|A billboard saying, "Don't blame us! We're not banks," was part of the marketing collateral for a new campaign repositioning Poland's credit unions in the face of the global economic crisis.
SOPOT, Poland—With the global economic crisis creeping closer to Poland, the country's credit unions have sought to differentiate themselves from the competition, comprised mostly of foreign-owned banks. Their resulting two-week ad campaign has created a furor of publicity in Poland's financial services sector.
The campaign's tagline, "Don't blame us! We're not banks," appeared on billboards, in newspaper ads, radio and television commercials. The pointed message, developed by the National Association of Co-operative Savings & Credit Unions (NACSCU), Poland's credit union trade group, attracted consumers' attention and bankers' ire. Most importantly, the campaign further defined the difference between Poland's financial cooperatives, which operate as a collective brand under the acronym SKOK, and its for-profit competitors, according Grzegorz Bierecki, NACSCU's president.
"It is important to spread the message that there is a different type of banking—human banking," said Bierecki, who also serves as treasurer on World Council of Credit Unions' (WOCCU) board of directors. "People want to do business with institutions that will not hurt them. Credit unions are local, member-owned institutions and the only ones people currently can trust."
At the present time, Poland's banks are not realizing any major problems, but that's not true of a number of the banks' parent companies, according to Paweł Grzesik, head of NACSCU's Warsaw office. Since roughly 70 percent of Poland's banks are headquartered in other countries, foreign economic issues will soon affect Poland's for-profit financial institutions, if they haven't done so already.
"Poland is not an island, and we wanted to clearly differentiate ourselves from the banking industry's challenges," Grzesik said. "We received word that some of these institutions already are on the edge of liquidity crises, and we assume that financial problems in Rome, Frankfurt and Paris will soon find their way to Poland."
NACSCU's "We're not banks" campaign has also received extensive news coverage in the media, attention Grzesik said is unprecedented in post-war Poland. Prime time television news programs and major Polish daily newspapers all reported on the campaign, which was only given a two-week run due to cost. High levels of media attention led to negative responses from the banking sector.
"The banks wanted the campaign banned," Grzesik said. "They said the ads suggested Poland's banks were not secure, something we never said. We merely noted that credit unions were not involved in creating the global financial crisis, and that's a fact."
The Association of Polish Banks attempted to stop the campaign through a letter to Poland's Commission of Financial Market Supervision, the country's financial industry regulator, accusing NACSCU of misleading consumers. The Commission approached Poland's Office of Consumer Protection and Competition, but the government body ruled that the campaign had broken no consumer protection laws.
Poland's credit unions have come out in favor of the campaign, which has brought them a wealth of attention. Even NACSCU has benefitted, daily receiving hundreds of job applications from former bank executives who before had turned up their noses at careers in credit unions, Grzesik added.
"We were right in defining ourselves as conservative institutions, and the current economic trends are paying us back for that position," Grzesik said. "The Polish middle class has become very disillusioned with the banking industry."
World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development agency for credit unions. World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. World Council advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.
World Council has implemented more than 290 technical assistance programs in 71 countries. Worldwide, 56,000 credit unions in 101 countries serve 200 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.