How to Start a Credit Union Referral Program

Discover how to kickstart a credit union referral program and drive member engagement. Get step-by-step guidance for a successful program launch.
Image of author Nick Cotter

By Nick Cotter
Updated Jan 10, 2024

How to Start a Credit Union Referral Program
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Picture a community where trust in financial institutions isn't built on flashy commercials or aggressive campaigns, but through the genuine experiences of its members. In the heart of this community is your credit union, offering value and integrity in every interaction.

Yet, even in such a tight-knit community, there's always room to grow. Imagine a strategy where your satisfied members become your most effective marketers, sharing their positive experiences and bringing more members into the fold.

Welcome to the Credit Union Referral Program. Through this guide, we'll navigate the path to seamlessly integrating referrals into your growth strategy, transforming satisfied members into enthusiastic promoters. Ready to unlock a world of financial growth through genuine relationships? Let's journey together.

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What is a Credit Union Referral Program?

Illustration of credit union

Let's dive in head first, shall we?

When talking about a credit union referral program, it's all about that old saying: "Sharing is caring". Basically, this kind of program encourages existing credit union members to refer friends, family or even coworkers to join. It's like being part of an exclusive club and you're the gatekeeper!

Now, how does this work exactly?

Well, it's usually pretty straightforward. Once the referred person signs up and meets certain criteria (like setting up direct deposit or taking out a loan), both parties receive some form of reward. This could be anything from cash bonuses to reduced loan interest rates - talk about sweetening the deal!

Credit Union Referral

What makes these programs so special though? I'm glad you asked! See, they help grow membership numbers without needing to splash out on expensive advertising campaigns. Plus, folks trust recommendations from people they know more than any flashy billboard advertisement.

Are you Ready for a Referral Program for Your Credit Union Business?

So, are you ready to implement a referral program in your credit union business? Let’s dive deep into this topic and see if we can answer that burning question.

First off, let's clear up what exactly we mean by "referral program." In nutshell, this is an initiative where your existing members become brand ambassadors. They're incentivized to refer their friends or family to join your credit union.

For every successful referral, they get some kind of reward. Sounds cool right?

Before jumping on the bandwagon though, there are few things you need to consider:

  • Your readiness: Do you have enough resources and staff who'll manage the program? You'll also need tools to track referrals and rewards.
  • Your members' satisfaction: Are your current members happy with your services? A satisfied member is more likely to spread positive words about your credit union.

You've also got to figure out how rewarding the referrers will work best for everyone involved. Here are some common strategies:

  • Cash rewards: This one's pretty straightforward – people get cash when someone they referred joins.
  • Fee waiver: Waiving fees like annual charges or ATM fees as thanks for referring someone new.

According to The Financial Brand, roughly 30% of banks and credit unions are currently running referral programs. This 

The Rise of Referral Programs in Banking

Many industries use referral programs to get more customers through word-of-mouth marketing. The banking sector is no exception. According to The Financial Brand, about 30% of banks and credit unions have already adopted referral programs. But why?

  1. Trust Factor: Banking is an industry built on trust. When current customers refer a bank or credit union to friends and family, it comes with an implicit stamp of approval. This word-of-mouth recommendation carries more weight than most advertisements.
  2. Referral programs are often cheaper than traditional advertising for getting new customers. It's an efficient way to leverage the satisfaction of existing customers to bring in new ones.
  3. When a customer refers someone, they're not just recommending the bank. They're endorsing it because of their loyalty. This act reinforces their loyalty, as they're more likely to stick with an institution they've personally promoted.
  4. Adapting to the Digital Age: As more banking interactions shift online, personal connections can get lost. Referral programs reintroduce the personal touch in an increasingly digital landscape, letting customers feel they're part of the bank's growth journey.

Although 30% seems big, it means there's still a lot of room for improvement. As more banks and credit unions witness the benefits of referral programs, this number is only set to rise.

Implementation Steps for Credit Union Referral Programs:

Let's dive right in, my friends. When you're looking to grow your credit union, a well-implemented referral program can be just the ticket.

1. Understanding Your Credit Union Referral Customer.

Credit Union Customer

To find credit union customers for a referral program, analyze factors and use different strategies. Here's a systematic approach to help you identify potential participants:

1. Customer Satisfaction Surveys and Feedback:

  • Regularly conduct satisfaction surveys.
  • Customers who are very happy with your services can be great candidates for referral programs.

2. Engagement Metrics:

  • Keep track of how customers engage with your business through app logins, website visits, and email interactions.
  • Customers who are highly engaged are more likely to refer others because they have a vested interest in your services.

3. Analyze Transaction Data:

  • Customers who use your credit union often or have multiple products can refer others.

4. Loyalty Programs Participation:

  • Look at the members who actively participate in other loyalty programs you offer. These members are already engaged and may be more likely to join a referral program.

5. Historical Referral Data:

  • If you've had any referral initiatives in the past, even informal ones, identify who participated. These individuals are likely to do so again.

6. Feedback from Frontline Staff:

  • Tellers and customer service reps can often spot happy members who like your credit union.

2. Deciding on the Referral Incentives.

Credit Union Referral Incentives

Next up is figuring out what kind of incentives will have our customers tripping over themselves to refer their friends and family. 

Cash? Gift cards? A year’s supply of chocolate chip cookies? 

(Okay, maybe not that last one). But seriously folks, finding an incentive that aligns with what your members value is key here.

3. Choosing the Right Referral Tracking Platform.

Now let's talk tech for a moment. We need a referral tracking platform that tracks referrals accurately and reliably – after all, we don't want anyone missing out on those sweet incentives! 

There are plenty of options out there: some specifically designed for credit unions; others more general but still effective.

4. Launching and Promoting the Program.

The next step is putting this baby out into the world! It's time to spread the word far and wide about how great it is to be part of your credit union – email blasts, social media posts...heck even skywriting if you’re feeling adventurous!

4. Work with Brand Advocates.

This part’s fun - working closely with brand advocates or 'super users'. You know, the ones who love everything about your credit union and aren't shy to tell everyone they know about it. These folks are golden when it comes to spreading the word.

5. Make Sharing Your Credit Union Services EASY.

Now, this is a biggie - making it super simple for members to share information about your services. The last thing we want is for them to get frustrated and give up because they couldn’t figure out how to send a referral link!

6. Tracking, Analyzing, and Iterating.

And finally – tracking, analyzing, and iterating. It's all well and good having an awesome program in place but if we're not constantly monitoring how it's going and adjusting as necessary...well, we might as well not have bothered!

So there you have it folks – some key steps on implementing a successful referral program for your credit union. It may seem daunting at first glance but trust me - with careful planning (and maybe a few cookies), you'll be reaping the benefits in no time!

Real World Credit Union Referral Programs:

I have found three successful credit union referral programs. This information is based on what we know up until January 2022.

BECU (Boeing Employees' Credit Union):

  • Program Name: "Member Advantage"
  • Details: BECU has been known to offer referral bonuses both for the referrer and the referee. Both parties can receive a cash bonus if the person they referred opens a qualifying account and meets certain requirements. In addition, BECU occasionally improves this program with special offers, encouraging members to refer others at specific times of the year.

Alliant Credit Union:

  • Program Name: "Member Refer-A-Friend Program"
  • Alliant Credit Union has a referral program. It gives cash rewards to the referrer and the new member. The new member must open a new Alliant account and meet certain requirements. This system rewards members for referrals and gives immediate benefits to new members.

Navy Federal Credit Union:

  • Program Name: "Refer a Friend Program"
  • Navy Federal Credit Union is a big credit union in the U.S. They have a program for members to earn bonus cash by referring friends or family. When the referred individual joins, opens an account, and meets specific criteria, both parties receive a cash bonus. The credit union occasionally ups the ante with special promotions, encouraging more members to participate in referrals.
Navy Federal Credit Union Referral Program
Navy Federal Credit Union Referral Program

For each of these programs, the specific reward amounts, qualifications, and terms can change over time.

These programs succeed not just because of money but also because members trust and are satisfied with the credit unions. When members are satisfied, they are more likely to recommend the program to others. This increases the effectiveness of referral programs.

3 Unique Tips for Your Credit Union Referral Program

Let's talk turkey here. Navigating the world of credit union growth can be a little like walking through a maze. But one surefire way to steer your credit union towards success is by implementing an effective referral program. I'm gonna share three unique tips that could give your program the kickstart it needs.

1. Make making referrals, EASY!

Firstly, make it easy-peasy! If your referral process feels like trying to solve a Rubik's cube, people won't bother. It's critical that the process is as straightforward and user-friendly as possible. Think about what would be easy for you if you were in their shoes – would you prefer an online form or maybe even a mobile app? The easier it is for members to refer others, the more likely they'll do it.

2. Make your reward enticing.

Second on my list: incentivize with finesse! I bet we've all been there – got excited about referring someone only to find out that the reward was... let's just say less than stellar. Yeah, no thank you! Rewards should be something worth talking about - discounts on loan rates or cash bonuses could really sweeten the deal.

3. Build authentic relationships.

My third tip? Drum roll please... Engage with authenticity!

We're bombarded daily by faceless corporations vying for our attention (and wallets). So when a business takes time to genuinely engage with us, it stands out like a beacon in the foggy sea of marketing tactics. Make sure your credit union doesn't lose its human touch amidst all this automation and numbers game. Engage authentically with members and show them that they're not just another account number but valued parts of your community.

Conclusion

Wow, what a ride we've been on! Starting from the basics of why credit unions need growth and the role referral programs can play in achieving this growth, all the way to practical steps for implementing such a program. It's been quite an educational journey and I hope you found it as engaging as I did.

Let's not forget that growing your credit union isn't just about increasing numbers. It's about building stronger relationships with members, providing them with excellent service and value, and making them feel so good about being part of your community that they can't help but share their experiences with others.

Implementing a referral program is no small task. It requires careful planning, strategic marketing, consistent monitoring and tweaking for improvement. But remember:

  • Start by setting clear goals
  • Identify who your advocates are
  • Make sure you have enticing incentives
  • And most importantly - make it easy for members to refer!

There might be times when things don’t go exactly according to plan – but hey, that’s life! The key thing is never lose sight of why you started this journey: to provide more value for existing members and welcome new ones into your community.

And lastly, don’t forget to celebrate successes along the way! Whether it’s reaching a milestone in referrals or seeing positive feedback from happy referred members – these little victories are what make all the hard work worthwhile.

So there you have it – my take on how credit unions can grow through effective implementation of referral programs. I hope this article has given you some food for thought and maybe even sparked some ideas for your own organization. Go forth and conquer!

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Nick Cotter

Nick Cotter

Founder & CEO
Growann

With over 7 years navigating the intricate realms of marketing, and specifically B2B partner marketing, Nick has forged collaborations with top-tier tech brands, prominent agencies, and some of the industry's foremost B2B publishers and content creators. His deep immersion in both marketing landscapes showcases a trajectory of expertise and innovation. Identifying a significant void in specialized resources, he founded Growann.The aspiration? Deliver unparalleled insights and guidance, carving out a dedicated space where the broader marketing and B2B partner marketing communities can flourish.