Go Digital or Risk Being Left Behind


Banking on Digital Growth is a really good book I read recently that focuses on digital marketing for financial institutions. It is a primer on what digital marketing means and why it’s absolutely the best track for growth no matter how large or small your organization. While reading it, the lightbulb went off in my head and my thought was, “Hey, this is really on point. This is what my credit union needs to do, and what I need to do for our clients.”

My dual roles as a board chairperson for a credit union and a web developer for a CUSO made me think of both as reasons why the book resonated and inspired me to take action. Let’s jump in with the basics of what the author James Robert Lay recommends.

Define your personas

First, you need to define some personas for members and potential members. In the past, these personas were defined by age, gender, income, and other demographics. But, for digital growth you’ll want to define personas based on where people are in life or what problem they’re trying to solve. For instance, a persona could be defined as a person buying a home for the first time or a person looking for retirement advice and investment options.

Defining your personas will necessitate changing your outlook as a provider of products and services to one of helping people solve problems. Here’s an example from the book, “People don’t wake up one day and say, ‘I need a loan.’ They wake up and say, ‘I’m going to buy a new car.’” The loan this person needs is the solution to the need or desire to have a new car. A loan is not what people want; it’s how they get what they want.

Shift your approach

Second, you’ll want to change your perspective from a sales perspective (“great rates, sign up now!”) to one of understanding their problem or need and how your product or service will help them get what they want. You can do this by providing information. For example, take a home buyer who has never had a mortgage. You provide basic information about mortgages, how you get one, the process of looking for a house, inspections, taxes, closings, and all the other details of the mortgage process.

In each article you provide a means for the reader to contact you or—if they’re ready—to apply for a loan. No hard sell, no “we have the lowest prices and best service.” Every financial institution says that, you need to gain their trust and once you have it, your process should allow you to close the deal.

Make your content meaningful

Third, you need a place to put all of your helpful content. For current members, you can use email, social media, and your mobile app. For prospective members, you can use social media and your website. Your website may be the most underutilized asset you have. Does your website sell products and services? Or does it help people understand how your products and services can make their life better?

Here’s a personal example of how websites gain new customers: I recently decided to buy some new tires for my truck. What was the first thing I did? I went to my favorite search engine and started looking up tires recommended for my truck. I’ve purchased many sets of tires over the years, so I didn’t need basic information about tires, I needed to research available tires and price. Once I found the tires I wanted, I contacted my repair shop, made the deal, and had the tires installed. Nearly everyone finds new products, services, and businesses this way.

Here’s an example that may help you relate to the premise of helpful content for your credit union. Say I just moved to town, I need a new financial institution and I want to put additional money away for retirement. I do my search for local institutions and yours comes up in my search list. I go to your site and about the only thing I find are rates, one paragraph describing each account type, and a button to “Sign Up Now.” OK, not really helpful, but it’s the first one I looked at so I keep searching.

My second website has several articles on retirement accounts, investing, planning over the long term, options based on income levels and how to draw money out when you do retire. After reading a couple of these articles I feel like this institution is more in tune with me and where I am in my life. I then take the initiative to contact this institution because they’ve gained some trust by providing information that helps me at this point in my life.

Providing helpful information considerate of my current life situation is a commitment because it takes time and probably money because you don’t have writers on staff. But, in this day and age people take the initiative to discover what’s available before they contact a business. If you aren’t providing information on your website that helps people solve problems they’re going to move on to a provider that does.

How will this shape the future?

Back to my dual roles as a board chair and a web developer. I introduced Banking on Digital Growth and its concepts to my credit union CEO and head of marketing. The concepts were accepted well. We need to develop how our credit union can use them to gain new members and generate additional loans from current members.

As a web developer, our team has recently been discussing the future of web development. It looks like the technical requirements of website development may be becoming less demanding. As it becomes easier to develop a site, our services as developers may see less demand, so we need to figure out what the future looks like and how we continue to provide value to our clients. One way we might do that is by providing content (our team includes writers and editors of digital content). Another way is to become experts at SEO and tracking visitors to website pages. Knowing which pages are visited and how long people stay on those pages is important in understanding how visitors use content. We could provide that as developers.

Wrapping things up, James Robert Lay recommends defining personas based on where people are in life, changing your perspective from selling to providing help and developing a website that provides helpful, empathetic information that solves problems for members and potential members. When you do this, your marketing becomes a digital growth engine.

Digital growth is the best way to stay relevant and grow your membership. Get started today, or risk being left behind.


  • Kurt Hansen

    Kurt joined CU*Answers in 2014 as a Web Applications Developer. With a couple of decades of IT work including consulting, networking, IT management and web development, he’s become a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to bit flipping and technology implementation. Outside of work he loves dogs, spending time outside and sometimes just thinking about life in a quiet forest. He is Board Chairperson for River Valley Credit Union.

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