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No more monsters under the bed


Early last year, would-be homeowners in Ontario were getting anxious, to put it mildly.

Bank of Canada numbers showed that new borrowers were paying the highest mortgage rates in years, with fast-rising rates severely limiting borrowing room. Aspiring homeowners also faced new rules that had been introduced by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, which set a new minimum qualifying rate, or “stress test,” for uninsured mortgages. Moreover, house prices, especially in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), were soaring.

Buying a home, one could say, was a scary proposition.

So Alterna Savings Credit Union (166,000members, $8.1 billion in assets) decided to help members face their home ownership fears head on, launching its UnScary spring mortgage campaign. “It was targeted at taking the fear out of the mortgage experience,” says Alterna’s CEO Rob Paterson. “We used these UnScary monsters so consumers and members could feel comfortable asking any questions,” Paterson says. “The unscary part was that we really understood and were empathetic towards people,” helping them meet the real challenge, which “is fear.”

The campaign was so successful (Alterna Savings picked up Achievements in Marketing Excellence this past May for
its UnScary monsters) that it was repeated in the fall, adding a fuzzy winsomeness to the credit union’s investment campaign. This time, the monsters were used to communicate to members and consumers how they could meet their retirement objectives. (Studies show the vast majority of Canadians don’t have a plan to achieve the retirement lifestyle they want.) The message was repeated: facing your fears is far better than hiding under the covers and hoping the financial bogeymen will go away. “We used it again to make ourselves more approachable and demonstrate empathy for the situation that Canadians are in,” Paterson says from Alterna’s newly opened regional office in Toronto. (Head
office is in Ottawa.)

Alterna’s marketing teams also create evocative and engaging campaigns for its wholly owned national subsidiary Alterna Bank, which was formed in 1992 and concentrates on digital offerings. Its ongoing campaign, tagged, “Discover the Good in Banking,” is intended to raise awareness of the institution with Canadians from coast to coast. (It has been recognized by The Globe and Mail as Canada’s Best Bank for Millennials for such digital innovations as end-to-end mortgages.) But it’s not just digital innovation that Alterna Bank brings to the table. It also upholds those same standards of customer service that members enjoy at the credit union, whether they are first-time home buyers or trying to fund retirement. “We took the credit union values and we’re deploying them nationally through the bank,” says Paterson. “We wanted to take the value and benefits of what makes Alterna Savings different and unique and bring that to every province across the country.”

For Alterna Bank, with its Generation Z and Y clientele, the expectations are different. This younger demographic expect organizations to share and uphold the same values they possess, which means “real transparency” is the priority, Paterson says. They demand honest pricing and clear, plain contracts. And they like to communicate, democratizing corporate leadership as part of the digital shift in finance. “Myself and my executive team are incredibly active on all the social channels and we interact with consumers and members via direct message, Twitter or LinkedIn,”Paterson says. “People give feedback directly to us. It is very clear how people are feeling.”

Along with this comes a significant shift in marketing, Paterson says. Rather than “big project campaigns,”Alterna is moving towards a more agile methodology that facilitates ongoing conversations, “so it’s not a campaign, just an ongoing dialogue with Canadians.” ◊

See more Art of Marketing stories:

 Atlantic Central

  Conexus Credit Union

 FirstOntario Credit Union

 Lakeland Credit Union

 Sunova Credit Union

 Vancouver City Savings 

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