What kind of image should a community bank project?

By Felix Salmon
March 27, 2010
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.

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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.

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