The Iowa Caucus is less than three weeks away and it looks like it will be a shootout for both parties. One thing is clear – the “establishment” is out of vogue and people are expressing a desire for radical change. While it is likely that the Presidential race will moderate over time, it’s also clear there is a deep dissatisfaction with business as usual. There is no mistaking Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders as traditional candidates. With possibly polar opposite personalities, both have encouraged large segments of the population to reject candidates supported by deep pocket contributors. Sanders has said he’s not just running for President, but leading a revolution. In the process, Wall Street and the Big Banks have been stamped as public enemy number one.
This is not a new phenomenon. Since the Great Recession and bank bailout (Emergency Economic Stabilization Act) many people have resented the perceived unfairness of saving the banks at the expense of taxpayers. While credit unions faced financial challenges during the recession, they also enjoyed the positive effects of consumers willing to close bank accounts and looking for alternatives. The credit union industry benefited by growth in membership and goodwill in their communities. While positive overall, I don’t think most credit unions really took advantage of the opportunity to differentiate themselves from the banks. There is still widespread misunderstanding of what a credit union is and who they serve.
Which brings me to my overall view that most credit unions are still missing an enormous opportunity. People (especially Millennials) are hungry for change and supportive of social causes. The Millennial generation is supporting Bernie Sanders 2-1 over Hilary Clinton. I hear consistently that credit unions are challenged attracting this generation to the credit union and I find it astounding. So many young people are jumping aboard the progressive ideas supported by both Trump and Sanders despite what most would consider obvious shortcomings. Moving your account from a bank to a credit union is a chance to stick it to the man. This generation should be knocking down the door to join an organization whose primary objective is to support each other and their community. I strongly believe credit unions can be much more successful if they can deftly craft this message and deliver it to the right people. Promoting slightly lower loan rates or marginally higher savings rates is not the answer.
Trump and Sanders may not make it far past Iowa and New Hampshire but the message they have delivered during this campaign is loud and clear to anyone who is listening. If credit unions can demonstrate they truly improve the lives of middle-class Americans, there are millions of additional potential members who would support them. Shaping and delivering that message is the real challenge. Credit unions that can overcome this challenge will be wildly successful. You say you got a real solution?