What Can Credit Unions Learn From Rudy?

Rudy, Rudy, Rudy…

First thing’s first, among my unhealthy love of Star Wars, Apple and quite a few other geeky things, I am a hardcore Notre Dame fan.  Regardless of your personal proclivities in regard to college football, I think we all can enjoy an underdog story.  If you’re reading this, you are probably:

  1. Really bored
  2. Humoring me
  3. Affiliated with a credit union

Either way, you might as well read this until the bitter end.  No one likes a quitter.  So, what can credit unions learn from Rudy?

 Being huge isn’t a prerequisite

“Size matters not.” – Yoda

How I managed to get a Star Wars reference in here amazes me…

Anyhow, the size of your membership, your asset size or the number of employees under your roof will NEVER be as important as the effort your team puts forth.  We must always be mindful that our members have chosen us as their financial institution.  We should be working everyday to show our members why they made the right choice.

Rudy Ruettiger was the smallest guy on the field.  He wasn’t an All-American, he wasn’t even a starter, but he is remembered.  Why?  Because his efforts and constant desire to  succeed left a lasting impression on those around him.  This leads into my next point…

Win your team over and your fans (members will follow suit.)

If you can’t win your own team over, how can you expect others to buy-in to what you’re doing?  A culture of success is a tough thing to build, but it is absolutely necessary.  If you want to know more about culture, I strongly suggest you follow Matt Monge on Twitter and read his blog posts regularly.

During Rudy’s time at Notre Dame, there was a culture of success.  Today, well, not so much.  Either way, Rudy bought-in to that culture.  He did the things that no one wanted to do and he took a beating while doing it.  Eventually people noticed.  In fact, Rudy had no right to even dress for a game.  The only reason he dressed for the final game of his Senior year and actually stepped on to the field is because his teammates saw what he was all about.  As credit union professionals, we have to work hard everyday with the resources that we have.  Hard work hardly ever goes unnoticed.  If you can get your teammates to do this you are on the right track.

The Practice field

In my humble opinion, too much emphasis is based on immediate results. People are always looking for a shortcut or an easy way to achieve what it has taken others many years to accomplish.  Don’t get me wrong, no one should be making decisions willy-nilly, but success takes time.  Your office is your practice field and chances are you’re on that field at least five days a week.  Are you doing the research?  Are you thinking: “How can I create a solution?”

Put the time in, make a plan and then execute.  A good friend and mentor of mine, Kevin Ralofsky would say this, “It’s all about blocking and tackling.”  I’m not sure how Kevin would feel about this reference, but here goes: If you find yourself struggling, ask for help.  In Rudy’s case, D-Bop (played by Jon Favreau) was that help.  Yes, Kevin, if you are reading this, I just called you D-Bop.

A good mentor is hard to find and admitting you need guidance is usually even more difficult.  Regardless, a healthy apprentice/padawan (again with the Star Wars references) relationship can go a very long way.  Credit Unions are in the business of collaboration and cooperation.  Have you started building a network of people who can help you achieve your goals?  They are out there and there’s no doubt in my mind that they are waiting to help.  Find your D-Bop, get on the field and do something memorable.

Persistence pays off

If you succeed at first, congratulations.  For many of us this won’t be the case.  If it is, again, congratulations, but ask yourself, “Am I setting my goals high enough?”  Setting easy goals and checking them off may feel good, but how much better does it feel to do something big?  Answer: It feels fantastic.

It won’t be easy, and it won’t come quick, but it shouldn’t.  The toughest part about being persistent is, well, being persistent.  When things get rough, our natural reaction is to seek some way to alleviate the “pain”.  I call this finding a solution.  What is important to note is this: There are no simple solutions for complex problems.

The first solution is not always the best.  It’s not like a multiple choice exam where you just go with your first thought (this got me through college.)  These sort of things need to be thought out.  If it is a problem that requires immediate attention, stop the bleeding and then go in search of the source.  Whatever you do, don’t quit!  If you’re reading this, you’ve put a lot of time into (reading this, and) what you do. I bet you’re proud of what you’ve done.  You should be (not talking about reading this blog post.)

I’ll leave you with this.  Rudy almost quit.  The underdog story of this young man almost never happened.  Some of you may wish it never did happen because then you wouldn’t have to read this.  Either way, sometimes, when we are the closest to accomplishing the things we’ve been working for, the opportunity to quit presents itself.  Don’t do it.  Don’t compromise either.  Seek the guidance of a good friend or mentor and find the right solution.

Without wax,


(All spelling and grammar errors are my gift to you.  Free of charge.  You can thank me later.)


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,


You Call That The Vulcan Neck Pinch?

“What the h#ll are you doing?”

“The Vulcan Neck Pinch??”

“No, no stupid, you’re doing it all wrong..” -Spaceballs

There are plenty of social media advocates and probably as many or more naysayers in the finance industry.  I’ve witnessed all sorts of different viewpoints and honestly, I respect them all.  Some people have valid points about ROI being difficult (or imposible?) to measure, others claim it is just a waste of time and money.  I agree.  ROI is difficult to measure.  ROI may very well be nonexistent.  Credit unions may be wasting their time and money on social networks and new media.

The one thing that is constantly overlooked is the fact that the vast majority of financial institutions that are engaged in some sort of new media campaign are “doing it all wrong” like Lonestar in Spaceballs.  The fact remains that most of the chatter about these issues is taking place on the very communication channels that are being called into question.  I’m still trying to figure that one out…

So when is new media pointless and when is it priceless?  New media is priceless when it is social.  It is often called “social media” but most of the time it is anything but social.  The advent of Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Google+ (insert other platform here) occurred because people became sick of being talked at and wanted to have their fair share in the conversation.  This fact is too often overlooked.

When I see a credit union or any other business talking about how great they are all day and offering nothing of substance, I cringe (I cringe a lot.)  new “social” media isn’t about your business, it’s about the people who keep you in business.  It’s about people interacting with each other and sharing information, laughs and insights.

The next time someone says, “Social media has no utility in the finance industry” I encourage you to think, “Is this really the case?”  Are the communication platforms being used to facilitate dialogue or are they simply internet billboards?  New media isn’t for everybody and I will never say that it is, but when it is done correctly it is priceless.  With the proliferation of smartphones, businesses that can remain relevant and add value to their Fans and Followers have the ability to be with their members/consumers everywhere they go (who really leaves the house without their cellphone?)

 You WON’T build a following overnight, but if you continually do the right things, your following will grow.  Too often marketers are focused on getting a “Like” or follow and have no clue what to do after initial interest is expressed.  Getting someone to click a button is easy, keeping them coming back is not.

It would do us all well if we focused more on the engagement and conversations to come in the future rather than a persons sometimes random impulse to click a button.  Conversation is key.  If you are using new media to talk about yourself (business), you are wasting your time.  If you are interacting daily with your Fans and Followers, you will see the return.  New media is unconventional.  Traditional measurement techniques do not work.  You wouldn’t weigh a rock with a thermometer, so please do not try to gauge the importance of a social exchange with a spreadsheet.

What are your thoughts? Am I nuts? Am I genius?  Are you bored yet?  Let’s talk.

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 CUinsight.com.  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,