Credit unions are way more innovative than banks – nicer too…

Those of you who reside in Australia, will know the phenomenal amount of money our big 4 banks make. Since the GFC they’ve become some of the world’s most profitable financial institutions.


The profits come mainly from fees and interest rather than innovation. For example, one bank makes $millions per annum on the late fees it charges people who subscribe to Christmas hamper services. You know the hamper services – they target low income households on Struggle Street. They sell them expensive finance in the guise of a hamper, paid for under a weekly lay-by system.


But often the hamper customers don’t receive their welfare payments in time for the automatic payment for the hamper. So the banks charge an ‘overdrawn fee‘ despite the fact the money arrives from the government in their account, a day or so later. This happens so often the bank creams $millions every year, while the poor sods who have to pay off the hampers are penalised.

But enough bank bashing – it’s too easy.

More often than not, you’ll find innovation occurs in smaller organisations, like credit unions for example. Here’s how a couple of credit unions have changed some of the fundamentals of bank marketing.

Community First Credit Union in Sydney, pioneered the revolution in financial services retail outlets, now copied by many of their competitors. The first stores had an espresso machine, juke box, meeting pods and more.

CFCU retail

And they created the country’s first online concierge – Lisa. The idea is simple. Dozens of videos of Lisa are recorded and loaded into a database. Each video is an answer (often humorous) to a typical financial question or keyword.

Lisa 1

Lisa 2

When a visitor enters a question or keyword for Lisa, the relevant video plays the answer – similar to the early days of Subservient Chicken. CFCU tracks the questions and keywords to gains insight into their members and prospects. Then they post ads on the site based on this knowledge. Another case of small data making a big difference.

The videos have been updated a couple times, although not for a while now. A sad reflection on society is that almost half the questions are “adult” in nature, to which Lisa’s answer is “did you learn that on the Discovery Channel?

CFCU also launched a Pink Visa card that supports The McGrath Foundation – a worthy charity that funds nurses for women living with breast cancer.


In the year of the launch, Lisa attended the annual McGrath Foundation Ball in a dress made from Pink Visa cards.

Lisa by the Pink Visa Cruiser
Protecting Lisa’s modesty

Another innovative credit union is Railways Credit Union in Queensland. They have just launched a new home loan service. It lets you build your own home loan. The idea comes from the insight that, under certain circumstances, people want the flexibility to occasionally skip a home loan payment.

This doesn’t mean they don’t make the payment, they just want flexibility around when they make it. For example they don’t make a payment in December because of Christmas, or in the month they want a holiday, or if they have an accident, or a baby. You can check it out here.


Choose your standard options…
Pick some lifestyle options…
And throw in a bonus…

I must declare a hand in these. My agency created the CFCU executions, while I consulted to leading Brisbane agency Orange Digital for RCU.

Small Data Rules OK!

But both these brands demonstrate you don’t have to have the biggest budgets to be innovative and stand out in a competitive market like financial services. You just have to listen to that small data provided by your customers to ignite a few ideas.

I’m off to refinance my home loan – wonder what my bank manager has to offer – apart from exorbitant fees?


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