Why Attracting Young People Matters to Credit Unions

The Canadian credit union system traces its roots back to the early days of confederation, when Alphonse Desjardins introduced an alternative to the loan sharks preying on low-income Canadians. Community values and support for one’s neighbours were strong forces that shaped Canada into a confederation and enabled the proliferation of credit unions. The credit union model of cooperative lending has sustained itself for decades and has played a vital role in the Canadian economy. However, the industry now faces headwinds with diminishing new members and an aging member base.

In 2017, the Canadian Credit Union Association (CCUA) commissioned an Ipsos study that identified various demographic trends unfolding within Canadian credit unions between 2011-2016. The study highlighted the member demographic problem. For example, credit union membership among individuals aged 18 to 34 is significantly less than membership among individuals 35-65+.(i)

While individuals aged 18 to 34 make up more than 27 percent of the Canadian population, they only represent 15 percent of all credit union members.(i)

In contrast, the 55+ segment comprises 39 percent of the Canadian population and represent 50 percent of all credit union members.(i)


Born between the early 1980s and mid 1990s.


Born between the mid 1990s and mid 2000s.

Source: Pew Research Center

Attracting and retaining millennials (born in the 1980s to mid-1990s) as well as Generation Z (born in the mid-1990s to 2011) is critical to sustaining the Canadian credit union system. Collectively, these generations comprise nearly half of Canada’s population(ii) and have become the leading marketing priority for not just credit unions, but all financial institutions. While efforts have been made to address the aging membership base, credit unions will continue to grapple with this issue as they reimagine what it means to be a credit union member.

When MNP identifies clients who are facing a significant challenge, we call upon our team to generate insights. In 2019, MNP issued an ideation challenge, encouraging team members to focus on some of our clients’ most pressing challenges. Jamie Adams, a member of our credit union advisory team, took up the challenge, and identified a variety of trends and insights related to millennial member acquisition. Jamie both represents the generation being analyzed and works closely with our credit union and financial services clients. MNP’s experience working with credit unions and our vision to support and strengthen credit union leadership, knowledge, and financial position, led us to publish this e-book.

Current State of Credit Unions

While the demographic threat to Canadian credit unions is apparent, they continue to top the charts of the annual banking awards in numerous categories, most notably in customer satisfaction. Importantly, due to their size and corporate governance structure, credit unions have the flexibility to enact major organizational and strategic reforms quicker than the big banks. If credit unions are going to compete with the banks, they must leverage this flexibility to implement meaningful changes.

Connecting with Younger Generations

Structural changes impacting how younger generations use financial services have forced credit unions to adapt. While credit unions have good foundations in place to attract young people, they suffer from a lack of awareness and misaligned perceptions of what younger generations expect from their financial institutions. In order to evolve, credit unions must play to their strengths, but also seek to understand where important capabilities and user experiences may be lacking.

Before credit unions can embark on marketing efforts to attract younger members, they need to ensure they have adequate digital capabilities and outstanding customer experiences available across all channels. Products and services should be customized to fit the needs of young people at specific points in their member journey and structured in a way that differentiates the credit union offerings from those of the banks. If credit unions can impact the lives of young people at early points in their financial journey, they can use these positive touchpoints to garner loyalty for additional products and services in the future.

Changing Attitudes Toward Banks

Younger generations care deeply about transparency, brand integrity, and the environment. As a generation that has come of age during a major financial crisis, they have deep-seated trust deficits with many corporations, especially financial institutions. This presents the industry with a difficult problem, as the wants and needs of younger consumers continue to evolve.

How can credit unions position themselves with younger consumers? Rob Carrick, personal finance columnist with the Globe and Mail, sat down with MNP for an in-depth conversation on the opportunities and challenges ahead as credit unions adjust to emerging generations. According to Carrick, “the banks are racking their brains on how to serve younger generations, but no one has taken any definitive or impressive steps to do so.”(iii)

“Young people today do not want to be pushed into buying a high fee mutual fund; they want to know how to reduce their student debt, invest for the future and possibly buy a house in this lopsided real estate market.”

Carrick also notes that while credit union values align with young people, they have been unable to gain traction with this message, pointing to the need for reimagined products and marketing.

Millennial and Generation Z Consumers

The most important starting point for any strategy seeking to attract younger consumers is understanding what makes them tick. Before considering how credit unions can align their strategies for attracting and retaining younger members, it is crucial to consider some of the unique characteristics of these demographics in Canada.

While core financial products have largely remained static for the last 40 years, financial realities have fundamentally changed. For younger consumers, graduating without debt, securing a well-paying job out of school and purchasing a home are no longer a rite of passage, as experienced by previous generations. And today, 50 percent of millennials believe they will not have enough money for retirement(i). Younger generations have specific needs, desires, and expectations of their financial institutions, and they have preferences vastly different from those of their parents. To understand younger generations better, MNP surveyed 145 millennial consumers across Canada, and found the following;

Millennials have strong progressive values and have been exposed to decades of perceived corporate irresponsibility, environmental degradation, and unethical business practices.

Millennials are open to sharing their data if it means a better user experience.

Millennials expect their financial institutions to be flexible, digital, and transparent, with low or no fees.

Millennials have come to expect automation and pre-approvals for products they require in their application and decision-making process.

Millennials prioritize experiences and improving the communities in which they live over acquiring possessions or purchasing a home.

i CCUA; Credit Union Members: More Than Just Average Canadians; 2018 ii Statistics Canada; Table 17-10-0005-01 Population estimates on July 1st, by age and sex iii Rob Carrick