Looking back through projects for this blog, we kicked off our first credit union project in 2012. I was slightly shocked to realize Gravitate has been doing marketing for credit unions for 8 full years.

Over that time, in addition to the credit unions we’ve actually worked with, we’ve also spoken to hundreds of other credit unions of all sizes about redesign projects — a kind of user research by attrition. While every credit union (CU) is unique, you’d be surprised how similar these conversations are, hitting very similar points around goals, technical requirements, and ……. budget.

In our experience, most CUs we talk to don’t actually have a great idea what a new site should cost. Sometimes they’ve been given a budget by leadership or a board of directors, although those numbers are often based more on tidy-sounding figures rather than desired outcomes or the amount of work required (this is a nice way of saying they’re guesses).

We’ve helped many credit unions — including those we didn’t end up working with — to define their budget and found ourselves repeating similar advice over and over again. We thought it might be useful to share.

Long story short, we think there are two ways to budget for a credit union redesign:

1. Value your website like a branch
2. Value your site like an employee

Option 1:Value Your Site Like a Digital Branch

For larger credit unions, or those with more aggressive growth goals, talking about your digital branch is almost cliché. That terminology is everywhere, we even used it for a project for WSECU way back in 2015.

While there is a lot of lip service paid to going digital, in our experience the budget is generally not there to back it up. When we say you should treat your digital ecosystem as a branch — and really, your biggest and most important branch — we mean the budget should be similar to opening a physical location. While branches have gotten smaller, that could still mean $750,000 to $1,500,000.

We know that sounds shocking, so we’ll give you a minute to pick yourself up off the floor.

First, that budget includes not just your marketing website, but also your digital banking platform, and social media. This is also roughly a year-one cost. Like opening a branch, it’s not a project, but an ongoing commitment.

Why do we recommend a budget in this range?

It’s simple, really, this is where everything is headed. Your digital footprint is rapidly outpacing physical locations in value to your members and potential members. Your best branch — in an ideal location with a population who highly value in-person banking — would be lucky to see 10% of the foot traffic you get to your website and digital tools.

This is a complete shift in thinking, and one that has been slow to take root. In our experience, we’ve only ever spoken to 2 credit unions thinking on this scale. Most CUs we talk to are more interested in what budget they can get an okay website for, rather than what it means to truly meet your members where they want to be — online.

Option 2: Value Your Site Like a Digital Employee

If your CU isn’t quite as big, or perhaps has less aggressive growth goals, allocating a branch-sized budget may be a bit much. We don’t think there is any such thing as a one-size-fits-all website solution, and this is as true for credit unions as any other industry. So what, then?

If you aren’t ready for a digital branch, then the next best thing is a digital employee.

Once you start thinking of your website like a member of your team, you have a second choice to make. Is that employee an entry-level, minimum-wage seat-filler, or a smart, focused brand ambassador and customer-service all star? Clearly, we recommend the latter, which means the site should equate to a leadership wage, $75,000-$150,000.

Again, this figure is significantly higher than 99 percent of the credit unions we’ve spoken to. In our experience, this speaks to how credit union leadership values their physical experience over digital. Consumers feel differently, though. We could overwhelm you with statistics, but here are a couple:

  • According to a 2019 Provident Bank study “Only 20 percent of the consumers in the survey said they would rather visit a bank location than do their business using digital channels.”
  • If you account for age, we expect that disparity to be even bigger. Millennials, and the poorly named Gen Z-ers, all trend further towards valuing digital brands and experiences. 2019 Lightspeed/Mintel data indicates that millennials value digital brand and online interactions roughly 50% more than Gen X and older. This is especially important because this audience is the target growth demo for basically every credit union we talk to.


Look, we can’t tell credits unions how to allocate their budget. The point of this post is not really to tell you what to budget, but to challenge entrenched thinking:

Too often, the discussion we hear around digital marketing can be summed up as “What budget can I get this for?” as opposed to “What is this worth to my organization?”

If you adhere to the philosophy behind “What budget can I get this for?” you will undoubtedly reduce money going out the door, but that doesn’t mean your website will be less costly. When you factor in opportunity costs, that “cheap” project is likely to be more expensive for your overall bottom line, because of the awareness and members it failed to generate.

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