An aggressive mix of targeting and technology has helped the Wisconsin-based credit union decrease its average age and expand member usage.

Originally published by CreditUnions.com | June 8, 2015

By Marc Rapport

The average age of the 85,211 members of Altra Credit Union ($1.1B, La Crosse, WI) is 39. The industry average? 48.

Attracting and retaining young members has for some time been a brass ring in the credit union industry. So what’s Altra’s secret sauce?

“We knew members were starting to age out of the products and services we offer,” says Mary Isaacs, Altra’s executive vice president and chief financial officer.

So the credit union went back to school. It struck up marketing partnerships with colleges in the markets Altra serves in Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Texas and sponsored financial literacy programs as well as events and sports teams at local high schools.

The credit union emphasizes social media, and its products include special youth certificates, student loans, and branded student credit cards. For the next stage of life, there are home-buying programs and products and services aimed at an older set.

  “We were doing a great job of getting youth accounts in the door, but we weren’t retaining them,” Isaacs says. “We need to stay in front of the members as they transition through life stages. We need their family relationships, their student loans, their business loans.”

And it needed to go mobile. On the marketing side, Altra formed a Go Mobile team to spread the word. It also adopted the technology to open accounts online when the moment was ripe. On the delivery side, mobile banking — including remote deposit checking (RDC) — has seriously taken off.

By The Numbers

Altra’s mobile login requests soared 35% in 2014, from 211,527 in January to 285,544 in December. Mobile RDC use rose even more sharply, nearly doubling from 6,578 deposited items in February 2014 to 12,273 in December and then 10,646 in January 2015.

“RDC sells itself,” Isaacs says. “It’s a good product that works. It didn’t really take off in the PC environment, but once we got mobile RDC, the growth was phenomenal.”

Comparatively, the overall percentage of members using online banking edged up a single percentage point during the year, to 47.03% of the credit union’s 84,175 members in January.

Altra’s electronic banking numbers reflect what’s happening in the industry. But that’s not the entire picture. Cheryl Dutton, vice president of marketing, says 23% of Altra’s current membership joined when they were 17 or younger, and its youth membership growth rate jumped from 6.8% in 2011 to 10% last year.

The credit union places a high premium on services per member (SPM) and Dutton says that members who joined when they were youths now average more than five SPM each.

How can other credit unions achieve similar success?

“Try to be innovative and unafraid to try new technology,” advises EVP/CFO Isaacs. “We’ve tried some things that didn’t always work out, like PC RDC. Don’t be afraid to give them up. The same with text banking.”

Isaacs also stresses keeping upfront costs reasonable.

“We’ve learned that if you want to have success in a certain area, it can’t just be a small part of someone’s job,” she says. “It has to be their main job.”


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