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How Canadian Credit Unions Can Leverage ESG Principles and Technology to Reach a Younger Generation of Members


Reality Check: the post-pandemic technology world in which we operate is prone to frequent disruptions. Within this landscape, four generations often collaborate on projects, whether in shared offices or remote settings, and each organization has its own approach to virtual work. Canadian credit unions (CCUs) are no exception to this. We are all dealing with the implications and applications of AI, while also worrying about economic uncertainty and potential cyber-attacks. This fast pace leaves little room for future planning, as we’re occupied with continually changing security requirements, adjusting workspaces, or discussing and planning for the impacts of the latest economic instability.

Given these factors, taking a pause long enough to evaluate the business and refocus on what truly matters to CCU stakeholders, employees, members, and potential members becomes a daunting task. This is where Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) principles come into play. Despite some negative press, particularly regarding ESG funds, it’s generally acknowledged that the younger generations – millennials, Gen Z, and Gen Alpha – are more concerned with and supportive of ESG principles than their predecessors, likely due to increased exposure in recent years.

Credit union membership has seen strong growth, but individuals aged 18-34 make up only 12% of the total. So, how can Canadian credit unions (CCUs) adjust their ESG messaging, marketing techniques, and practices to appeal to and retain younger members amidst the turmoil of technological advancements, shifting work environments, and economic instability? What role does technology play in this endeavor? Let’s explore these questions further.

Mobile-First, Anywhere-to-Anywhere

In today’s world, most credit unions are app-savvy. A mobile app can be leveraged to enhance the CCUs ESG messaging to foster a brand that is consistent with messages being reinforced at the branch and website levels.  CCUs that don’t offer a mobile app or mobile banking must immediately implement a mobile solution to attract younger generations. Younger members prioritize mobile apps for tasks like mobile check deposits, bill pay, and peer-to-peer payments. Online account opening and digital onboarding should also be strongly considered – CCUs that offer services without mandatory branch visits will have an edge. The mobile app can feature functions like account balance view, branch locator, and “ESG-relevant” principles such as community announcements, recruiting announcements, and important news releases. These features will help promote a positive, transparent, and inclusive brand that appeals to younger, tech-savvy members (and those who will become future members).

Enhanced Social Media Presence and Branding

CCUs need an executive responsible for their digital strategy, which should include a social media strategy. This includes maintaining a digital presence and delivering consistent messaging across platforms like X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, and TikTok. Younger generations increasingly turn to social media for news, connecting with service providers (banking, mobile devices, auto), customer service, and even job searching. A strong social media and branding strategy means being easily discoverable on various platforms and having meaningful messages that resonate with newer generations of members.

Revised Digital Platform Strategy: Leveraging Platform Providers with ESG Tracking and Reporting

Creating an ESG strategy that is relevant to younger members and aligned with the CCU’s principles requires updated tools and methods for tracking, recording, and reporting. With increasing regulatory requirements for Climate and ESG reporting from OSFI, CCUs have an opportunity to use ESG to their advantage: appealing to younger employees, attracting new members, and meeting compliance requirements. If done properly, a strong ESG strategy and narrative can enhance the CU’s positioning with the younger generation (both members and employees), but it must be backed by accurate data, reporting, and compliance for an authentic narrative in the eyes of the younger generation. When done right, it’s magical, but any missteps can pose brand, reputation, and regulatory risks.

Key elements such as community involvement, youth outreach, digital offerings and penetration, personalized services, and competitive rates and fees can all be evaluated, implemented, tracked, and reported on. It’s imperative for CCUs to create or update their digital platform plans to include ESG elements that are relevant and appealing to younger audiences, and to establish systemic features for tracking these elements with the future in mind.

A Final Thought

Canadian Credit Unions must strategically adapt and evolve in the face of technological advancements, shifting work environments, and economic instability. The incorporation of ESG principles by CCUs, coupled with the effective use of technology and targeted marketing, presents a powerful strategy for attracting younger members and securing future growth. It’s clear that a meaningful commitment to these principles and effective communication of the same can promote the perception of Credit Unions as not just financial institutions, but as pillars of community growth and sustainability for the forthcoming generations.

Optimus SBRs Financial Services Group

Optimus SBR is an independently owned management consulting firm that works with organizations across North America to get done what isn’t. Our Financial Services Group provides strategic advisory services, process improvement services, risk management services, and project management support to leading Financial Institutions, insurers, asset managers, and pension funds.

How can Optimus SBR assist you?

Optimus SBR has relevant experience working with Canadian Credit unions in various areas, such as:

  • ESG Strategy & Execution
  • Digital Banking System Evaluation and Selection
  • Managed Technology Services
  • IT Strategy & Execution
  • End to End Data Services
  • Risk Management, including privacy, operational resilience, culture risk, cyber risk, third party risk, etc.
  • Branding and Change Management

Let’s have a conversation today to help plan for the future!

Contact Us

Carolyn Kingaby, Practice Leader, Financial Services

Paul Smith, Vice President, Management Consulting Services



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