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The “Help Me Help You” Guide to Creative Credit Union Referrals

Most of us can remember that scene from “Jerry Maguire” where Jerry is pleading “Help me help you!” Jerry had been asking Rod to do more PR work, and Rod had just turned him down, leading Jerry into a fit of yelling and kicking the wall. Rod tells him to calm down and talk to him, which is when Jerry launches into his famous speech:

“I am out here for you. You don’t know what it’s like to be me out here for you … Help me! Help me … help you. Help me help you.”

Meme of "Help me help you" scene in "Jerry Maguire."

Okay, so you’re probably wondering what that has to do with referral programs for credit unions. At heart, a good referral program answers the request Jerry is making, except Jerry is your member. Specifically, Jerry is your member who is just looking for an opportunity to sing your praises to his friends and loved ones, but he’s looking to you to provide a means to make it easy for him to do it. While there are of course members who will sing your praises without help, the easier you make it for your members to refer you to their friends, the more likely they are to do it.

My goal in this article is to tell you some of the advantages you will receive if you help your members help you and to give you some ideas for how to do it. So let’s help Jerry stop kicking that wall …

4 Advantages of Credit Union Referral Plans

Advantage #1: Acquisition Is Cheaper
How much does each new member cost your credit union? Using traditional marketing, new acquisitions can cost up to $400. Referral programs, however, can lower the average cost-per-acquisition by 50 percent or more and attract higher quality leads.

Advantage #2: Better Quality Leads
Your members provide a unique advantage, as they know both your credit union and the people among their friends and loved ones who would be willing to become potential members. The referrer knows who would be a good match for the credit union’s services. You’ll find that well-matched members generate more revenue at a lower cost to the financial institution.

Advantage #3: Increased Revenue
Referred members are more profitable and retain a higher lifetime value.

Advantage #4: Increased Retention
Banking customers tend to have a stronger attachment to a financial institution when a friend or family member shares a bond to the same credit union, and they are nearly 20 percent more likely to stay with a credit union than non-referred members. Increased retention increases customer value, which translates into a significant ROI with time.

With all those good reasons, now we can move on to how you can help Jerry help you.

6 Referral Marketing Ideas for Your Credit Union

Unlike Jerry and Rod, your members aren’t working for you, so it helps if you entice them with something to make them want to help you. The best credit union referral plans are simple and have a perceived high-value reward. They also have as few steps as possible for members and prospects to earn rewards. Here are some ideas that you can try:

Idea #1: Welcome Packages
After a new member opens an account, send something useful as a way to welcome and thank him for his business. For example, send a pair of movie tickets or a gift card to a local restaurant — ideally at no cost to you, because it’s a promotional opportunity for the movie theater or restaurant. In the welcome letter, state that the credit union wants her to have a good time with her friends. Let the new member know that if his or her friend opens an account, the member will receive a thank-you gift.

Hand-written welcome note.

Idea #2: Social Action
When a user logs off his online credit union account or completes an action using a mobile banking app, a popup screen appears, stating, “You’re an online banking pro. Let your Facebook friends know how awesome it is to bank with (credit union name). When one of your friends opens a new personal checking account, we’ll deposit $55 into each of your accounts.” The bottom of the screen has a “Tell your friends” and “No thanks” button. Clicking on the “Tell your friends” button expands the pop-up’s window size to show a textbox with an auto-inserted message, space for the member to write a personal note, and a “Submit” button below. PayPal did something similar in its early days and experienced 7 to 10 percent daily growth during the promotion.

Idea #3: Refer-a-Friend Program
Union Bank & Trust Company has an online refer-a-friend program that does not have time limits. The bank rewards the referring member with $50 and a free upgrade for a designer debit card. The referred member also receives $50 and a debit card upgrade if she makes 10 debit card purchases within 60 days.

Idea #4: Target Parents
Build rapport with your members and learn about their family. When the kids are old enough to make money, suggest opening a fee-free teen or student checking and savings account to the parents. As an incentive, the credit union will deposit $100 into the savings account when the teen graduates high school.

Idea #5: Free Classes with Bonuses
Provide public low-cost financial classes about finance topics, such as becoming debt free, homeownership steps, budgeting basics, or saving money for goals. Provide a deep discount to credit union members, but waive the charge if they bring a friend. If the friend opens an account, they both receive a cash bonus. Offer a similar bonus to those who attend the workshop and open an account.

Idea #6: Get Creative with Different Products
Make rewards relate to banking services. For example, if a referred friend acquires a home loan through the credit union, the referring member and the friend receive a complimentary interior design consultation.

Key takeaway: A credit union’s members are its best and most economical marketing sources and sales channels. With only about 30 percent of banks and credit unions in North America offering referral programs, implementing one can make your establishment stand out from local competitors. Just remember to keep the process simple and the rewards meaningful.


By making it easy for your members to recommend you to their friends and loved ones and rewarding them for doing it, you increase revenue and member retention. So don’t be like Rod and let Jerry walk out of the locker room frustrated. Help Jerry help you.

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