CUNA: Are the Eyes Wide Shut?


By Robert McGarvey


For CU2.0

With trumpets loudly blaring, CUNA has announced a new $100 million campaign, called “Open Your Eyes to a CU,” to awaken the country to the magic of credit unions – and just maybe keep the movement alive.

Questions multiply. Is this campaign needed?  Is CUNA the one to lead the charge?

CUNA CEO Jim Nussle laid out his case: “The future of our movement depends on more Americans than ever opening their eyes to everything a credit union offers them. By leveraging modern digital media tools to reach the right consumers at the right time, we’ll create a fresh image for credit unions and challenge their assumptions about who we are and what we do. When they open their eyes to a credit union, they’ll be pleased by what they see.”

“We can’t afford to wait on the sidelines any longer,” said Nussle.

Nussle added that banks outspend credit unions 43 to 1 on marketing.

Know this: five banks each spend over $1 billion annually on marketing.  Chase alone spends over $2 billion annually. Citi and Bank of America spend around $1.4 billion apiece. For a budget in the range of $100 million, look at Fifth Third or Santander – and if you don’t have a clue what they are doing, join the club.

Chase alone spends 20x what CUNA is talking about. 20x.

And the non banks spend even more. They are devouring the home mortgage market and just maybe checking is next.

That has to give you pause.

What are credit unions saying about CUNA’s plan? CUToday ran this: “I have heard three different reactions—like the tale of the three bears, and I don’t mean to be glib about this. But one says it’s too much, another says it’s not enough, and the third says it’s just right,” Nussle said. “This has been the reactions.”

Let me add a fourth reaction.

Start with the reality: credit unions are vanishing.  CUNA showed 5757 credit unions in February 2018, down 240 from February 2017. If the current rate of closure continues there will be 3000 credit unions in 2028.  In 1960 there were 10,000 federally chartered credit unions per NCUA.  

There is no way to sugar coat this.  Many credit unions – literally thousands – are on life support.

Should they trust the CUNA campaign to prop them up?

CUNA spells out its plans in more detail at this website.  Find the password for entry here.

What do I think is missing in CUNA’s planning? A glaring lack is substantial involvement by experts with  digital gravitas.  Where are the gurus with Google and Facebook and Amazon on their resumes? I’m not seeing that. I’m not seeing the brainiacs from fintechs, or the slick marketers from fringe agencies.

Credit union people are great people. But I just don’t see traditional credit union people alone leading the movement out of the torpor it finds itself in.  

There needs to be new, edgy thought leadership.  Boat rocking innovation.

Credit unions cannot match the budgets of big banks. But they could outdo them with creativity and with an embrace of revolution.

I don’t see that with CUNA’s efforts. There’s a well meaning messaging guide at the site – maybe I’m missing it but I don’t see anything that isn’t obvious.

That’s the trouble with what I see in the whole effort.

Obvious – painting within the established credit union lines – isn’t what’s needed today.

Credit unions need to wake up and embrace the belief that radical change is required.  Really, really radical. In both operations and messaging.

Credit unions are at a crossroads.  Many will die – unless there’s a wake up realization that utterly different approaches and different tactics are needed now.

Part of that, I strongly believe, is for credit unions to band together – and also for credit unions to leverage strengths with other kinds of cooperatives such as rural electrics and agricultural.  

When I look around, I also see quite a few credit unions succeeding – on their own, in their local markets.  A credit union is a local business and success will start locally.

Ask yourself:  What are we doing to embrace a digital tomorrow – not just in marketing but everywhere, in every operation of the credit union?

Embrace tomorrow.  It’s coming and it doesn’t care if you want it to or not.

What are you doing to be ready?


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