Data and Marketing Technology: Best Practices for Credit Unions


Sankul Seth

“John Smith” is a new member of a credit union. He graduated from college last year, was approved for his first loan soon after, and activated his checking account’s first debit card six months ago. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he, like many members today, hasn’t spent much money on things other than necessities (such as groceries) and can’t remember the last time he used cash. But his debit card has yet to be swiped. Although he is eligible for rewards points on all grocery purchases as a new member, he’s yet to bring that card to the supermarket because he’s unaware of the benefits being offered to him. Why? Because he hasn’t opened any email messages that have been sent to him from the credit union, including the weekly messages about his eligibility for rewards on grocery purchases. Unfortunately, his credit union is unaware that he hasn’t opened the emails because it is not tracking the data of his email engagement. And so, we see a never-ending cycle of missed opportunity and miscommunication.

Complementary model

Data collection and customer-based marketing should represent a complementary model for generating revenue and member engagement for today’s credit unions. Digital communication is increasingly becoming the standard as society becomes more reliant on technology. This is especially true during a time of reduced in-person contact while the dynamic of consumer expectations has increasingly shifted toward digital communication contact. The need to create and maintain an individualized customer experience, or “journey,” through digital marketing is critical to satisfying today’s members and is rooted in the development of strategic omni-channel campaigns that reach people through a variety of digital mediums, including email, text messaging and social media. Often, the long-term success of such campaigns are reliant on data from past consumer touchpoints to plan future messaging through predictive analytics. However, many of today’s financial institutions, struggle with creating a collaborative approach between digital data and marketing for a variety of reasons such as improper staffing and lack of commitment to these tasks. Credit unions that effectively marry these important domains will be in better position to understand their members’ behavior throughout all market segmentations, thereby providing the opportunity for personalized campaigns that better engage member segments by appealing to their unique traits and habits, thus creating greater return on investment.

The evolving credit union member

PSCU’s Eye on Payments 2020 consumer payments study finds that older Millennials in their thirties were coming of age and entering the workforce between the time of the burst and the Great Recession. Now, in their prime working years, this generation faces the economic effects of COVID-19. Credit unions should keep these concerns top-of-mind and consider this generation’s unique and unfortunate history with our nation’s economic downturns.

The PSCU consumer payments study also finds, with the right appeal, credit unions project to be attractive to this generation as their primary banking institution due to shared ownership and more forgiving loan qualifications. Meanwhile, younger Millennials in their mid- to late twenties and early thirties are digital natives who grew up during a time of rapid technological advancement. They are mobile-oriented consumers, preferring to access the internet via mobile device instead of a desktop computer; a fact reflected in their payment and banking preferences. Credit unions must meet these consumers where they are—on their mobile devices – and provide robust mobile banking tools and digital payment options.

These digital natives are accustomed to receiving communication in specific ways, namely through email, text messaging, mobile apps and social media. While this does not mean younger adults are completely averse to direct mail (the United States Postal Services cites evidence saying as much), it does mean physical mail strategies may yield lesser results, as digital technology has become such an ingrained part of their daily professional and personal lives. Younger generations are also more likely to relocate frequently, making consistent contact through print mail all the more challenging. With the current pandemic forcing people into more digital forms of communication, marketing trends have already evolved down paths such as video, virtual events, and even augmented reality.

Omni-channel, message creation, and engagement

According to a recent analysis by Forbes, today’s consumers consider as many as 10 sources of information before coming to a decision. But don’t be confused about the distinction between an omni-channel approach to marketing and a multi-channel approach. The purpose of omni-channel marketing is to utilize multiple marketing channels, such as email, social media, text messaging and mobile apps, to deliver the same message to customers. The information should be sent consistently to the same market segments through all messaging means available. The messaging strategy should be seamless in the sense that the consumer will recognize the familiarity of it whether they see the message on social first or through any other outlet.

Establishing various touch points in this manner for the purpose of tracking which members gravitate toward different touch points, gathering that data and predicting future behavior through analytics is key. For example, perhaps a campaign is initiated to a segment of members who recently paid off a car loan on time and will be offered the opportunity to be pre-approved for a lower-rate loan if they apply by a certain date. Omni digital messaging would be sent to all members through email, mobile text, and be advertised on social media with the same communication. Whereas, in multi-channel marketing, each channel typically has its own goals unconnected to messages sent through other channels.

Some members may be inclined to click and/or respond via an email or text versus social. Those who click and/or respond should receive any and all follow-up messaging related to this offer through that platform with which they engaged. This strategy can also be applied to new members. Consider the following messaging path and touch points for new member onboarding across all three digital platforms:

  • Account credit/debit card has been sent
  • How to activate card upon arrival
  • Available rewards offers and cash-back bonus once card is activated

It is important for each subsequent message in the series to be triggered upon the member’s engagement with the touch point, whether that be email, text or social. Additionally, these real-time responses need to be gathered and monitored regularly in order to establish more predictable paths to future campaign messaging.

Development through data

Continuing to focus on the new member as the template, data collection and analytics should be the standard beginning with the first touch point engaged. When an account card is opened, transaction history can play a big role in developing ongoing messages. Does this individual use his or her card consistently on Amazon? Perhaps they would jump at the offer for bonus points when the card is used for online retail.

Capitalizing on these invitations to consumers only comes with the right form of messaging. Knowing the right form of messaging in which to reach a particular member should be as easily accessible as retrieving their card’s transaction history. Today’s email and text message marketing platforms allow for real-time monitoring of engagement that should be consistently catalogued into a data repository, commonly referred to as a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool or platform, to be referred to routinely by various departments throughout the business. Those members who have favorable open rates and click-through rates via email messaging or those who reply to text messages should continue to receive campaigns through those channels with the most appropriate options and offers that are likely to be beneficial and enticing to them based on their established habits. The gathered data reveals a 360-degree view of an individual member’s “journey” of engagement through the various touch points offered and creates a model for the sending of personalized messages based on behaviors.

A failure to integrate data and marketing technologies to create meaningful messages represents a lack of data efficiency and potentially lost revenue. A better understanding of the needs and habits of members allows for targeting them with more appropriate messages. The retail industry and the banking industry have flourished in this regard, and it’s becoming an expectation of customers in other markets as well.

The member’s journey

In the last decade, many credit unions have attempted to follow the footprints of retail and banking when it comes to digital communication. Yet, credit unions are often behind in this technology because they are smaller and are not investing their talent and tools to effectively send messaging and collect data on that messaging through digital platforms.

This reality tends to culminate in a lack of personalized experiences for members, where messages are not consistent regardless of how they are delivered. In addition, all personnel within the credit union are not adequately trained to recognize the individuality of each member’s offer resulting in internal communication with that member as disconnected as the channel and content of the external communication. For example, members should be able to phone in after receiving a text or email and be able to accept the offer seamlessly, even if they did not respond directly to the sent message. If the contact center cannot identify the sent offer through the internal sharing of gathered data on that customer’s engagement attempts, this could reflect an experience that has not been personalized and can therefore be lost on the consumer.

Utilizing an omni-channel content strategy, consolidating data, analyzing that data, and trusting it to drive digital marketing are all necessary components to communicating with today’s customers. By enhancing data and marketing capabilities, credit unions can improve their recruitment, retention and investment return while benefiting the overall member experience.

In the end, credit unions that adopt these best practices: 1) sending campaigns through an omni-channel approach; 2) proactively establishing member “touch points” for data gathering; 3) centralizing and analyzing data to develop future campaigns effectively, will be the ones that will thrive in an increasingly competitive landscape.

About the Author:
Sankul Seth is vice president of Enterprise Data at PSCU, where he oversees data innovation strategy. His current focus is on transforming technologies to simplify and define technology roadmaps and implementation. He holds an MBA in Data and Analytics from the University of South Florida. For additional information, please email him at

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