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  • Ian McCain

Innovative Solutions for Indirect Lending Challenges

Updated: May 21

Car Dealer working with new buyer

For credit unions, indirect lending has become a pivotal strategy to increase membership and generate new loan accounts. This model, typically involving partnerships with auto dealers or other retailers, allows members to secure loans directly at the point of sale.

Yet, while this strategy brings convenience and immediate financial solutions to prospective members, it also presents unique challenges to Credit Unions.

Members acquired through indirect lending often have minimal interaction with the credit union beyond the initial transaction. Their primary relationship is with the dealer, not the credit union, which can lead to a lack of loyalty or engagement with the credit union’s broader services. Members acquired this way often have a commoditized view of the financing of their loan, creating a lack of direct engagement with the Credit Union. Since the interaction is mediated through a third party (e.g., car dealerships), the credit union's brand and value proposition might not be effectively communicated to the new member. This limited exposure reduces the member’s emotional and practical investment in the credit union and hampers the Credit Union's ability to cross-sell additional products and services to members, potentially resulting in lower wallet share and retention.

Credit Unions focus on personalization, engagement with members, and creating a quality member experience to demonstrate their overall value to members. This is what builds the trust and relationship necessary for lifelong membership.  That gap in ability to demonstrate value can create a significant number of members who view their credit union as “the place they send their payment” instead of the valuable financial resource that it truly is.  

Members who do not engage with the credit union beyond the initial loan are more likely to be transient. Without further interaction or incentives to stay, these members may leave once the loan is paid off or if they find a more compelling offer elsewhere.

Additionally, if the primary experience a member has with the credit union is centered around a financial transaction without ongoing communication or support, any issues with the loan process can disproportionately affect their perception of the credit union, increasing dissatisfaction and the likelihood of churn.

These issues are all well-known to Credit Unions, and solving the issues of “Indirect Lending” has been a long debated and well-discussed issue for many years.  Yet, this issue still remains largely unresolved.

Marketing messaging and engagement strategies are deployed at many credit unions that attempt to bridge the gap with new members by introducing them to more of the services offered by the Credit Union but it is often hard to manage, track, and report on the success of these efforts and quantify efforts in a meaningful and repeatable way.

Think about your own internal efforts.

Do you send a hefty welcome packet to new members through the mail that includes membership information and benefits, other financial tools?  

Maybe there is even a marketing slick that states something to the effect of:

"Enhance your journey with us. At [Credit Union Name], we’re committed to building lasting relationships. Engage with our tailored financial solutions and exclusive member benefits designed just for you. Join us today and experience the community and support you deserve."

Does this work?

Do you know if these indirect lending members are engaging with these materials?

More importantly, if you are the new member receiving these materials, does a generalized communication about “personalized” offerings feel specific enough to your circumstances, or does it feel more like a menu of potential options that may or may not apply to you?

Amidst a changing demographic, where technology is becoming more integrated into everything we do and where accessibility, speed, connectivity, and hyper-personalization is becoming the baseline expectation for how we consume just about everything, I would contend that this strategy simply isn’t enough.

Yes, the most effective marketing strategy emphasizes ongoing engagement and personalized financial services that cater to the member’s broader needs.

Yes, engagement and solutions to tangible member problems are the best way to encourage loyalty and reduce churn.

And yes, it is certainly true that these touches and points of engagement shift the focus from transactional interactions to a more holistic relationship, which is the core of fostering a deeper connection between the member and the credit union.

But, where many Credit Unions run into issues, is in the creation of a structured, measured, automated, scalable and holistic methodology to address these various elements.

Still, there is an urgent need for creative engagement strategies and advanced technological solutions that close both the physical and relational divides between credit unions and their members.

Credit Unions require a strategy that can ensure their growth initiatives not only expand their reach but also cultivate deeper and more meaningful relationships with members, aligning seamlessly with their core values and mission. Credit Unions need a platform that leverages existing data and customer information to create a dynamic and well-segmented member blueprint from the moment an indirect loan application is initiated.   


To effectively address the challenges posed by indirect lending, credit unions must adopt a comprehensive strategy that guides their outreach efforts leveraging data analytics and automation. A system that not only captures data immediately upon member entry but leverages that data to properly segment members and create properly timed strategic engagement actions dynamically over the course of their relationship.

Here’s how credit unions can transform their approach:


Immediate Member Data Capture and Profiling

Upon receiving a new member application via indirect lending channels, credit unions should swiftly capture and organize key information such as personal details, credit history, income data, type of loan, and purchase specifics. Establishing a detailed baseline profile of each member is essential, as it allows for highly personalized service recommendations. Quick and accurate profiling paves the way for customized product offerings and can significantly enhance member satisfaction and retention, leveraging the power of personalized experiences.


Personalized Welcome and Product Recommendations

Within the first week of membership or loan origination, credit unions should utilize the captured data to pinpoint and suggest financial products tailored to the new member’s needs. These recommendations should not be presented from the perspective of a Credit Union employee offering a financial tool, but rather presented as a GOAL FOCUSED offering to the right customer persona (determined by segmentation from the financial data collected at membership initiation).

Proper segmentation is what allows the "goal focused" approach to work. Consumers engage with services that help them achieve their goals. People (mostly) don't purchase an interest rate, or an IRA vehicle. What they really want is to purchase a car, retire comfortably, get out of debt, or any number of the other financial goals. Segmentation and personas allow you to make recommendations that market to their goals, and not simply make them aware of products. When done correctly, and by leveraging data you have from their loan/membership application you make the products and offerings relevant to their specific financial circumstances.

Delivering these recommendations through personalized communication—either via email or direct mail—sets the stage for early engagement. By presenting solutions that align with the member’s goals, credit unions can seamlessly integrate new clients into their ecosystem, fostering initial connections and setting the tone for ongoing engagement.


Timed Engagement Review and Personalization Adjustment

Scheduled assessments of the member’s interactions, transaction data, and feedback should occur at strategic intervals (30, 60, 90, and 180 days). This practice allows credit unions to gather rich insights into member preferences and behaviors, enabling them to refine and tailor their offerings continually. Such dynamic personalization not only keeps services relevant but also enhances member satisfaction, which is directly linked to increased loyalty and retention.


Timed Loyalty Incentive

On significant anniversaries of a member’s joining date, credit unions should offer tailored incentives for products the member has not yet tried but may find beneficial. Timely incentives can rekindle interest in the credit union’s broader services and underscore the ongoing value of the relationship, potentially boosting cross-selling success and overall revenue per customer.


Integration and Automation of Loan Modification Processes

Automating the loan modification process is crucial. By systematically analyzing loan data and transaction details, credit unions can proactively identify opportunities for loan modifications, extending terms or adjusting conditions to benefit both the member and the institution. This proactive approach not only saves time and resources but also enhances member satisfaction by providing seamless financial adjustments.


Proactive and Personalized Digital Engagement

Leveraging digital engagement allows credit unions to send targeted, timely, and personalized product offers to members. This system should enable easy acceptance of offers and completion of processes such as credit card applications or balance transfers entirely online. In today’s digital age, such tailored and easily accessible offers are more likely to be accepted, increasing the likelihood of members utilizing multiple products and thus, boosting the overall profitability per member.


By implementing these strategic elements, credit unions can begin to transform the indirect lending process from a potential risk to a robust, relationship-building powerhouse that drives loyalty, reduces churn, and increases the financial well-being of both the members and the institution.


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