Credit Unions

What the future generation thinks about credit unions

Denise Wymore
December 6, 2023

Gen Z on credit unions, money, and stress

For credit unions, it's critical to understand the needs and views of the newest generation of members to continue to persevere. At the last Underground Money20/20 in Vegas, Lenny Vallone, CMO of SCE FCU invited five Gen Z finance majors from the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels to speak to the credit union executives in attendance about their views on credit unions, banking, and finance in general.  

Lenny began with this example: “Twenty years ago there were double the amount of credit unions there are today. What will we look like 20 years from now? If we don’t do things differently, if we don’t think about what we can do differently, we are never going to be able to grow. The big banks and fintechs are outspending us in advertising. Aspirations Bank in 2021 went from 1.5 million to five million customers and spent $149 million in advertising. The year prior they spent $250 million on advertising.” 

Doing things differently and effectively will rely on understanding how to connect and communicate with Gen Z who is taking up 20 percent of the population and holds the key to future growth. It’s not just about the dollars spent in advertising, but also what those ads were saying. 

When the panel of finance majors were asked about the future of their generation’s financial well-being, the conversation began with one very optimistic student. He believes our future is bright. Simply put, “We are America and we are resilient. Regardless of the economic turmoil we are experiencing currently, we are going to be okay.”

As far as their relationship with money, first and foremost they find money and this economy fascinating. As finance majors, they feel they have the edge when it comes to financial literacy and education.  However, that advantage translates to a rather conservative approach to investments, preferring to keep their money in insured accounts, over more risky investments.  

The conversation turned to how they choose where to bank, and what makes them want to be associated with that brand. According to a recent Forbes article, more than any other generation, Gen Z is fueled by purpose. And we heard that from this group. Having experienced a global pandemic, economic recessions, and major cultural shifts during the formative periods in their lives, they see the world differently.  How can your credit union unlock the potential and strengths of Gen Z? By highlighting the purpose, vision, and mission of the credit union movement. 

This generation was born with a smartphone in their hand, so it's important to know about the apps they use and why. Robinhood and Acorns were both mentioned. As one student explained, “What they all have in common is an easy integration with your life. It’s easily accessible to just look through and see right there all your finance stuff. The key is an easy user interface that takes the stress out. It is stressful for a lot of people. We want something you can look at and easily eliminate the stress of finance.”

They want things done immediately because they were the first to admit their attention spans are way shorter than previous generations. As mentioned earlier, the user interface must be quick, clean, and easy to use. However, they also crave a human connection. They are not big fans of chatbots and don't want to transact digitally 100 percent of the time. Surprisingly, they feel that a branch presence is necessary. 

Credit unions have an age problem

Just 26 percent of Generation Z and 14 percent of millennials use credit unions, according to a recent GoBankingRates survey, with most opting to use a large bank or online financial institution instead. Today, the average age of a credit union member is 53, compared to the median age of an American, which is 38.5 years. 

Since their creation, credit unions have depended on referrals for new members. However, it seems in recent years these referrals have been happening less and less often: 

  • 90 percent of members DO NOT encourage their children to join their credit union
  • 60 percent of credit union members’ children choose to bank at a different institution

Only one Runnin’ Rebel admitted to being a member of a credit union, and that was because the credit union recruited him in high school by having a physical location. 

Also referred to as "Digital Natives" Gen Z look for personal solutions that are unique to their situations. They seek financial information on platforms like TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram, showing that they want to learn about finance in new and innovative ways. 

Think differently

Aside from their feel-good advertising efforts, Aspirations Bank “thinks differently” about how and where their customers spend their money.  Their call to action is “Leave your bank and change the world with Aspiration.” 

According to an article in Forbes, Aspiration Bank has pitched itself to consumers fed up with the traditional banking industry and to millennials eager to patronize do-good businesses. It donates 10 percent of its income and offers an in-app feature that guides Aspiration customers to environmentally and people-friendly businesses. Users can even get a sustainability score on their spending habits.

Take the stress out 

During the initial two decades of my career, I was oblivious to the experience of being a credit union member. This was not due to my affiliation with a bank, but because my accounts and loans were seamlessly managed where I was employed. This is a shared sentiment among many credit union employees — many are unfamiliar with the challenges members face, such as enduring hold times, waiting in lines, or, more distressingly, facing loan rejections. 

For any generation, the process of applying for a loan can be emotionally draining. To successfully appeal to the elusive younger generation, credit unions must prioritize the development of an intuitive and responsive application, coupled with a decision engine that thoroughly assesses the overall financial profile of the applicant — instantly. 

Another challenge in reaching younger members is having the technology to score a “thin file” credit report. College kids usually have not had enough time to establish sufficient credit to produce a score. Artificial intelligence, specifically machine learning, has the potential to transform the landscape for thin file consumers with smart, efficient, and inclusive lending. 

Invest in a hybrid model

While we may assume that younger members prefer digital interactions over in-person branch visits, one student’s insights challenged this notion by saying “A lot of things in pop culture are looking to enjoy things that happened in previous generations, we like the connections between people, the relationships.” 

In a CU Times article, the percentage of Gen Z and millennial members willing to open a new account in person is 12 percent and 21 percent respectively. Interestingly, they desire the convenience of a nearby branch, even though they prefer not to visit for routine matters like establishing membership. Striking the right balance, they want the flexibility to choose between interacting with a person or utilizing a user-friendly mobile app for self-service.

However, simply providing these options is no longer enough to secure their loyalty. The success of mobile apps hinges on their speed, capabilities, and user-friendliness, all of which are imperative for capturing and maintaining the loyalty of this savvy demographic.

Keep talking and listening

Following the panel discussion, the UNLV finance majors emphasized the importance of credit unions sustaining a dialogue with their generation within their respective communities. Amidst the abundance of misinformation and assumptions, gaining firsthand insights from eligible members is invaluable. 


Denise Wymore is an inductee to America’s Credit Union Museum and a cheerleader for passion and commitment. Currently, she is the Marketing Manager for Small Credit Union Initiatives at Zest AI and is proud to be a credit union lifer who started her career as a teller. 

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