Are Credit Unions a Rebel Alliance?

If you know me at all, you know I am a self-proclaimed Star Wars geek.  I’m totally cool with it.  I love Star Wars because it was revolutionary, also because I am a geek, remember?  Other than the pure entertainment value of the series, I think there are some correlations to the credit union industry.  I also believe that all of us can learn a few lessons from Luke, Leia, Yoda (of course) and even the ewoks.

 If you haven’t watched Star Wars, stop reading now.  You will not enjoy this post and you will probably miscategorize me as a nerd.  Geek > Nerd.

Here’s what I’m talking about:


The Cooperative Network

As an industry we are small.  Individually, we are even smaller (earth shattering, I know.)  The Rebel Alliance was small, too.  They were like the credit union industry: United by a common bond, scattered (throughout a galaxy mind you) and facing an opponent (competitor) with more resources, strategically engrained in the very essence of the general populace (that Palpatine was a tricky dude.)

The Cooperative Network is one of our biggest assets.  Our capitalization here is a must.  Continually talking about the level of service we provide is a waste of time.  Member service should be at the center of our daily operations and engrained in our organizations, it is not a marketing or branding tactic.  Talking about outstanding member service at length is equivalent to an elaborate touchdown dance.  Act like you’ve been in the end zone before.

Instead, I propose we focus our messaging on Shared Branching.  Not every credit union has it and in my opinion that is a shame, but it’s what makes us relevant outside of our own respective fields of membership.  Even more disappointing to me are CU’s who refuse to embrace the concepts of collaboration and cooperation.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it is a fact that credit unions often lose members upon two specific life events: relocation for education or employment (there are others, but many of our members will approach one of these markers.)  This is important because if a member is heading off to college or starting their first job after university, they will need to borrow money soon.  We need loans and they need protection against higher rates and hidden fees.  It’s a win win.

When people move, they are generally thinking about two things: Where will I live and how will I access my money.  A member that is unaware of shared branching will likely look for a new credit union or bank.  I can understand the “comfortability factor” of having your money at a brick and mortar that is within miles, but don’t under estimate the power of the Force (gotta love techno and Star Wars)…err…umm the relationship they have forged with your credit union.  Take the time to look up credit unions where they will be moving.  Explain how shared branching works.  Talk about the power of cooperation among credit unions and do not let the member leave your branch or office without a list of credit unions they can frequent in order to access their money if they decide to remain a member of your institution

Pick the right Master and be a good Apprentice.

You don’t have to look any further than The Credit Union Times to know that there are some fantastic up and comers in our industry.  What CU Times has down with their Trailblazer 40 & Below program is completely rad.  Why is it so rad?  Well, it shows that there are a lot of young people with different ideas and experiences that are doing awesome things to move the industry forward.

Just like Star Wars, we must remember is behind every Apprentice there is a Master (mentor).  There is no doubt in my mind that the only way to make yourself a better CU professional and better person is to find the right mentor.  For me it was Kevin Ralofsky.  All I am saying here is regardless of our age, position or status, we all need a mentor.  The mentor relationship is not a one-way street, each person benefits from sharing thoughts, ideas and information.

There are a lot of differing opinions about marketing, branding, strategy and much more floating around in CU Land, but the only way to sift through them all and come up with a plan and direction that is right for your credit union is to collaborate within your own CU’s walls.  If we can not do this effectively, how can we expect to collaborate on a larger scale?

Take advantage of unique opportunities

There have been a number of great blogs about small credit unions and their flexibility.  I do not wish to take up your time and hammer this issue home anymore.  Frankly, I don’t think I could put it any better than how James Robert Lay puts it here.

What I do wish to pass on to you is the importance of leveraging unique opportunities.  We’ve all heard that we only get so many chances to do something awesome.  Most of the time this is said about personal opportunities.  I think the same holds true for businesses (credit unions).

Many credit unions are creatures of habit.  They do the things they do to brand, market and sell loans because “That’s how we’ve always done it.”  Well I’ve got news for you, people used to send mail by horse…  The bottom line is this: Many of the biggest advances known to man started off as “off the wall” ideas that someone had enough guts to undertake.  If you want a Star Wars reference, think Ewoks on the Moon of Endor.

We don’t have to do things the way they’ve always been done.  In fact, if we do not continue to innovate, collaborate and cooperate, we stand no chance at all.  We need to nurture and develop unique ideas.  Sure, trying something completely foreign is a scary thing to do, but settling for less than stellar strategy is even scarier to me.

What other lessons from Star Wars can you think of?

Without wax,



Why We Need More Credit Union People

If you are looking for earth-shattering news or insights, you can stop reading now.  If you’d like to know why the United States or the world for that matter would be a better place if we had more credit union-minded people, by all means, keep on reading.  I’m biased.  I work at a credit union, I’m co-founder of a CUSO and well, I just plain love credit unions, but why?  I’ve had a couple of different “big boy jobs” and I also was a customer at a bank until I began working at VacationLand Federal Credit Union (VLFCU) in Sandusky, Ohio.  Admittedly, I didn’t transfer all of my accounts over immediately.  I thought the process would be the equivalent of being water-boarded.  It wasn’t.

It was about two weeks into my new position when I realized things in the credit union world were very different.  I can remember thinking, “Wow, these people really care about what they do and who they serve.”  It was like an epiphany.  It was a great fit for me too as I spent my time prior to joining the VLFCU team working as a social worker and a marketer at a Catholic school.  In all three endeavors, people were always the priority.

My experience at VLFCU (which I am sure is the very similar to most CU employees) has been nothing but positive. I (we) go to work everyday with the intention of making someone’s life simpler, less complex.  We enhance our member’s lives by providing them with the services that they need, but how we go about it is entirely different that other organizations.  We pride ourselves on “member service” and unfortunately that term tends to get people myself included to roll one’s eyes.  After all, service should be something that is implied.  Something that should already exist.  We shouldn’t have to tell others that we’re good at what we do, if we weren’t we wouldn’t be in business.

While I think this is true to a large extent, I don’t think we would totally do away with messaging that raises awareness about our ability to provide superior member service.  Just last week, James Robert Lay wrote an excellent piece for  If you click this link, you will see how James explains that bigger is not always better.  I believe that he is absolutely correct.  Our size is in fact one of our biggest assets.  It is the reason we can provide the level of service that we do.

This became evident to me this past weekend when I was in one of my home improvement trances.  Every once in a while I will become fixated on taking on 10 (exaggeration) projects around the house.  This time it was sanding my staircase down to stain and getting new blinds hung throughout the house.  I started the staircase project and as I am more of a Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor type than I am Bob Villa, I needed to get some supplies to patch up some “mistakes” I made while “improving” my home.  Either way, I had to go buy blinds too.

I went to a place that rhymes with comb repo to purchase some patching supplies and of course, blinds.  I went to the blind section, found what I needed and asked to have someone cut them down to size for me.  After 35 minutes, I still stood there being “that guy”.  At least 7 (not exaggerating) employees passed me.  Most avoided eye contact while the others explained that there is only one person that can cut down blinds and she will be with me when she can.  If you know me at all, you know that I write really long blog posts and that when I want to complete a job or project I want to do it now!  I left the comb repo and called up another establishment that sounds a lot like “Joe’s”.  I asked if they would be willing to cut down blinds I already had if I was to purchase several hundreds of dollars of merchandise from them.  No dice.  I called another lesser known establishment and had the same luck. 0 for 3.

This got me thinking about how this would have been handled by credit union-minded people.

  1. There would have been more than one employee capable of cutting down my blinds at the Comb Repo.  In fact, they would have known my name, what kind of dog I have and probably have made sure I left happy and with BLINDS!
  2. At “Joe’s” they would have said, “Sure we can cut down those blinds for you and we’re glad you chose us for the rest of your household needs.” (shared branching)
  3. No eye contact?  Really?  If those employes were customer-minded (member-minded) they would have stayed with me or at least actually got someone to provide me the service I was requesting, not to mention knowing my dog’s name etc.

My point is this: While member service should not what we claim is the only thing that makes us different from big banks, it is a very real and game-changing aspect of what we do.  It is what makes people say they love THEIR credit union.  It really is a competitive advantage and it makes a huge difference as it turns our members into advocates and keeps them coming back.  I can honestly say that it will be a while before I return to the “Comb Repo” or “Joe’s”.  I’m sure there are plenty of locally owned businesses that would love my business and make sure I keep coming back to them.

For the 3 of you who read this until the bitter end, I’d like to know what you think.  Does this make sense or am I just really impatient?  How can credit unions leverage this to its fullest extent without beating the same drum too much?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Without wax,