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Prepaid Convenience

Desjardins is paying heed to millennials' affinity for innovative online financial services such as prepaid cards.

What comes next? It’s the perennial question as credit unions seek to ride the youth banking wave. That means appealing to a new generation that appreciates convenience and has little patience for banking fees.

A survey released this past February by the Canadian Prepaid Providers Organization (CPPO) found that younger Canadians in particular are interested in payment tools that they view as more convenient and secure. “Prepaid cards topped the list as the fastest-growing payment product and boasted the highest level of satisfaction among payments tools,” CPPO co-founder and chair David Eason said in a media release.

Desjardins Group (seven million members, $260.7 billion in assets) has embraced the prepaid card as one piece in a wide-ranging basket of products aimed at attracting youth members. That package of youth-focused products respects tradition while looking to the future. “With each youth initiative, we’re aiming to provide services that these members need at this time of their lives,” says Desjardins spokesperson André Chapleau. “That means coming up with innovative products, while always knowing that our mission is to help and to educate.”

Chapleau outlined a few current initiatives aimed specifically at youth.

Sell what they want

When Desjardins began offering prepaid cards four years ago, the caisse was surprised by the positive reaction among youth. In retrospect, the findings of the CPPO survey make sense; young Canadians love convenience and the prepaid card is a perfect payment tool for someone in school or who is new to the job market. Because a card has to be loaded up, it allows users to better manage tight budgets and control overspending, while having the benefits of being linked to the Visa network so it can be used virtually anywhere. What makes the card even more irresistible to youth? Desjardins offers a no-fee option for members aged 16 to 25. Because they have to be a member of the caisse to get the card, it also encourages younger consumers to become clients. A Youth Profit Account further inspires them to sign on by offering 40 free transactions a month, taking away the incentive to go to online banks.

Hang out together

Their 360d campus service centres look more like plugged-in coffee shops than typical credit union branches. Launched in 2014, Desjardins’ targeted service centres (there are four) are located near universities. They are designed to be welcoming spaces that encourage students to stop in, have a coffee, study and chat with friends. They are also staffed with advisers who can answer questions about student loans, scholarships, or perhaps the financing of a post-university holiday. “It’s definitely a very different environment — with comfy sofas and lots of information screens and tablets,” says Chapleau. Because that coffee shop-type environment is one that younger people feel comfortable visiting, they will be more likely to solicit personalized guidance rather than opting for anonymous online banking services.

Get youth input

It’s no coincidence that Desjardins’ top executive Guy Cormier — the youngest president and CEO in its history — has committed to better understanding young people’s banking needs. This means giving them a voice at the table. Exactly a year into his mandate, Cormier announced this past March the creation of a Youth Advisory Board made up of 12 members aged 18 to 35. Consisting of four directors, four employees and four caisse members, the group is tasked with connecting Desjardins board members with the needs of the caisse’s youth members. “They don’t tell the board and management committees what to do but they’ll be crucial in telling them if their policies aim in the right direction,” says Chapleau. “They’ll also be in tune with things like mobile services and knowing how best to support young innovators.” ◊