Posts Tagged ‘Gene Blishen’

Credit Unions being a Cooperative

July 9, 2010

Recently, the “dot-coop” (or .coop) extension topic was brought up on EverythingCU.com. This question was about whether or not it’s a good idea for credit unions to use this domain extension to signal that they are part of the broader cooperative movement.

This leads to the question: does being a part of the broader cooperative movement still mean anything in today’s credit union world? The reason I like to raise this question is that I had been working with this movement for about eight years before I had ever heard of the Seven Cooperative Principles. I knew that credit unions were member-owned, members had equal voting power, and that they were run as not-for-profit financial institutions. But I didn’t put two and two together to realize that all of these things are principles of the larger Cooperative movement.

So I recently voiced this question in response to the .coop issue, and received a wonderful response from my friend Gene Blishen. Gene is an amazing guy; he walks the talk. He’s the CEO of a successful, small credit union in British Columbia, where he remains true to credit union and cooperative principles while running a productive operation, one which has done some excellent technological innovation based on improving service to the members.

For many credit unions, in the U.S. especially, being a Cooperative has little or no meaning. They are simply trying to be the best financial organization possible, while running under the not-for-profit banner. It’s not that these credit union professionals care any less about their members. They still want to do the best they can for them, and make their lives better. It’s just that they don’t see any significant purpose in the Cooperative movement, or perhaps don’t see how it fits in their workplace. And that’s fine.

Here is Gene’s response on the matter, also posted on his Tinfoiling blog:

I think there is an elephant in the room and it never gets invited to leave.

IF you read the 7 Co-operative principle on which most CUs were founded years ago they were important in the structure and culture of the credit unions. As the financial industry has advanced somehow those principles have been forgotten, neglected or just unknown.

If one makes a decision about anything there are some fundamentals that act when arriving at that decision. Without the knowledge of these principles then the decision gets hijacked by being made outside those principles. If we bring to focus these absolutes that are a given i.e. we need to make money, we need to compete and neglect to discuss and bring forward how we incorporate these values (principles) in our CUs we do an incredible disservice.

Of course we need to make money, I don’t think that is a principle that needed discussion when CUs started. Of course we need to compete, they started because they could compete. But what about democratic owner control? What does that mean in todays CU? Or the education principle? I think we don’t want to discuss those. Why? To be honest because we have failed to bring these to the important level they need to be, we have been too busy making sure we make money and are moving forward in the marketplace.

I look at a CU like a car. You get it into shape. You tune it up. You keep it working well. But is that all? No you then decide where you want to go with it. What destinations are available and when will you get there. You always pay attention to the operation of the vehicle otherwise you won’t get there. Just remember you have seven places to arrive at and the journey can be exciting and very interesting. Remember we do have GPS to get us where we are going these days! :)

Here is a related blog post I wrote on the 6th principle of Cooperatives, which is that Cooperatives cooperate with each other: Zucchinis and Credit Unions: Not strange bedfellows

Ooops, Mt. Lehman CU did it again

March 17, 2010

Mt. Lehman CU continues its amazing path of innovation in the credit union movement. Mt. Lehman was the first credit union to offer text message alerts five years ago, and now they have created their own iPhone app for banking, called MobileWeb. Props to Gene Blishen and the team of foward-thinking CU professionals at Mt. Lehman! You’ve done it again!

One of the key takeaways here is that Mt. Lehman CU is innovative BECAUSE of their small size (less than 3,000 members and less than 12 employees), not in spite of their small size. That, and the fact that they have excellent brains. Oh yeah, and they live in one of the more beautiful parts of the world, British Columbia, home of the recent 2010 Winter Olympics!

BTW, I’ll be using Mt. Lehman’s latest innovation in an example of how to spread the word using social media techniques in the workshop webinar I’m delivering tomorrow: Bring Your Binoculars

Do we have room for 6 billion rock stars?

October 29, 2008

What if you were to combine the best networking and social aspects of Facebook and Crowdvine? I wasn’t aware of Crowdvine until someone added it to the wiki for BarCampBankSF. It first I was skeptical of YAFSNW* (*Yet Another Freaking Social Networking Website). But after diving in, I saw that it does certain things well, and does serve a specific purpose, though there is definitely room for improvement. Crowdvine’s purpose is to enable connections to happen, before, during, and after, a specific event, and even facilitate virtual connections with people unable to attend the event in-person.

As example, say you are in a new industry and you are attending a conference in another state. You’ve heard about some of the innovators in the field who are going to be at the conference. But you also know there are going to be hundreds of people there who you’ve never heard of before, and want to meet many of them to start developing your personal network. Crowdvine lets you see who is coming to the event ahead of time, and lets you designate that you are a fan of someone, and also that you want to meet someone. Because of the personal items that you can import into Crowdvine (your blog, twitter stream, and flickr photos), you can really get a good sense of what a person is all about via that source. This is very different from a friend on Facebook, where you can’t get any info on the person until AFTER you’ve agreed to be friends with him/her, and rightly so because it is of a personal rather than professional nature. Crowdvine is all about making connections that happen because of an event in common. And it’s pretty good at what it does; it really is an icebreaker to have heard of, and/or seen a photo of, a person who is going to an event that you are attending. 

So this leads to the following questions: What does it mean to be a friend of someone? A fan of someone? If you befriend a rock star, is that the same relationship that you have with your other friends? Of course, this train of thought wouldn’t be complete without saying that either a.) there are no rock stars, we all put our pants on, one leg at a time, or b.) we are all rock stars, everyone on the planet is important. (At least to their mothers.) But the reality is somewhere in between; that we all choose who we want to look up to and admire, and the degree to which we do that is different for any given person and relationship. For some people, there are no rock stars, for others there are many rock stars, of varying degrees of brightness.

So can you be a friend of, and a fan of someone at the same time? I feel privileged to be friends with social media rock star Chris Brogan, as well as credit union marketing rock stars William Azaroff, Tim McAlpine, Gene Blishen (and many others!). In Crowdvine, I would totally mark that I am a fan of theirs. In Facebook, I have befriended them. There are other people who I am a fan of, but don’t really want to have that same “friend” relationship as it is implied in Facebook. But what about your “ordinary” friends? What if you are a personal friend of someone, but not a fan of them? (You know what relationship I’m talking about, it’s the one with your buddy who calls you at 2 am needing a place to crash for the night. Again.) Would they be insulted if they knew that that was how you felt about them? Or would they be ‘big’ enough to appreciate the honesty? Questions to explore in this brave new internetworked world.

On a related note, Chris Messina has written an in-depth report on the state of OpenID. If you are interested in the evolution of your identity on the web, and how that works across the slate of different social networking sites, this is recommended reading. Which brings up the next question, do credit unions have a role to play in web identity and OpenID? Do credit unions have an expertise or credibility which can be brought to bear here? Or, should the OpenID/online social identity be kept completely separate from the monetary (credit/debit cards, ACH etc) systems network? Is PayPal already the intersection between the two? What are the benefits and drawbacks from having these as a single network versus separate networks?

Amazingly enough, I am agog as social media rock star Chris Brogan DM’d me on twitter while I was writing this. Rock on, Chris!

Gene Blishen: Mobile banking

October 2, 2008

Gene Blishen & coGene Blishen at the Partnership Symposium on Mobile Banking. Note: Gene’s small Mt. Lehman CU is doing amazing things in the mobile banking arena that billion dollar CUs don’t find feasible.

[Brent Dixon recorded this session on video here.]

Small CU in Vancouver area (3000 members), where 62% of all BC CU System assets are within a 15 minute drive.

Saw the internet would kill faxing in 1994.

Decided to integrate technology in house.

MemberNote came out of staff meeting. Text message sent when member uses card.

MemberNote 2: more variables needed for alerts. Turn on/off, balance included. Builds more based on what members say to front line.

Product is self-managed.

The difference between Push and Pull.

[Condition] {poll} +send alert message+ (a batch process)

Push operates differently: Occurs real time. Emergency alerts can be set up. Extensive logs. Housed at CU. Can tweak it internally based on member feedback.

1.) Transaction occurs: 2. Compared to the variables established by member about notification rules: 3. Alert is sent.

TextUs is second product. Built by third-party, along with 2nd largest CU in Alberta.
Can send a query (BAL or ACT) to short code then sends you a message back.

Released iPhone interface on same day iPhone was released in Canada. Same as TextUs, but on the iPhone.

History of checking account is available on iPhone.

Mobile banking is very broad. too new to have complete definition.

Can make transfers via phone, but not via mobile device yet. Believes it is a huge area for development.

Why is it popular?
Member note: Set and forget

TextUs- seeking information at various times for various reasons.

48% of members have POS/ATM card: 1343 members (must have to have MemberNote)

63% of cardbase use MemberNote

60% are active users (alerts within 90 days)

68% have more than 5 transactions per month

Biggest group using MemberNote: 29% 41-55; next is 28% 25-40; 23% are 56+!!!!! Only 11% are 18-24

Gene asks his members in the 56 years old and older group, “Why are you using this?” The answer: “I hardly used piece of plastic, but MemberNote tells us that the transaction is complete.” They feel secure about that!

Working on Version 3 now: Quantum leap in variables that you can receive alerts on. Will release Feb 2009. Still the only CU using Pull technology.

What does mobile banking do?
Another method to touch your members via SMS.
Gives the CU a unique position in marketplace.
Distribute communications.
Combats card fraud.
Makes you aware of current market conditions and trends.

Use it prudently and with common sense.

Create an engaged member. Transact with the engaged member. Educated your members about your products and services.

Next?
Web-based ATMs.
Chip cards and use of the chips “real estate”
Smart phones that allow specific programs, i.e. ATM locator.

Innovation:
bought all staff an iPhone when they came out.
comes from establishing the right culture at the CU. Not one individual, is collaborative.
Failure creates successes.
iSmart: Everything that his core processor isn’t

Q&A with the Shevlinator:
Q: Alerts: more than just a transaction? Deeper meaning?
A: Natural extension of a phone call follow up. Technology allowing them to do what would happen manually. Member OWNS CU. Do they feel that they own it still? This helps make them feel like they own it and influence what is going on there. They know that no one else has this.

Q: Surveys to determine what they want?
A: They have conversations with the member. They ask them. What do you think? Staff are aware that this is a vital area. What do you want with MemberNote? Biggest thing? Payday. secondary: alimony payment goes through.

Q: ROI projections?
A: The board requires a certain amount of money to be made. Gene and staff does the rest. If they can’t make it, will sell it back to members rather than merge.

Q: Security and privacy concerns? This seems to be the opposite.
A: Members become evangelists for you. MEMBERS GET ALERT BEFORE THEY GET RECEIPT. They are proud of this, of their CU.

Q: Location based services?
A: Sent his devs to SF. With iPhone, location is a given.

Notes from Social Banking session at BCBBC

September 25, 2008

BCBBC08Had an amazing time connecting with some great people at BarCampBank BC. Here are my notes from the first session on Day Two, Sunday, on the social nature of the banking relationship. For notes from other sessions, see William Azaroff’s live blog series, which starts here and the Camp’s wiki page, which includes links to some video recordings.

How do you allow front line people time to socialize and do internal networking?
Answer from Gene Blishen: Listen to them, ask what is mundane, routine, that they hate, and figure out how to automate that.

Employer has to create an environment to allow this to happen. Have to be brave, to create this. create systems that empower employees.

Indecison= decision — wastes time and effort.

Internal social network

Have to have people who are excited to be where they are and tell their friends about it
otherwise, same as traditional marketing, which is pushing things out.

How do we change the conversation to be about social media relationship building and not so much ROA, or else how do we measure ROI of social?

Bank willing to lend to an entrepreneur with more social connections

Facebook as collections tool

Head of the comma: REI model — even though most don’t go into wilderness, REI needs to appeal/work for that group because the rest aspire to that.

BarCampBank New England – Intimate equals awesome

April 7, 2008

America's CU MuseumWell, BarCampBank NewEngland finally happened. It was an incredible occasion, and a huge thank you to the 15 people who made the event everything I’d ever hoped for it, and then some. Fifteen people from all corners of New England, and other parts of the globe (Ontario and British Columbia), made the trek to America’s Credit Union Museum. I’m glad we held the event here, because prior to it, all but one camper did NOT know of its existence. Which is especially surprising considering that the CU movement in the U.S. originated here in Manchester, New Hampshire, and the first CU law, the first CU league, etc. were all established in Massachusetts.

Since this was a small gathering, I’ll say a few words about each of the special people who came.

Peggy Powell gives the tourPeggy Powell – Director of America’s CU Museum gets major karma points on at least four counts: 1.) normally only official CU orgs get to hold events in the museum, but she made an exception for us; 2.) she came in on a Saturday because she’s the only employee; 3.) she gave us a tour despite earlier having a bum wheel requiring ice and elevation, and 4.) she put up with us temporarily converting the 3rd floor into a concert arena for a game of Rock Band on the dual projector multimedia system.

Lunch CrewRon Shevlin contributed wonderful insights as always, and wrote a terrific blog entry about BCBNE here. My favorite quote from Ron came at dinner afterwards when we were discussing bankers in the CU movement: “Just because you change churches doesn’t mean you change religions.” During the day, my favorite insight was that it’s not about your story (meaning the business or organizations’ story), it’s about the story that members/customers tell themselves, and how you fit into that story. And social media is about creating new stories with them. Ron is writing a chapter for the book Age of Conversation Two, and I can’t wait to read his contrarian take on web 2.0. I am eagerly devouring Ron’s first book, Everything they’ve told you about Marketing is wrong.

The wisdom of GeneGene Blishen – I heard about what a great person Gene is from following BCB Seattle remotely, tweets, and blogs. Now I understand why. Gene is a treasure of the CU movement, is genuine, profound, and walks the talk. His blog is called Tinfoiling. Gene also wins the “furthest travelled” award since he came here on the way back to British Columbia via vacation in Denmark. A really cool thing that Gene shared with us is that Mt. Lehman CU has two event tents available for members to use (for weddings, parties, etc.). It’s a small way that Mt. Lehman gives back to its membership and also weaves itself into those important events in its members’ lives.

David - The Man of a Thousand TabsDavid Inverarity – I didn’t know of David of Ontario before BCBNE, but I am very happy to have met him. Ron nailed it when he described David as a Tour-de-Force. He’s a whirlwind and provided the funniest photo of any BarCampBank EVAH. I love that David not only brought his PowerBook, but also his Macintosh Air and iPhone. (And made use of air-quotes frequently.) I’m still not sure what to make of his challenge to try to remove his MacBook Air from the building and he wouldn’t make a move to stop them. Perhaps it de-materializes if someone other than David tries to touch it? Ron thought it would make an excellent frisbee if thrown from the third story window.

Andy LaFlammeAndy LaFlamme – I had been looking forward to meeting Andy ever since his outstanding blog, The CU Loop, came on the scene. Andy has a cogent write-up of the day as well. A special thank you to Andy for so many great photos and recordings of the day.

Adam Lueb & Andy LaFlammeAdam Lueb – A special thank you to Adam for making the journey to Manchester from Western Massachusetts despite not feeling 100%. Adam keeps EverythingCU.com humming despite our best efforts to overwhelm him with new stuff to make that resource even better.

Ginny & LouiseGinny Brady – Ginny continues to delight me with her progressive thinking, and to be the beacon of truth and justice for board members to truly represent the members’ best interests. After a full year of blogging via The Boardcast, still the only board member to be creating online dialogue with members via a blog as far as we know. I hope her example paves the way for more board members to engage in dialogue via this avenue. And don’t even get me started about how awesome this photo of her and Louise is. Shout out to Ginny, Linda, Jody and UFirst FCU for sponsoring breakfast. Ginny gave a great description of the events at The Credit Union World’s Best Kept Secret.

Charlie Kroll & Peggy PowellCharlie Kroll – Came up from Providence, Rhode Island, representing online account opening and funding operation Andera. Charlie had outstanding questions and insights throughout the day. Here is Charlie’s blog entry on being pleasantly surprised by BCBNE.

On the TourDave DelVecchio – Thank you to Dave for coming to the camp, also from our area of Western Mass. David saw me give a talk to the Pioneer Valley Chapter of the MA CU League and does tech implementation and support for many F.I.s in the region. He gave us some insight into the big I.T. issues organizations are wrestling with.

In the "Waiting Room"Mark Vautour – Another young CU marketing professional learning more about the movement every day, who was not aware of the Massachusetts/New Hampshire CU movement’s origins the existence of America’s Credit Union Museum despite working at a Boston area credit union. I got to visit Mark at halftime of my first-ever in-person Celtics game at Boston Garden because we both have the Celtics fan Facebook application. Props to Mark for setting up and handling the event’s registration on Eventbrite.

Deb and the topic/schedule wallDebra Trautman – Was the only camper who was aware of America’s CU Museum before the BCBNE event because she had received an award there for her work for the Maine Credit Union League. Debra, like many of us outside major cities on the East Coast, was not familiar with the BarCamp format, and now that she’s experienced BCBNE, is eager to share it with more Maine credit unions.

Jeanine PerroneJeanine Perrone – Represented Marquis software. It’s great to know there are people who work for CU vendors who are this interested in the movement. Jeanine is also formerly an employee of a credit union.

Christian discusses CU mergersChristian Mullins – Provided wonderful and detailed insight into credit union mergers, and why they are happening at a rate of about one per day. (46 so far this year alone). He had detailed knowledge of a big one happening in his former area in Madison, Wisconsin

Morriss Partee, Jeanine Perrone, Joe Mello  & Andy LaFlammeJoe Mello – Arrived in time to catch the second half of the day’s topics. I had met his brother, Steve Mello, in San Francisco the previous Saturday at BarCampBank SF. Joe and Steve are doing some exciting work in the world of wireless banking.

I hope that everyone enjoyed themselves, learned a lot, were re-inspired about this crazy CU movement experiment, and made valuable new connections with like-minded people. I know I did.

If you are an employee of a credit union or league, and want to continue this conversation with thousands of other CU professionals, check out EverythingCU.com. (Full disclosure: we created EverythingCU.com as a resource for you to connect with your peers nationally and worldwide, so we might be biased.)

Shameless self-promotion, part two: I was agog when I first visited America’s CU Museum nearly two years ago. I have since discovered that many in the CU movement don’t know about it, or the history of this amazing movement. To do my part in stamping out ignorance everywhere, I am available to deliver a concise, relevant presentation that connects the dots between this movement’s humble origins and how we came to be where we are today. Send me an email if you’re interested in having me deliver this presentation to your credit union, league chapter, or league.

For more photos of the BCBNE event and the museum, visit the BCBNE group flickr pool.

Please share YOUR thoughts on the day, and what you got out of it, here and on your own blog/twitter/flickr/facebook/crowdvine/wiki.

Blahg Blahg Blahg Blahg-I’m sick of hearing about Blahgs!

January 27, 2008

It is truly fun to see the mini-firestorm of discussion that this meme of “to blog or not to blog” has generated. (Trey Reeme guesting on CUES Skybox, Tim McAlpine – Currency Marketing, Ron “the Shevlinator” Shevlin, Gene Blishen – Tinfoiling, Currency Marketing again, CU Skeptic, Lisa Hochgraf – Nexus Connection, and right here)

To all of this, I further say, “You are mostly likely already blogging, you just don’t know it.”

To understand why, let’s start by breaking down exactly what a blog is.

At it’s simplest, a blog is simply a web log. (web log = blog. get it?) When my son was born at the very end of 1998, I wanted to post pictures of him online for my family, spread out all over the country, to see. Neither Flickr nor blogging had been popularized yet. So I dutifully uploaded pages and wrote html code in Adobe GoLive. This got complicated when new pictures required new pages, and then they needed to be linked back to older pages. In fact, it grew so wearily tiresome that I stopped this whole effort after about a year and a half. And I couldn’t tell if my family was even paying any attention.

Fortunately, some sharp people realized that they were not the only ones having this kind of dilemma. The need for easily updateable sequential web pages was readily apparent, and the concept of blogging really started to pick up steam with early adoptors in 2003-04 (though blogging goes back even earlier.)

So at it’s simplest, that is what a blog is…. a web site where adding new content is a snap.

Over the last many years, blogging has come to mean much more than that. Bloggers realized the value of communicating with others, and comments on new entries were introduced. Building on that idea, trackbacks were born, which let bloggers know when other bloggers wrote about their blog. This enabled good and/or hot content and ideas to be spread far and wide rapidly.

Here are some CU examples of web pages which may as well be a blog. These pages have all the aspects of a blog, without any of the ease, convenience, or connectedness of a blog.
Mountain America CU Press Releases
Tracy CU What’s New
UFirst FCU Community page
UW CU Press Release Library
Meijer CU Community Activities

And this list is just right off the top of a couple web searches. Nearly EVERY web site could benefit from having at least some of it’s content bloggified.

To be fair, blogging has come to mean far more than simply making serial content available. When most people say blogging, they are talking about holding conversations out in the open, with the potential for the entire online public to be watching. While I think that all credit unions ought to embrace talking with their member/owners, those that are reluctant to do that can, at the very least, dip their toes in the water by making the articles of their newsletters available in blog format. For the very faint of heart, this could even be done with comments disabled.

But wait a minute, as a credit union, don’t you WANT to hear back from your members? Don’t you want to better know how you can serve them? Or is being member-owned merely words on paper to avoid being taxed? Why don’t you want to make member-owned mean more than that? I mean, all savvy FOR-PROFIT businesses want to get feedback from their customers, so that they can serve them better. Why wouldn’t a not-for-profit cooperative want to embrace that kind of feedback even more so than a for-profit company? You’ve got double the incentive…. both from the customer aspect of the relationship as well as the owner aspect of the relationship.

Let’s also look at a couple of companies that realize fresh content is king and made a blog the centerpiece of their web site. The first that comes to mind is Tom Peters, and for a CU example, look no further than the Filene Research Institute.

Bottom line – you are already blogging, you just didn’t know it. May as well use the right tools for the job that will simply your life and make it easier.


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