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  • Writer's pictureW.B. King

Dort Financial CU’s Investment Crowns Nook a CUSO

By W.B. King

With the goal of reengaging with its 50 and over member base, Dort Financial Credit Union recently partnered with Nook, offering a platform designed to “empower credit unions to provide niche experiences” without the need for a new brand, website, or technology stack.

“At first, like most credit unions, we felt that Dort was fairly well-engaged with its members 50-plus. However, our business intelligence team prepared a report showing that there was opportunity to deepen relationships with some members in that age category,” Brian Waldron, Dort Financial CU CEO, told Finopotamus.

The $2.27 billion Grand Blanc, Mich.-based credit union supports 378 employees who serve more than 121,000 members at 15 branch locations. “The model helps with engaging members in the age group with information that is relevant to them, including travel, etc.,” Waldron continued. “Within the ‘newsletter’ are products that Dort offers with an opportunity to learn more.”

Waldron and his team were so impressed with Nook that the credit union made a strategic investment, transforming the Wayzata, Minn.-based Nook into a credit union service organization (CUSO).

“Nook was designed to become a CUSO. In fact, our incorporated name is actually Nook CUSO Inc. So, for us, it was more of a matter of when, not if,” explained Nook CEO Austin Wentzlaff.

Brian Waldron

“The way it worked with Dort, our inaugural CUSO investor, is that we signed an agreement for them to pilot our solution. After kicking off the pilot and seeing early indicators of success, Dort’s CEO, Brian Waldron, and I started to discuss the possibility of Dort taking an ownership stake in Nook,” said Wentzlaff of the April 2024 announcement. To date, the CUSO has one credit union owner, two credit union clients, and one wealth management client.

“CUSOs are powerful in bringing like-minded individuals together to help create something for the broader good. The ‘people helping people’ philosophy to me extends to everyone, and to do that you need to understand the market,” Waldron said. “Nook is helping Dort Financial relate to our members better.”

Uplift in Product Engagement

For Waldron, supporting and partnering with Nook was akin to the proof being in the pudding, post rollout.

“The major selling point for us is, it worked. Dort Financial began seeing an uplift in products in the 50-plus category,” he said.

“We have seen high engagement from the weekly emails that go to our members about the content on the Living 50-plus site,” he continued. “We are seeing on average, 1,000 visitors to the site each month. They are spending time on the site and are clicking through for more information. Last month [April], the click through rate was 5%.”

Wentzlaff explained that Nook’s Niche Experience Platform requires no tech integration or technical resources to set up, requiring little resources from the credit union.

Austin Wentzlaff

“It can be stood up in as little as two weeks with Nook doing almost everything,” he told Finopotamus, adding that Dort Financial’s rollout occurred in the noted time frame. “The only thing needed from the credit union is their logo, brand guidelines, and ongoing communication, primarily surrounding the credit union’s strategic priorities.”

With regard to return on investment, Wenzlaff shared that along with the noted click-through rates, Nook clients are experiencing an average “time on page” of 4.5 minutes, which he said is “significantly higher than the average banking website visit,” estimated, he added, at 30 seconds.  

“We measure success in how many new products and services members acquire through our channel,” he said. “So far, Dort has seen members open checking accounts, CDs, and credit cards through the Niche Experience Platform.”

Relationship Banking

Noting that the Nook offering is “simple, straight-forward and relevant,” Waldron believes the platform will continue to perform for the credit unions 50-plus membership.

“Moving forward, our members will continue to find the information relevant and continue to engage. And that the partnership will continue to evolve,” he continued. “I know Austin, and I know that while Nook started with a niche group, more niches will be created, resulting in even more member engagement.”

Now operating as CUSO, Wenzlaff said Nook intends to further embrace the intricacies of the credit union movement.

“We believe that credit unions’ strongest differentiator of the past will be their strongest one again in the future, but credit unions need to be intentional about bringing it back. The differentiator is a deep member relationship and a focus on relationship-based banking,” he shared.

“Through Nook as a CUSO, credit unions will be able to reclaim their biggest strength,” he said, which aligns with Nook’s mission: “Bringing relationship-based banking back.”



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