Opinion

Felix Salmon

What kind of image should a community bank project?

By Felix Salmon
March 27, 2010

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I’m very happy that the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union made it into the photomontage the NYT used to illustrate an article on switching bank accounts — even if there was no mention of credit unions in the article itself. I’m on the board of LESPFCU, and we’ll take all the publicity we can get.

But looking at this montage, I do wonder whether our friendly-local branding might not make us the most attractive place to move one’s money, compared to all the slick alternatives, especially since we don’t offer perks for people opening new bank accounts, and we certainly don’t offer things like 4% interest on checking accounts for heavy debit-card users.

I’m not a fan of people switching to a bank because of some gimmicky here-today-gone-tomorrow promotion: switching bank accounts is hard, and I’m sure the idea behind a lot of these promotions is that once the 4% interest rate or whatever goes away, the customer will still keep the account.

But I’m also very much a fan of doing anything which can persuade people to move their money to LESPFCU, so long as it ultimately serves the predominantly low-income owners it’s my job to represent in board meetings.

When I asked Twitter whether they thought the LESPFCU branding in the montage was good or bad, Kat Aaron had nothing but nice things to say about us — but that was based on her real-world experiences there. Alea, by contrast, going just on the pictures, said LESPFCU would absolutely be his last choice.

I do think that while people like the idea of community banks in principle, they also want a certain degree of slick professionalism at the same time. Wonky hand lettering might be humanizing to those of us devoted to the credit union, but it can also make us seem amateurish to outsiders.

The good news is that our members come overwhelmingly through word of mouth, and always will do; once they get to know us, they understand why our signage is like it is. But it does stand out among other banks — and not necessarily in a good way.

Comments
3 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

I’m a customer of Inland Northwest Bank, in Spokane, Wash. It’s also a community bank. Why do I keep most of my money there, as opposed to Chase Bank, which is a few hundred feet away? Because I prefer INB’s community focus and conservative approach. Chase, which took over for WaMu last year when the latter was brought down by its financial mismanagement, remains a big bank that is not committed to the local people. While I do use Chase for a small business account, INB gets the majority of my capital because they have my trust.

Posted by fletchbiz | Report as abusive
 

Yeah, but your whole differentiator is that you’re not slick, right? “Slick” suggests “big” “smart” “have tons of money to spend on making ourselves look good,” and therefore, possibly, “untrustworthy,” or “doesn’t care about the little guy.” The whole thing you’re going for is “small,” “homey,” “a part of the hood,” “personalized service.” You can’t be both, and you’re never going to be better at slick than BoA or Citi. The graffitti motif may be pushing the boat out a little on the non-slick side — you don’t want to call to mind a memorial mural on the wall of a bodega in a tough neighborhood — but I wouldn’t think slick is really an obtainable or appropriate goal for a credit union on the LES.

Posted by diablevert13 | Report as abusive
 

Aesthetically, perhaps it’d be a bit neater if the word side was on the same line as lower and east.

——-THE——-
-LOWER EAST SIDE-
PEOPLE’S FEDERAL
–CREDIT UNION—

The street art motif suits the neighborhood and recalls the signage of nearby community art center ABC No Rio. But I’m perplexed by the content of the art. From what little I can make out, the foreground slightly resembles a lunar landscape.

Posted by Sandrew | Report as abusive
 

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