Beyond the Branch: Modern Tactics for Marketing Credit Unions to Millennials and Gen Z

Beyond the Branch: Modern Tactics for Marketing Credit Unions to Millennials and Gen Z

Evolution is a funny thing, isn’t it? One day, checks are the hottest new thing in payments and your target market consists of WWII veterans and their nuclear families. Then, in the blink of an eye, mobile apps and contactless payments are all the rage, while the next generation of consumers was born just 20 years ago, in a totally different millennium where technology and digital banking are not just the norm, but the expectation.

Whew…the journey from past to present happens without us even realizing it, even though it spans several decades. The winds of change move quickly, as do the credit union services and technologies we offer. But even more so, change infiltrates the people and the members we serve, and it’s time to start looking toward the future.

The truth of the matter is that credit unions are already ingrained into the Traditionalist, Boomer and Gen X generations. They’ve chosen their respective institutions, made their big purchases, taken out their various loans and are well-established within the credit union system. Now, we have the distinct challenge of promoting the credit union movement’s relevance to younger generations – Millennials and Gen Zers – and it’s no easy task.

Here's why:

  • According to the World Council of Credit Unions, The average age of a credit union member in North America is 53 years old.
  • According to a 2023 article from CU Insight, only four percent of Gen Zers are members of a credit union.
  • Gen Z and Millennials are less likely to use a credit union for their financial needs than a national or digital-only banks.

Looking at those numbers, there’s a clear disconnect. The average credit union member is older than the Millennial and Gen Z generations, and the demographics tell us that – despite having a constant flow of information and brand placement in this digital age – the younger generations are not being reached or engaged.

From a marketing perspective, the message is quite apparent: credit unions need to start thinking beyond the branch and focusing on modern ways to market to the younger generations. It isn’t just a “nice to have” thought, it’s a necessity, because the future of our success lies in adapting strategies that align and resonate with those of Millennials and Gen Z.

Generational Considerations for Your Marketing

When it comes to marketing, it’s best to first understand the characteristics and preferences of the younger generations. These will be critical to establishing your marketing plan, so let’s dive in.

Millennial Generation
Millennials are those individuals born between 1981-1996, which makes them approximately 27-42 years old. This generation is characterized by being the first to utilize technology in their day-to-day lives, which only grew as they entered adulthood in a new millennium. Their lives have been punctuated by Y2K, 9/11 and the financial crisis. Needless to say, they are opinionated and motivated to share their thoughts, they value relationships and personal time over hierarchies and rigid 9-5 schedules, they are fluent in both established and new technologies, they are creative freethinkers, they are well-educated and they are adaptive to change.

Gen Z Generation
Gen Z individuals are those born between 1997-2012. Many Gen Zers are coming of age right now, and the later Gen Zers are entering their teen years – a very influential time. That said, they are at a prime age to learn about credit unions and their many banking options. Also keep in mind that Gen Z is the most tech-savvy, as their entire lives have been lived in the digital age. They never grew up in a time when there wasn’t internet, and they are the most active on social media. Because of that, they expect digital and mobile technology in every aspect of life – and they are quick to adopt emerging technologies. They are also the most diverse, tolerant, flexible, highly educated and competitive generation yet.

Similar Characteristics
When you look at these two generations side by side, you’ll notice some similarities that translate to their banking habits, and these are key pieces to address when it comes to your credit union marketing. Here are some things to remember as you develop your strategy to attract younger generations:

  • They desire digital experiences – technology is a critical piece of the puzzle.
  • Digital experiences must be accompanied by personalization. One size does not fit all, and the younger generations want to feel that special connection to the organization.
  • They are drawn to organizations that share meaning and purpose – not strictly business.
  • They are no strangers to change and adapting to evolving circumstances.
  • They are used to having many options for everything, and they are not afraid to leave a financial institution if there is another one that can better suit their needs.

Translating Demographics into Marketing Strategies

Now that we know the preferences and likes/dislikes of the younger generations – as well as an understanding of the events that shaped them – it’s time to apply all of this information in real-world marketing efforts. Use these strategies to attract, engage and retain Millennial and Gen Z members:

  1. Embrace technology within your credit union. As previously mentioned, both generations are familiar with and thrive in the digital world. They crave convenience and independence when it comes to their banking, and don’t necessarily want to be tethered to a physical branch or in-person interactions. Utilize online loan forms so they can apply on their time, use chatbots to initiate communications and interact in a digital format and highlight your mobile and online banking options and their features. You can accomplish these things through – you guessed it – digital media channels. Make your technology-driven services the subject of website and mobile app promotions, social media videos, email campaigns and more.
  2. Create digital engagement and an approachable online presence. Millennials and Gen Z are highly connected and tech-savvy generations. Therefore, your credit union must establish a strong online presence through the use of social media platforms (X, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, etc.), your mobile app and a user-friendly website. Share valuable content that speaks to their daily lives, such as job interview tips, budgeting ideas and financial insights. And, of course, provide frequent updates to not just attract, but engage with these individuals in places where they already spend significant amounts of time on a regular basis. Also be sure to communicate your content in a way that is relatable and on-trend so it keeps the eye of your target audience.
  3. Employ financial education initiatives. Millennials and Gen Z are working in a less than desirable financial environment than some of their predecessors. They’ve achieved adulthood in the midst of two global crises – the Great Recession and the Covid-19 pandemic. That’s why it makes sense to position your credit union as an educational resource for these individuals. Offer workshops, webinars and online content, such as blog posts, that focus on financial literacy. Address common concerns like student loans, budgeting and saving for major life events. By providing this information, you can build trust and demonstrate your commitment to the financial well-being of your younger members.
  4. Provide personalized and flexible services. Younger generations are unique in the fact that they want a mostly digital banking experience, but with all the personalization and flexibility of your friendly neighborhood credit union. With that said, tailor your products and services to meet these desires, needs and preferences of both Millennials and Gen Z. Simple things such as flexible loan terms, low fees and innovative financial solutions will capture the attention of these individuals. Also be sure to highlight the advantages of the credit union with specific consideration given to community and member-driven policies. Personalization is key to all of this messaging, so try to utilize tools like segmentation in your email campaigns and AI and chatbots for instant, customized assistance in times of need. Remember that the member experience – particularly for Millennials and Gen Z – is different for each person at your credit union, not a journey that can be achieved with blanket statements and generic marketing tactics.
  5. Showcase your social responsibility and sustainability. As previously mentioned, Millennials and Gen Z give precedence to inclusive, socially responsible and sustainable practices more than any other generations. They are value-driven and they want a like-minded partner in everything, including their financial institutions. Luckily for us, credit unions have concern for community and diversity, equity and inclusion built into our very fabric – so show it off! Demonstrate your credit union’s commitment to ethical banking practices, community involvement and environmental consciousness, and don’t be afraid to be loud and proud about it. Find ways to explicitly communicate how member deposits contribute to local community projects and charitable initiatives. Show videos and photos of your staff volunteering at the local food bank or making meals at the Ronald McDonald House near you. By emphasizing the positive we strive to make within our institutions, the more likely younger generations are to choose a credit union over traditional, stakeholder-centric banks.

As the financial landscape evolves and younger generations become a driving force, credit unions have a unique opportunity to redefine their narrative and appeal to Millennials and Gen Z. By embracing technology and digital platforms, prioritizing financial education, offering personalized services and highlighting social responsibility, we can position ourselves as not just banking institutions, but as partners in the financial journeys of these younger generations – aka, potential future members. With the credit union movement’s mission of transparency, sustainability and community impact, coupled with modern marketing strategies, we have the chance to display our distinct advantages and build lasting relationships that extend beyond the branch and traditional banking.

As the VP of sales, marketing and education for Vizo Financial, Jaime Agostino oversees marketing, sales and educational offerings for the Corporate. Ms. Agostino holds a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing from the Pennsylvania State University. She currently holds her Series 7 (Registered General Securities Representative) and Series 63 (Uniform Securities Agent State Law Examination) investment licenses from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and has also achieved the following professional designations: Certified Trade Show Marketer (CTSM), Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE), SIE - Securities Industry Essentials Examination, Inbound Marketing Certified and Content Marketing Certified.