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The Power of Free Stuff

Justine RiveroComment

Truth #1

Free stuff can be a powerful motivation.

From food samples at Costco, tchotchkes at tradeshows, to six months of premium cable, free stuff aims to make a new or repeat customer out of you.

Free isn’t always advantageous to businesses; you might just take the cream puff sample and walk away. But everyone loves free stuff, so how can you make that work to your credit union’s advantage?

Case Study: Building a Business on Free

At Credit Karma, free is our core business principle. We started with giving consumers free access to their credit scores. When access wasn’t enough and members wanted more, we built a robust suite of credit management tools and personalized offers. Imagine going to Costco and getting a free 12 ounce steak and perfect wine pairing to go with your cream puff sample.

While providing a free service is great for consumers, we had to keep the business going. In a competitive space with catchy jingles for services laced with hidden fees, being a business that is transparent, straightforward, and—most importantly—free, is our key to success.

Being free is the easy part—the challenge is to keep building a free service that is valuable, engaging and relevant for consumers.

Truth #2

Free stuff can be a powerful motivation, but it isn’t enough.

Think of all the tradeshow keychains and mousepads you toss without a second thought about the company it came from. In business, free must come with true value and provide natural business opportunities.

Offer something free and valuable, something so compelling and undeniably beneficial that members would even pay for it. Think less free tchotchkes and t-shirts, and more free educational seminars and free mobile banking apps.

Free stuff can only be a powerful business tool when real value (not novelty) is attached to it. That takes risk and financial investment, and a dash of creativity.

Here are three ways to evolve your credit union’s offerings to harness the power of free: 

  1. Provide member benefits, like financial counseling  services, member discounts, and educational seminars, to supplement and differentiate your credit union beyond financial products
  2. Re-engage current members and acquire new members through free product perks, like product sweepstakes, eServices, and banking programs tailored to young members.
  3. Support your credit union’s brand in the spirit of community and member service through free community-oriented events, school programs, and philanthropic endeavors.

Whether your credit union’s overall goals are to add new members, reenergize current members, or ignite the brand, how can free products, services, and perks support these goals?

Take the time to think creatively—how can your credit union harness the power of free?


Justine Rivero is the Credit Advisor and resident Credit Rockstar for Credit Karma, the pro-consumer credit advocate that helps more than 3 million consumers realize the everyday cost savings of having great credit health.