Rewards: Everybody Has Them, Why Don’t You?

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Recently, on a shopping trip with my daughter, it occurred to me that there are very few places I go that lack a rewards program.

For example, the first item on our agenda that day was a trip to Starbucks, where it turned out I had enough points saved up that I earned a free drink. While shopping later, I received $5 off my purchase. And it didn’t stop there either, we even earned a free appetizer for lunch. At every place we stopped that day, we earned some kind of discount, received something for free, or got points for a future discount all thanks to rewards.

Then, an odd thing happened.

Our last stop of the day was to my credit union to withdraw some cash and order a new debit card. While there, my daughter asked an interesting question. She wanted to know why I didn’t get any points, rewards, or discounts at the credit union. I explained that not all rewards come in the same form. For example, the debit card I just ordered was free, despite there typically being a $10.00 fee because I was a “Gold” member. I also started to explain other benefits and rewards that I receive based on my member status, like getting a higher rate on certificates. I saw her eyes glazing over.

This did spark a conversation about places that lacked a rewards program. It wasn’t a very long list, but the credit union was certainly on it. But what about other credit unions? What if, unlike mine, they offered rewards programs? Would I switch? I mean, hotels, airlines, rental car companies, gas stations, retailers, restaurants, coffee shops, and even McDonald’s have rewards programs. Third-party vendors are offering rewards, so why aren’t credit unions?

Benefits of a rewards program

There are many benefits to member rewards program. First of all, they are a way to get members in the door. Many consumers will choose a new credit card or account based on the rewards and benefits offered. A competitive rewards system will keep you on par with the competition and bring in new members.

Additionally, they are also a way to get your members to talk about the great rewards you are offering. They can be as simple as offering a referral incentive, where the referring member receives a gift card or a special rate benefit. You could reward new members with a cash bonus for opening an account. That reward could also come in the form of a bonus dividend at the end of the year. The possibilities could be limitless!

With rewards, not only is the member benefiting, but your credit union will as well. The credit union benefits include an increase in memberships, loan accounts, and share accounts. Another benefit to the credit union is membership loyalty. By offering rewards consistently, the members may feel more inclined to stay with your institution. Offering rewards can be rewarding to the member as well as the credit union. See what I did there?

Getting started

But what does it take to start a rewards program? First of all, you will need a well-thought-out plan for the program. Are you going to offer a points system to gain a higher-level status and depending on the status will the member receive higher dividends, lower rates, and free services? Or is your points system going to work where if the member has enough points they are able to redeem them for merchandise, services, etc.? Are you offering a rewards program based on purchases the member makes with their credit union cards and receiving cashback for transactions or points for the number of transactions used? There is a lot to think about, but the work is worth it.

What does it take to offer a reward incentive? Think of it to promote a new service or product. This could also be a way to highlight an existing service or product that may need reviving. Rewards are a great way to find out what your members are interested in and what does not work so well. As I mentioned above, the incentives could be a gift card to a local restaurant or a free service at a local business. The incentives could also be financial-focused, a cash bonus for opening a new product, a lower rate for opening a loan, or possibly a higher rate on that money market you are offering.

If there is concern about the cost of these programs, think about teaming up with local companies. That way, you as a credit union are supporting local businesses and those businesses are in turn getting new customers. In the end, both parties will benefit while also helping members. The bonus to that option is being able to keep it local and focus on the seventh cooperative principle, concern for community. To your members, this is a great way to demonstrate that and be present in the community. 

Keep up with the competition

Now is a great time to start a rewards program! If you already have a program, why not review it and market it as new and improved? At some point, consumers are going to expect these perks and they are going to choose rewards over no rewards. So, when that happens, don’t you want to be on the giving end? Don’t you want to be the reason why the member chooses your credit union over another financial institution?

I remember not that long ago when I couldn’t be bothered to fill out forms to start rewards programs. I specifically remember being at a gas station and being asked to fill out the form, that it would just take a moment and I didn’t want anything to do with it. Well, now I frequently get ten cents off a gallon of gas, I get upgraded at the hotel, I get a free cup of coffee, etc. Don’t let your credit union be the institution that gets looked over by potential members because of a lack of rewards. Be the credit union with the best rewards where everyone wants to join!

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