Industry Veterans Launch Startup to Transform Credit Union Member Experience

Nook, a pioneer of niche experiences, proudly announced its official launch, poised to challenge the status quo and innovate within the credit union industry, on January 9, 2024. Co-Founder and CEO Austin Wentzlaff is here to talk about what Nook is, how the idea for Nook came about, and why Nook’s Niche Experience Platform is critical for credit unions’ long-term success.

What is Nook?

Nook is a fintech offering a first-of-its-kind platform designed to empower credit unions to provide niche experiences to their members without the need for a new brand, website, or technology stack. Nook’s Niche Experience Platform leverages a niche, lifestyle content approach to build focused communities around core member groups, building deep trust and loyalty. By incorporating lifestyle topics alongside financial content, Nook offers a fresh perspective, encouraging more frequent member engagement and enabling credit unions to “sell without selling” by allowing members to envision the practicality, relevance, and positive impact that credit union solutions have on their lives.

Where did the idea for Nook come from?

Nook is an idea that came about from my 10 years of experience in this industry. I joined the credit union world right out of college without knowing what a credit union was. However, once I was in the industry, I fell in love with the people, the mission, and what we were working towards.

One pain point I’ve noticed over the years is that as the industry has grown bigger and bigger, credit unions have lost their core differentiator.  There’s been a repeating theme of credit unions struggling to get the right message out there and draw members in because everyone is using similar marketing strategies to offer very similar products and rates.

Our goal with Nook is to get credit unions back to their roots, which is by building community through focused content, and we don’t think that’s possible with the product-style marketing that’s happening today.

After thinking about this problem for some time, I realized that the way to set ourselves apart from other financial institutions is by developing niche experiences that are tailored to specific member demographics. In doing so, we help build trust and relationships with credit union members by communicating that we understand them on a very deep level because our content is built around them, for them.

How does Nook’s Niche Experience Platform work?

The niche banking strategy targets a specific segment of customers through a separate institution built around a core niche. Our niche experiences strategy takes a different approach by building our own brands around a credit union’s existing brand, serving as a co-branded extension or subsidiary brand.

I thought about how we could reinvent and enable the existing niche banking strategy without having to start a new institution from scratch, and that’s where the concept of building niche experiences was born.

Whereas niche banking targets a specific segment of customers perceived to be underserved by conventional financial institutions, a niche experiences strategy is also based on customer segmentation and an intense focus on a particular group. However, rather than committing to a single sub-segment, the niche experiences approach identifies multiple subgroups within the credit union’s existing membership base. Working with these subgroups follows a similar process as single niche banking. Once identified, each receives tailored digital content and product offerings.

Our first brand is called Living50+, a niche experience designed to focus on people in the 50-plus age group, which can be attached to credit unions’ existing brands. Nook’s Niche Experience Platform helps credit unions build trust and loyalty through highly relevant, educational, and entertaining content. For example, we created a 50-plus niche experience for our Michigan-based client, Dort Credit Union, called Dort | Living50+.

Why 50 Plus?

We chose to start with the 50-plus niche for two main reasons: (1) the majority of credit union members fall within this age demographic, and (2) consumer spending trends show that the people in the 50-plus group are making major financial purchases, like buying second homes, planning for retirement, or getting life insurance policies, whereas the younger generations are flatlining in terms of what they’re spending.

For these reasons, we think credit unions across the industry are sitting on an absolute gold mine right now but don’t have the right marketing strategy to reach their members in the ways they’d like to. Our solution is to focus on them and show them that we genuinely understand them so that they take all that consumer spending they’re already doing and put it into our client credit unions.

Why does Nook use a Niche Experience Platform for credit union marketing?

Nook uses a niche experience marketing strategy for credit unions to promote frequent member engagement by creating focused content. We wanted to adjust the strategy in credit union marketing to not be about products anymore but instead be about life. We aim to create a platform that delivers curated content to our niche audience, focusing on their key interests, such as housing, travel, health, and relationships.

Through testing our Niche Experience Platform on our clients' existing websites, we’ve found that offering relatable lifestyle content significantly boosts member engagement because it’s not about financial products and transactions; it’s about life.

How will Nook’s Niche Experience Platform benefit credit unions?

Nook’s Niche Experience Platform offers credit unions two key benefits. The first is the value-added service to their membership from our rich educational and entertaining content, which improves the member experience and engagement.

The second benefit is helping credit unions sell more products and increase the number of products per member, therefore growing wallet share. We do this by “selling without selling:” We’re getting in front of these members with lifestyle posts that interest them, and while they’re reading, they’ll come across strategically placed call-to-actions pointing to the credit union’s financial products.

We’ve seen a lot of success already with our early clients, showing that members go into the website for completely random reasons, read posts that don’t mention financial products whatsoever, click on one of the call-to-actions, and open an account with that credit union. These interactions show us that credit unions can sell more products and services using our Niche Experiences Platform because our marketing strategy is through the lens of being a member benefit.

What is Nook’s Long-Term Goal?

Our big goal with Nook is to revolutionize credit union marketing. Our first niche is 50-plus, and we plan to build more niche experiences in the future to reach wider audiences. I’d like to work with credit unions to help specialize their products, where every aspect of our Niche Experience Platform is built around each member. There are a lot of challenges to overcome to get to that point, so what we’re doing now is a stepping-stone strategy toward what we believe is a phenomenal, long-term, aspirational goal.

Connect with Nook

Visit Nook’s website or LinkedIn page to learn more or get connected.

About Author:
Austin Wentzlaff is the Co-Founder & CEO of Nook and brings 10+ years of credit union industry, CUSO, and Fintech startup leadership experience. He has spent the entirety of his career in the credit union industry, where he has worked exclusively for Fintech startups from the earliest stages of growth through exit, where his role as a key contributor was instrumental in their early success.

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