Archive for October, 2007|Monthly archive page

Happy International Credit Union Day

Even the skeptic can take a day to just sit back and be appreciative for the role that credit unions have played in financial history and focus on the ideals that make the soul of credit unions truly inspiring.

There’s a lot of stuff around the web about this, but here’s some links to get you started:

Happy Credit Union Day.


Maybe we should just call them “customers”

There’s a conversation going on over at the Everything CU blog about cu vocabulary and jargon that brings up an issue I think we should talk about.

One idea mentioned (in this and other posts and comments) is the thought that if credit unions refer to the people that consume their services as “members” or “owners” this will cause people choose credit unions over banks. While I understand both terms are correct references to the privileges granted to those at a credit union, and I agree both are neat, cool ways to think of these people, this notion ignores the role that drives the interactions of these people and the role they identify most with: “customer”

Story time

I really love the outdoors. Camping, hiking, and backpacking really get me going. In May, I was at a local REI picking up some gear. The cashier asked if I wanted to become an REI member for $15. There was a discount and year-end payout involved, so I signed up. I had become an REI member! Cool.

As I was leaving, the cashier also threw in this nugget of information. “REI is a cooperative and with your membership, you have become a part owner.” I had become a part owner of REI! Way Cool!

How many times have I been back to REI since? Zero. How many times have I visited their website: Only a couple.

What went wrong between me and REI? Am I an unhappy member and owner? No. I just haven’t had a consumer need that drew me back to REI. Have a bought other gear? Yes. I’ve just found it cheaper or closer.

My REI membership and ownership has NO BEARING on where I buy my gear. None at all.

The same is true for my financial needs. An older Seth Godin article talks about a “Customer Hierarchy of Needs” and while it looks to be geared towards more technical products, it easily extends to the financial world. Only after I become a satisfied customer can my interactions help me move to a level of considering what it means to be a member and an owner.

So what’s a cu to do?

1) Survey your members and find out which term (or definition of term) they most identify with and which one drives their interactions with you. Maybe one of the marketing gurus around the cu world can help us come up with something .

(My bold predictions: Most people don’t stop by your branch or website as an “owner” to check up on if things are running smoothly. Your member/owner actually sees herself as a customer first.)

2) If my prediction holds, abandon the talk about “members” and “owners” and try to provide the best “customer” experience in the financial industry. This is the reason people will choose your cu over the bank next door.

3) If you really want to stick with “members” (maybe you’ve printed t-shirts and mugs and branded toasters) make membership mean something. As Gene Blishen reminds us in one of his posts about the 7 principles, there is a “responsibility of membership” and I believe that this “responsibility” can be the key to moving a person from a customer to a member. Make a customer invest a piece of himself that is larger than just his money, and I believe you have a much better chance of him becoming a happy member and repeat customer.

4) If you’ve just made the decision to start using the term “owners”, I can’t say I know what to tell you. The thought of ownership seems so far up in the atmosphere that you will have a hard time getting people with feet on the ground level to understand, recognize, and appreciate it. Try to identify those that are already thinking at a “member” level and develop ways to help them to the next level.

I’d love to hear what you think.

Credit Unions as diamonds in the rough

Over on the Filene blog, Ben Rogers (who is heading what could be a really cool project focused on credit unions and young adults) gives an interesting take on credit unions. I’ll post his full quote for context, but I find his first sentence most intriguing:

“Credit unions are a diamond in the rough. As a young American, I never would have found them or understood them if not for my work at The CEO Report. There are millions of young Americans in the same boat. It is my sincere hope that this project will go a long way to test new models and ideas for credit unions to become more relevant not only to young consumers, but also as an employment option for talented, young professionals and perhaps the introduction of young professionals onto credit union boards.”

I actually think ‘diamond in the rough’ is a good way to describe credit unions. (Though the deep cynic inside me wants to push it closer towards ‘pressurized coal’, I’ll run with the ‘diamond’ reference for now.)

So while most cu blogs would talk about the ‘diamond’ piece of the analogy, let’s take a look at the ‘rough’.

Obscured from plain sight

A diamond in the rough is hidden from plain view, flying under the radar, undistinguished from its surroundings. I feel the same can be said about credit unions in the context of the financial landscape that a consumer sees. Is there anything that helps me know whether a building is a bank or a credit union? Inside or out?

Uncut and Unpolished

Not that the people or the efforts of individual credit unions are, but as a whole there is a refining process that I believe credit unions are in the middle of. That means some are not going to make the cut, but the ones that do will be something to look at.

Ok I’ve taken the analogy about as far as I can. I’d love to hear your thoughts…

And so it begins

I start down this path not knowing where it leads….