By Alicia Disantis, Marketing Program Manager
Every year, the folks over at The Financial Brand publish a list of the top FI websites around the world. We look forward to their listing all year because they showcase such beautiful and original websites, shattering the concept that banking is boring and dull. We also enjoy keeping up-to-date on industry trends and branding because it helps use serve and consultants for our clients.
Back in August, I was browsing their recent article 20 Visually Stunning Website Designs From Banks & Credit Unions and did a double take. My eyes weren’t playing tricks on me: $10M, 5-employee The Florist FCU was listed.
I wasn’t the only one that was shocked. Cisco Malpartida Smith, CEO of The Florist FCU, was as well. After spotting the listing, I immediately emailed the CEO to share with him the great publicity. “I had no idea,” he responded, bluntly.
“My first reaction was, ‘We couldn’t possibly be on a list like this. How does it even logically make sense?’ he said, laughing. “It’s very humbling.”
Smith is relatively new to The Florist FCU. He became CEO back in December of 2016 and has had a unique journey. Smith previously worked for GTE Financial, a multi-billion-dollar institution in Florida as the senior strategic officer. After many years at billion dollar shops, he felt compelled to shake things up and shift to the other end of the spectrum, to a small, niche credit union, at the time located in Roswell, NM. Talk about a change.
Smith has big plans for the small, but very unique credit union. They serve the floral industry across the United States and have members from coast the coast. Not one of their board members resides near the actual brick-and-mortar credit union. “I can’t think of one credit union that has not even a single board member local,” Smith says.
So, how did such a small credit union design a website that ranks with international powerhouses?
“It’s because we are able to be a lot nimbler. We can be scrappy and bold. We launched our new website and online banking in 60 days. Our online banking platform is extremely close to the robustness of a Bank of America,” Smith said.
A key element in the success of the website stems (no pun intended) from the brand. The Florist FCU isn’t trying to be something they are not, and it shows in their website. It is simple, clean, but most importantly, it represents the credit union’s membership. “People want to pull out a credit card that has a logo on it of something important to them, whether it’s a community, school, industry,” says Smith. The membership is the brand.
“We were only relying on word of mouth before I started, and I had a different perspective. The Florist FCU has a fantastic charter. What would it take for us to be a major presence? It was without question that we had to embrace marketing. And it didn’t really cost that much money once you broke it down.”
I commented on how a professional looking website can make a company look hundreds of times larger than they actually are. Smith agreed: “We are capable of branding ourselves to look ‘equal’ to a ubiquitous national bank.”
I asked Smith how credit unions, especially small ones, could justify spending money on a beautifully-designed, fully-functional website, when they are simply trying to “survive.”
“I know small credit unions have the ideology of ‘Keep your costs down, count your paperclips, and provide as much service as you can’. There’s a fear of taking a risk and spending the money…but that’s effectively what we are in the business of doing: managing risk. We can have an ‘Uber-like’ effect of disruption on the industry. We need to be more prepared for it and embrace it.”
Wondering if Smith’s marketing efforts are paying off? ”With those incremental improvements, there has been a massive increase in membership enrollment, deposits, and growth potential. We have to start hiring more people we are growing so much.”
Coming from a background in very large financial institutions, Smith says he is “Motivated by the opportunity to help my credit union brothers and sisters see how they can be progressive, innovative, motivated, and competitive in ways they haven’t viewed themselves before.”
“Surviving is not sufficient for small and even mid-sized credit unions. You have to reinvent yourself. It’s not going to get better. Credit unions are in a growth era. If you are holding back, you may be unintentionally putting your credit union in position where you don’t have many options moving forward.”