retirement). Get people talking about how great their Credit Union experience has been. Storytelling is one of the richest ways to share experiences. Create space for your storytellers! 

Have special Membership appreciation events at numerous locations and on live webinars, complete with free financial planning sessions, college planning sessions, easy credit sign-ups, games, and live music. Advertise the events on local-oriented news sites. Start a weekly series of financial 101 literacy educational sessions that can be attended at the branch or via live webinars. 

And always create avenues for non-members to attend, to experience an authentic trusted financial partner.  


Credit Unions should do everything they can to weave themselves into the fabric of their community. Sponsor local sports events, offer free financial counseling through the public library, sponsor overarching umbrella events across regional Credit Unions that highlight Credit Unions’ contributions to community life. The intent is to get people connected to their community through their Credit Union and visa-versa. 


Affiliate partnerships have enormous potential we have learned through a number of successful partnerships with businesses that quickly capitalized on the ease of connection across financial platforms. The digital funnel drives great deals for Members AND creates new financial incentives for prospective Members once they experience the exceptional, personalized, and person-centered services offered by Credit Unions.  

Look to develop affiliate partnerships with sites like NerdWallet so you can be featured in posts like this and this. Create multiple touchpoints with other businesses that drive people to access Credit Union services. For example, our team worked with CUDL/Origence, which is an innovative partnership with a Credit Union and dealerships. It connects Credit Unions to car dealer landing opportunities that fundamentally change the shopping and buying experience for people and thus optimizes loan volume.  

Acquire new Members when people are on the move—either as a young person going away to college or a family moving to a new city where their old bank may or not have the presence in the new city. Credit Unions could form partnerships with realtors both in the sales and in rentals.


Maintaining and expanding Membership in a rapidly changing digital world in which trust is considered currency creates a unique opportunity for Credit Unions. When eight out of ten people do not want to work with companies they don’t trust, and a significant majority of current Members clearly trust their Credit Union—Credit Unions already occupy the most important space. Now Credit Unions need to expand that Trust into the digital world where possibility abounds because Members already know and new Members will learnCredit Unions: Trust you can bank on.