Credit Unions

Mind the (age) gap: Why credit unions can’t attract younger members

Bo McDonald
December 11, 2023

“We need younger members!”

Of course, you do. I always think of the words my salty, old aunt used to use when I was a kid: “Hold out one hand, and sit on the other… now see which one gets filled first.” Wishing and hoping to get younger members isn’t a solid strategy to do so.

Here’s the problem: “They are a generation of coddled infants who developed into demanding tyrants.” We say things like this about the younger generation while also trying to woo their business.

But alas, here’s your WHOA moment: That statement wasn’t made about millennials or Gen Z. That was written in 1968 in the New York Times by Lisa Hammel about baby boomers.

“Young people feel entitled to good times, expensive equipment, and the kind of homes they grew up in, and believe they deserve instant status, important, meaningful work, and an unspoiled environment. They started out with limitless choice, arrayed like cereals on the market shelves (and then grew up) only to find that scarcity was back, and that society had changed its promises.”

Yeah, these kids today! Still nope. That statement was made by Susan Littwin writing about the generation growing up in the 1980s.

“The obvious trappings of growing up — identities, careers, marriage, children, houses… are neither obvious nor automatic, the way they seemed to be for my parents and other adults I knew when I was growing up. So, a lot of us settle into careers, families, or houses later than men and women did a generation ago, or not at all.” Still not about millennials or Gen Z. That was Cheryl Merser, writing in Grown Ups: A Generation in Search of Adulthood in 1987 talking about her life in her late 20s.

I’m sharing these sentiments to make several points that could help your credit union finally crack that nut of wooing younger members:

To claim to want their business and yet make disparaging remarks about them because they are demonstrating fundamentally the same behaviors, expectations, and tendencies that every generation has demonstrated when they were in their twenties is the wall you create, keeping you from adding them to your membership. It’s hard to totally understand the unique needs of younger generations and their preferences in doing business, and be authentic with your messaging and branding and be successful. “You crazy kids, we got the banking on the internets for you.”

You don’t have to understand them. You just have to understand them. Clear as mud? In hiring many folks younger than myself, it would be easy for me to dismiss them and tell the tales of “when I first started my job, having to walk uphill both ways barefoot in six feet of snow just to earn my first paycheck.” But I know they’ll give me the same eye-rolls I gave older folks when I was that age. 

I don’t have to understand them, but I do have to understand they are different and embrace that. I need to understand their needs and desires, so I can meet them where they are and be an employer they choose to work for. It's the same thing for your credit union in hiring younger people, but especially true for attracting and retaining younger members.

And in terms of understanding them, just ask. I recall sitting in a board room several years ago as the mostly white-haired board members were trying to list the characteristics of their ideal member (who happened to be a 25-year-old at the time) and I had to pause. The intern was scribing notes on the whiteboard for me, and in that pause, I suggested to the board that instead of guessing, we ask a 25-year-old (she was actually 24, but close enough) to help give us a first-hand perspective. It was eye-opening! Just ask. You don’t have to understand, you just must understand.

Examine your brand, your member experience, your technology, and your policies to ensure you can in fact authentically market to them and serve them well when they do come knocking (or clicking) to answer your credit union’s message. Remember, you were young once and while many things have changed in the world, there’s still commonality among people no matter what generation you grew up in.

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Meet our guest author, Bo McDonald

Finding his creative voice (literally) behind the mic as a radio DJ in Upstate New York, Bo McDonald used his unique view of the financial world to create the go-to firm for community financial institutions looking to venture outside their comfort zones. Through a process of trial and error, Bo founded Your Marketing Co just over a decade ago and has enjoyed continued growth since then. His past ten-plus years at YMC have been defined by industry-disrupting ideas, a whole lot of laughs, and a creative boom in credit union marketing.

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