What is really wrong with this video.

I’ve seen “The Difference between Banks & Credit Unions” a few times now and from the first viewing, there has been one piece of it that makes me want to shout and scream and throw things.


First let’s give Larissa her due props. I absolutely love the presentation style. I am super impressed that she was able to use a style made “popular” by some very smart and talented people (CommonCraft) and somehow not make it lame. It was clean, smart, and funny, and that’s not easy to do when talking about credit unions.

What’s the problem?

It’s the bench scene. I just can’t stomach it. If you want to watch just the clip, it starts at 1:32 in the video. I’ve provided the transcript below.

“Hey. Hey, do you like my ipod…my bank gave it to me.”
“Hey do you like my long list of free services…my credit union gave them to me. owned.”

Sorry cu stick figure, but from my perspective, you got got the short end of that deal. Bank boy is sitting there with an ipod and you’ve got a list. A LIST!

Not only is your long roll of paper useless for rocking out, the free services you hold so dear were part of Bank boy’s account as well. He got an ipod. You got a propaganda scroll. Owned.

Why are you picking on a 19 year old girl?

Actually, I don’t blame Larissa for this misstep at all. It’s a line credit unions have been holding on to for a long time. “We offer more free services.” The problem is, I’m just not sure it’s true anymore. I think before we go off touting “more free services” as one of the big draws to a credit union, we may want to stop and see if it truly is a “credit union difference.”

Why does it matter?

With all the talk about a national marketing campaign and the giddy hysteria to put this video on every cu homepage in the world, I think it’s important that if something is claimed as a “cu difference”, it really is. Promoting something as a “difference” that isn’t only blurs the lines between banks and credit unions even more.

So that’s my question: Is “more free services” a credit union difference?

Update: Tim does a great job of calling me out and giving me a Canadian banking lesson below. I highly recommend you check out his comment.


After reading Ron’s headline I thought maybe I wasn’t going to have to be “that guy” on this one, but as Tim pointed out, by definition, I am “that guy.” Glad to be back in the swing of things.


15 comments so far

  1. Tim McAlpine on

    Hey Skeptic,

    You should do a bit more research before jumping to a bunch of conclusions.

    Background: This was created to promote one credit union product, not the movement. If you had checked, Canada has only five chartered banks. All of which offer no free services to anyone. In fact, there is no other credit union in Alberta offering a free chequing (checking) account to anyone under the age of 18. This is a huge differentiator in Alberta and Canada.

    Canadian credit unions are not tax except, yet the credit union industry is thriving far more than the US. Kind of Ironic, like the end of Romeo and Juliet. Don’t you think?

    This has nothing to do with your post, but I have been extremely surprised and bewildered in the last two days at how the US credit union system has claimed ownership of this video and see it as a way to save an industry with a few edits. I see references everywhere and a flood of e-mail to us and Common Wealth asking how they can use it for their own purposes. Extremely flattering, but also troubling in that most are not even asking. credit Unions are figuring out how to put it into their own websites, branch plasma screens, training materials, etc. Bizarre really. Like you said of Open Source CU, “It’s on YouTube, so its fair game.” Fair enough.

    Larissa and I have been chatting. Her comment. “2 minutes of 2D. Who knew?”

    Can’t wait for our conversation. I will contact you soon.


  2. CU Skeptic on


    I fully concede to having looked at this through US credit union lenses. Thanks for the call out and the Canadian banking lesson.

    Sounds like it is a big “credit union difference” in Alberta.

  3. Tim McAlpine on

    Hey, you are not the only American to not really understand us Crazy Canucks.

    To quote Homer Simpson. “I can’t wait to visit America Junior!” In reference to his trip to Toronto.

    Or Morriss Partee pointing out this awesome T-shirt on Twitter a few weeks ago. “Canada, America’s Hat.” http://tinyurl.com/ywmwwf

  4. CU Skeptic on

    So I will re-frame the question I asked at the end:

    Is “more free services” a U.S. credit union difference?

  5. Gene Blishen on

    I think you’ve broad brushed free services with the total system. And that is far from the case. Every credit union itself decides on the issue of what is or isn’t free. That decision is made with different criteria as the video points out. Banks have shares. Shares are listed on stock exchanges. Stock holders buy shares to create wealth, on and on — our typical economic cycle.
    There are no Canadian credit unions that have stock listings, so they have a difference in their business structure.
    If Commonwealth has an offering of free-whatevers that is their decision. That doesn’t mean that ABC Credit Union down the block does the same thing. The reasons they choose and the ability to make their own decisions, that is the CU difference.

  6. CU Skeptic on

    @Gene: I may be off, but are you saying that there is one “cu difference”, the structure and democracy, and that one difference manifests itself in many different ways across the industry?

    (I’m sincerely asking. I’ve already proven to be off my game today.)

  7. rshevlin on

    In my opinion, it’s too bad that this discussion has veered towards a narrow discussion of whether or not “free services” is or isn’t the CU difference, in the US, Canada, or anywhere.

    There are many differences, and extolling them here is a waste of time, because the “difference is in the eye of the beholder” — in other words, whatever difference any particular CU member thinks is the difference, is the difference.

    And that’s what makes Larissa’s video important. It ISN’T the “list of free services”, it’s the iPod. It’s the implied message “if you’re so shallow and narrow minded to want a stupid iPod (which everyone owns already anyway) and can’t figure out that the money you’d save by being a CU member might just PAY for an iPod, then maybe you SHOULDN’T be a CU member in the first place.”

    It’s also the implied message that “CUs are better aligned with your interests than banks, and that’s why CUs do what’s right for their members and not just their bottom line.” That implied difference also comes out of the video, and is important as well.

    p.s. @Tim — please don’t flame me like you flamed the Skeptic.

  8. Gene Blishen on

    Not at all. There are 7 co-operative principles (http://tinyurl.com/24o8nm) that credit unions (cooperative financial institutions) are founded on. But those 7 principles are sometimes neglected, challenged or re-translated by various personalities. Those principles are a foundation that the system was built on. Some would say they are outdated or irrelevant in today’s economic system. I think they are valid but need constant interpretation in today’s world. There are raging debates at times but little consensus on what they truly mean. And there are the ‘religious fanatics’ who challenge everyone to dance around the co-op pole whenever the discussion get too heated. In the meantime we become rudderless ships in choppy waters. Cooperative principles are principles, they can’t be considered anything other than that. It doesn’t absolve us from being good business practitioners.

  9. Morriss Partee on

    @CUSkeptic – Indeed, Gene is correct. The beauty of the CU system, U.S. or Canada, is that every credit union gets to decide for itself its rates and fees. Not all people value the same things.

    Let me give you a practical example of Larissa’s iPod/bench scene, here in the states.

    My first CU client was UMassFive College FCU. The VP of Marketing wanted a campaign that painted their Home Equity Line of Credit in a positive light. Banks and other F.I.s in the area all had a six-month teaser rate of 1% below prime that jumped to 2% above prime. The CU’s rate was only 1/4% below prime….. but lasted for the entire life of the loan. Never a jump. We came up with a “parking meter” campaign that emphasized that the CU’s deal was better… and the success was off the charts. Loans quadrupled when the campaign was launched.

    Will that work for a national Home Equity campaign? No. Because every market, every CU, every membership is different. Did it work for this CU? Off-the-charts successfully, yes.

    This is the beauty of the CU system – local control, local decision making. No national campaign is going to be worthwhile unless this is the message.

    Think about it…. why did the CU movement pioneers encourage many individual CUs to be founded rather than branches of one gigantic CU? Because the whole point of the movement is to put the power in the hands of the people.

    BTW, it’s GREAT to have you back Skeptic! We all missed you. Please, please, please keep your skeptic voice going… those of us who are neck-deep in the movement need to constantly be reminded that many don’t see or appreciate this whole crazy CU thing. I for one can’t wait to hear your interview with Tim.

  10. Tim McAlpine on

    @Ron, you are right about the flame above. I reread my original comment and it is pretty harsh.

    If I could recall it and repost with a calmer head, I would say “yeah, what Ron, Gene and Morriss said.”

    From the beginning, the Young & Free initiative has been more about the freedom of being young and the freedom of expression than the free services offered by the credit union.

    And finally, as far as the general sense that this video would be great as a public service announcement for the credit union movement. Agreed, but I am also very protective of our client and their own brand. Common Wealth has taken a huge leap of faith, shown amazing courage and invested heavily in an experimental initiative. I am also very protective of Larissa’s creativity and vision.

    Again, forgive my harshness. The Skeptic got to me early on a Saturday morning.

  11. […] an exchange on the CU Skeptic Blog yesterday has brought me in touch with a real problem with my personal reaction to this video, and […]

  12. duhmoose on

    How exactly is the ability to decide rates and products a differentiator between banks and credit unions, at least in America? We tout the “benefits” of being a member, but have obviously failed to truly connect those benefits to tangibles that a non-member can grasp easily.

  13. Nala on

    TD Canada Trust is one of Canada’s 5 chartered banks. They just opened up a branch in Chilliwack, so I went to scope out what the “competition” does for a grand opening, and open an account. You can’t know the enemy unless you walk amongst them. 😉

    There is a whole list of things–holds on cheque deposits, ATM maximum withdrawals, loan rates–that the TD has to get approval on from back east (read: Toronto, Ontario) if I want to change them. At best, they told me, a one or two-day wait. At my credit union, if they can’t make the decision right then and there, they call 5 desks over and get it.

    That backs up principle four, autonomy and independence. But you only experience that difference once you’ve been a credit union member.

  14. Bob London on

    What’s interesting to me is that, even though this is a clever video, it only generates buzz in the CU community and doesn’t reach what I assume is the intended target: bank customers. There needs to be a message that gets passed around via and within that audience. The big issue I see is that–even if they do “get” the difference–many millions of customers are eligible to join a CU but don’t even know it.

  15. Ron Bensley, Jr. on

    @Skeptic: I’d like to interview you for the Bruen/Bensley CU Blog. You raise some intelligent questions.

    @Nala: Good point that Canada’s “big five” banks are very bureaucratic about check holds. Banks in the U.S. are somewhat less strict, except for a 30-day “probationary period” on brand-new accounts. Banks in Canada tend to impose a lot of per-debit and transaction-based fees on their chequing clients. In the States, “free checking” with no per-check charges, fee-free use of certain ATMs, no teller-assistance fees, etc. is commonplace, though many other types of fee income are derived from “Free Checking” clients.

    IMHO, U.S. credit unions need to distinguish themselves from commercial banks, and not simply become pale imitators.

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