Using too much financial jargon can turn off your members by making your services seem more confusing. There's a better way to be credible and helpful.

Using Jargon in Credit Union Communications: a Double-Edged Sword

Fri Nov 21, 2014

Editor's note: today's blog post comes from Morriss Partee, who founded EverythingCU.com, one of the premier resources for credit unions. He most recently lent us his credit union marketing expertise in a webinar: "What Credit Unions Need to Know About Building a Brand Online." 

Jargon /ˈjärɡən/
(noun) Special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.

Many of us have been taught that jargon is a bad thing. Well, like everything that people do, jargon has a purpose. Let's take a look at why we use jargon, and when it's good and when it's bad.

So why do people use jargon? Jargon is used in communication for a variety of reasons, but one of the primary reasons is to set the speaker apart from others, and to determine if the listener is "in the same club" or not. Using the term "HELoC" as a word (instead of saying Home Equity Line Of Credit) is a perfect example of financial jargon. People who are not in the financial industry have no idea what you are saying when you use the term hee-lock as a two-syllable word. But if you are at a financial conference, and you mention how well your HELoC portfolio is doing, then if the eyes glaze over, or you get a quizzical look from the person you are speaking to, then you know you're not talking to someone in the financial industry (or maybe they are new to the field).

But using the term "HELoC" is just the tip of the iceberg of financial jargon. There exists all kinds of linguistic idiosyncrasies unique to the financial industry, from phrases like "new money" (meaning funds not already on deposit at the credit union) to calling your checking account a "product". (Tip: most people have no idea what "new money" means when used in a disclaimer, and normal people don't think of your checking account as a product, they think of it as a service.)

While it can be useful to use financial jargon within the walls of your CU, when talking to fellow CU employees, there is a danger to it as well. One of the dangers is that if you use financial jargon frequently enough, you can easily forget that your membership doesn't understand the terminology. That can be bad in a couple of different ways: When you communicate with financial jargon online, you instantly turn your member or potential member off, and they will click elsewhere. And the other unintended consequence of using financial jargon with fellow employees is that they in turn will use the same jargon with your members in face-to-face interactions. Your members and potential members may be too embarrassed to admit they don't understand the terminology your staff is using, and thus be turned off to doing more business with the CU.

But there is a time and place where using jargon is actually good for your CU. And that's when you understand and adopt the jargon of your membership. This understanding and usage serves several purposes at the same time. By using the same jargon that your members use, it puts you into the same "club" as them, i.e. it shows to your members that "you're one of them." Another purpose it serves is to differentiate your CU from other financial institutions. As example, the jargon that a government employee-based CU uses is different than the jargon a faith-based CU uses. This can help your CU get found in online searches, because when your potential members search for you using their own terms, they'll find you, because you use the same terms on your web site.

Break a leg in your online marketing and branding efforts, and remember to use the jargon of your membership base, not the jargon of the financial services industry!

 

Morriss Partee of EverythingCU.com
Morriss Partee
Chief Experience Officer | EverythingCU.com

As the founder of EverythingCU.com, Morriss is responsible for creating a remarkable forum connecting thousands of credit union executives across the country and worldwide. Headquartered in Holyoke, Mass., EverythingCU.com currently hosts 8591 credit union professionals, and is a hub for exchanging ideas as well as documents. In addition to launching EverythingCU.com, Morriss has worked for more than decade as a marketing and design consultant for credit unions and other clients; and uses his entrepreneurial background to help businesses succeed through examining things from the customer/members' perspective.