person with shopping bags

How Credit Unions Can Prepare for the Upcoming Holidays

By: Kenna Smith, VP, Advisors Plus Marketing Operations, PSCU

With many stores already stocking their fall décor and winter holidays not far behind, it is – once again – time to gear up for the holiday shopping season. While the forecast for holiday spend is projected to increase across both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce, online is predicted to be the go-to channel for this year’s holiday purchases.

In the past, many credit unions focused on ways to drive spending during the 45- to 60-day timeframe before the holidays. With a shift in spending toward e-commerce, credit unions now need to look at a three- to four-month pre-holiday journey to ensure they are meeting all the needs of cardholders that are shopping earlier and earlier in the year. This makes marketing the right products at the right time through promotional campaigns more important than ever.

Consider hitting these milestones as you plan your holiday marketing initiatives and promotional campaigns:

  • October through November is a great time for credit line increases, which provide members with additional room for larger purchases. Home improvement is still at a high, and members often seek to complete home projects before family and friends arrive for holiday gatherings, prompting large purchases for which credit line increases can be hugely beneficial.
  • November to December presents an opportunity for promotional spend as more spend happens during this time of year than any other. Credit unions have the chance to use these months to bring specific cards back to top of mind and top of wallet.
  • January and February are essential months for offering balance transfers or convenience checks, allowing members to take advantage of lower rates once the holidays are over. This type of campaign is important to ensure competitors don’t steal cardholders away. Keep in mind – if you don’t offer it, your competitors likely will.

Success for holiday marketing campaigns is all about the emotion that motivates cardholders to spend. However, these “warm and fuzzy” emotions can often be followed by negative feelings after the holiday season ends as cardholders are faced with paying off credit card bills or running low on funds in their debit/checking accounts.

Implementing a proactive strategy can help address your members’ specific needs during this high-spend and highly emotional time. Consider these steps and tips for success:

  • Audit previous holiday campaigns that have generated success and adjust them to fit what the market is projecting.
  • Identify strategies that fit your credit union’s specific cardholders. This can be determined by analyzing current data on how cardholders are spending based on age, as well as previous shopping habits.
  • Create an integrated communications plan, with the goal of generating a unified approach across all member touchpoints.
  • Don’t just focus on one singular card promotion: Your holiday calendar should have several thoughtful promotions spread out over the course of the season.
  • Make sure to plan in advance. Last minute planning can cause your financial institution to miss out on the early spend anticipated for this year.
  • Members are likely to ignore emails from a sender when they receive one too many. Be mindful of how many you are sending and the frequency at which you are sending them.
  • Prepare strategically for the increasing competition. In an effort to stay in front of competitors, it is tempting to err on the side of overcommunication. Instead, send clear yet concise messages to differentiate your credit union from the competition while maintaining your members’ attention.

While financial institutions are expected to service members all year long, the holidays in particular create challenges as emotions become the primary motivator behind consumer spending. This factor, along with increasing competition from banks and fintechs trying to get their piece of the holiday pie, makes it hard to keep your credit union card top of mind and wallet. Be proactive, plan ahead, and remember holiday promotions are a journey that should span several months. To keep up with monthly consumer spending data, demographic data and trend analysis, be sure to check out the PSCU Payments Index.

Kenna Smith is vice president of marketing operations for PSCU’s Advisors Plus Consulting. In this role, she oversees B2C marketing and operations for Advisors Plus. Smith has over 25 years of product and operations experience in the financial services industry.