Posts Tagged ‘Strategy’

The business value of personal connection

May 23, 2014

Who are you striving to be?

10275516_705648832830172_5588543601566778944_oThanks to this photo of Roy Bergengren recently shared by credit union advocate Matthew Cropp of Vermont, I realize that we now have fewer credit unions in the U.S. than at any time prior to NINETEEN THIRTY-NINE. Think about that for a minute…. what does that mean? Now some would explain that away saying that overall membership in the U.S. is at an all time high. So let’s put those two equations together: more people, but fewer institutions. Is that a good thing? A bad thing? Just a thing?

What would Ed Filene and Roy Bergengren think? That after the past 75 years of credit union advocacy, we now have fewer credit unions serving all of America? Are the products better than before? Is the service worse than before? Is the differentiation between credit unions and banks better or worse than 75 years ago? Do we still have a need for credit unions, or has the reason they were founded pretty much gone away? Is there more opportunity than ever before for smaller CUs to succeed? Or is it just too challenging, and every CU below $10m in assets should just get merged into a larger one until there are none in this size range anymore? Do you need to offer every financial product and service that your competitors do in order to succeed? Or does that pursuit just drain time and money resources away from your CU’s core mission?

What is the mission and purpose of your credit union? Who are you trying to be? Who are you serving? What is your connection like with the members you serve? Tight? Barely there?

One of the reasons I bring up this topic is that it seems to me that more and more credit unions are basically operating as tax-exempt banks; attempting to grow no matter what, and becoming more generic in appearance and attitude (and losing connection with the group that founded them). To operate this way may serve the needs of the institution (although it may actually not), but in any case seems a disservice to the membership, and perhaps just as importantly, a disservice to the CU movement as a whole. If a credit union is going to operate like a bank, it should just acknowledge that fact and change charters and switch to being regulated and insured the FDIC instead of NCUA. That tax-exempt thing is not really that a great a business advantage anyway.

But the other surprising thing about credit unions operating like banks (aside from failing to live up to its mission statement) is that in many cases, the trend is away from generic large institutions and stores, and TOWARDS unique, local, and independent organizations. So-called “big box” stores are on the decline; while one-of-a-kind shops find their niche. Many people avoid chain restaurants in favor of unique eateries.

But being different, in and of itself, is not a sustainable business model. To increase success in business, you need to provide something different for which there exists a customer base. One way to approach this differentiation is to employ technology to make it easier for your customers to do business with you, whether that be in facilitating the process of ordering products and services, the delivery of those products and services, or help in using those products and services. From our own point of view; we’ve found that every time we make our own technology easier to use, more streamlined, and more personalized, it pays dividends immediately.

How are you using technology to differentiate and personalize your credit union? Are you using technology to strengthen the connection between your employees and your members, or is it weakening that connection? Who are you serving, and how are you making their experience with you easier and better? If providing “better, more personal service” is the differentiation point of your credit union (as many state), is your technology living up to that promise? What are your thoughts?

Dropping the words Credit Union

August 29, 2012

Yesterday, Sarah Snell-Cooke, Editor-In-Chief/Publisher of CU Times wrote an editorial titled Sometimes the best thing a credit union can do is give up ‘Credit Union’. This was brought to my attention in an excellent discussion topic started on EverythingCU.com.

Ms. Snell-Cooke’s editorial concludes with, “Get the consumers in the door first, and then explain to them about credit unions. The name on the door doesn’t matter – it’s what is on the inside that counts.”

Here’s the problem with this statement. As Snell-Cooke concedes, most of the general public have no idea what a credit union is. In addition to that, most staff working in a credit union don’t know what a credit union is. So CU staff are even LESS likely to educate people walking in as to what it is when the words are not even over the door.

Here is an imaginary conversation for credit unions who have dropped the words ‘credit union’ from their name:

Customer/member: “Hi I’d like to open a checking account. Do you have those here?”

Staff: “Why yes, certainly, I can open that for you. While we do the paperwork, can I tell you about what a credit union is?”

Customer/member: “Onion soup? I thought you guys were GTE Financial. Why would you tell me about onion soup?”

When the name is not over the door, mentioned nowhere, then starting a conversation about what it means to be a part of a credit union is as relevant to this new member as having a conversation about onion soup, which is what he thought he heard the staffer say.

Therefore I can not see the logical connection between dropping the words ‘credit union’ from an F.I.’s name as being a route to educating more people about what a credit union is.

Hub N Spoke Social Media Strategy

December 7, 2011
As 2011 comes to a close, we can safely say that social media has become the norm rather than the exception, since Facebook has more than 10% of the world’s population (800 million out of 7 billion) using its site. Even broadcast TV puts twitter hashtags in their show’s title overlays. Because there are nearly as many social media outlets as there are social media users, implementing an effective strategy can be overwhelming. However, a few fundamental principles can help you keep your aim squarely on your marketing and business goals. Join me for this 101-level webinar on how to encourage people to go where you want to take them…back to your CU’s web site.

Attend this webinar and learn:

  • One of the most important and fundamental techniques to increase social media success
  • The place to start all social media campaigns that most people overlook
  • A step-by-step checklist to make sure you have your social media bases covered
  • The different characteristics of the major social media channels
  • Two common social media beliefs that are false and what to do instead

Click here for more info or to sign up: Hub N Spoke webinar

Ed Filene on embracing social media

August 30, 2011

There has been a long-running topic on EverythingCU.com about how to get management on-board with social media when they are dead-set against it. Over the last couple of years, many suggestions have been offered about ways to accomplish this objective.

My favorite so far comes from Andy Anderson, a credit union marketer in Atlanta this morning. He quotes Edward Filene:

“If you are going to do business, you will have to do it in this new world; and I haven’t lived in this new world any longer than you have. It is stranger, in fact to me than it is to you.”

Andy informs us: “This was his speech before the School of Business Administration of the University of Buffalo in 1936.”

These words that Edward spoke 75 years ago are as true and relevant today as they were then. I think that had Ed Filene lived in this day and age, he would have whole-heartedly embraced social media, and used it to spread the word about credit unions throughout the land.

Thank you for sharing this with us, Andy!

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

The Shevlinator is back!

September 16, 2009

Marketing Tea Party

Marketing Tea Party

I am very excited that Mr. Ron Shevlin is back and blogging again, and debunking more marketing myths than ever before. I always appreciate the analysis and dose-of-reality he brings to his topics.

There are two reasons that I love Ron’s blog: Ron’s excellent, and usually humorous posts, but equally important, the outstanding conversation he elicits from some really smart, quality people. Ron is a lightening rod because of his own keen analytical mind, and well-reasoned, thoroughly thought-out blog posts, whether or not you agree with them. Because Ron is posting quality stuff, he attracts quality commentary.

So here’s a tip for those who are looking to gain more traffic and more conversation on their blog: feature your readers comments PROMINENTLY. Put “Most Recent Comments” near the top of your blog’s sidebar. I will visit Ron’s blog often, even when Ron hasn’t written a new post, just to see what new conversation may have happened there. (His old blog had reader comments featured in this way, and he’s working on adding it to his new blog.)

P.S. I am beyond flattered that Ron uses Maurice Purdue as one of his target reading audience members. Looks like I’ll have to create a new Google Alert for that guy.

Thank you, Doug True, Forum Solutions, and Trabian

October 7, 2008

Symposium 2008I had the privilege of speaking to credit union professionals last week at this year’s Partnership Symposium. This unique event was hosted by Forum Solutions and Trabian. I had heard last year’s event was quite the happening, via the CU blog/twittersphere, from such sources as Trabian’s Open Source CU. In fact, last year’s event was one of the first times I learned something valuable from someone (Brent) twittering at a conference (when Shari Storm was speaking) that I wasn’t attending in person.

My presentation was on strategies for successfully building community online. In the first part of my talk, I made the case for why online community building is a natural and important extension of a credit union’s offline community. I then presented seven strategies that I’ve found to work in creating EverythingCU.com’s online community of 6404 credit union professionals, and showed ways in which credit unions are applying those same strategies in their own online community building efforts.

I enjoyed immensely the Q&A portion of the event with moderator Ron Shevlin, and loved the questions that he asked me (as well as all of the other speakers). There is only one question that I would have answered differently had I anticipated it, and that is the question, “for which CUs is online community building NOT right for?” My off-the-cuff answer was that it’s not right for CUs who don’t care about community and run their shops just like a bank. But what I should have answered is that it all depends on their members and potential members, and what online communities currently exist for those people. If there already exists an online community for a CU’s core membership, then it makes no sense to re-invent the wheel. Instead, staff of the CU should join and participate in the existing community. But if there is currently no online community for the core membership, then there is a huge opportunity for the credit union to fill the void.

My only disappointment from the week is that the internet bandwidth was not sufficient during my presentation for it to be recorded. But I have posted the slides of it here. I am gratified that Andy LaFlamme of Maine State Credit Union live blogged my talk on the CU Loop.

StretchIt was an honor to be asked to present, and a joy to reconnect with so many CU colleagues, as well as meet so many participants in the CU blog/twittersphere in person for the first time. Extra special thanks to the gracious Forum Solutions team, including Doug, Jen, Leah, Kristi, Ashli, Cameron, and Andy for taking such good care of us during our stay, and making us all feel like rock stars. The stretch limo taking me and Tim McAlpine back to the airport was an extra nice touch. (I’m sure the limo was for keynoter Tim, and I just happened to be catching a ride at the same time.)
(Photo credit: Gene Blishen)

Got beer?

December 17, 2007

This morning, the twittersphere is a-buzz with a 62-page white paper from the CUNA Marketing & Biz Dev Council entitled: A National Brand for Credit Unions: A compendium of opinions about a national brand for the credit union industry. (side note: interesting that the authors chose to call it an industry, when many insiders call it a movement.) I’ve only skimmed the report and certain sections of it, but my opinion on this hasn’t changed.

Nearly two years ago, I wrote about why I think a national CU Brand campaign is a bad idea. The movement/industry’s strength has always been its diversity. It’s never been about economies of scale. It’s about helping people in a meaningful way. CUs are definitely not charities. But their fundamental reason for being is to help regular people improve their financial lives. It’s a really exciting mission which it seems gets too often overlooked in extraneous activities. Banks DO NOT exist for this purpose. Credit unions DO exist for this purpose, and it’s amazing that we haven’t told our story better to more people who would LOVE to hear this message— IF it’s backed up in reality, and it’s not just fluffy words.

Over lunch at Elizur’s Tavern today with EverythingCU.com COO Matt Taggart, who has recently brewed some home-made beer, I had an insight– Beer is the same as Credit Unions. (Not really, but bear with me for the sake of analogy.) Is the beer industry calling for a national beer branding campaign? No. And where is the strength of the beer category? Where is the excitement and interest? Is it with the national conglomerates like Bud, Miller, and Coors? No. All of those mega-companies are watered-down pablum. They appeal to the lowest common denominator, and serious beer drinkers don’t even think about them. (Bud, Miller, and Coors represent the mega-banks in this analogy).

The REAL excitement and interest is in the microbrews. At the microbrews, people who are PASSIONATE about beer lovingly hand-craft small batches of beer, insuring quality is high. And the VARIETY of flavors is wonderful… stouts, porters, ales, wheats, and the list goes on and on. And they are LOCAL. It is this LOCAL DIVERSITY that makes beer, as a category, exciting and vibrant… have you visited a microbrewery lately? They are nearly always very interesting, with interesting people working at them. Try Magic Hat in Burlington, VT, or Utah Beers, makers of interesting flavors like Polygamy Porter. (That name is an inside joke in regards to mormonism… you won’t catch a mormon drinking that beer, but the other 50% of Utah LOVES it.)

Are microbreweries successful as businesses? You better believe it. It seems that there are a great many microbreweries that are continually growing, offering even more varieties and seasonal brews. They seem to be flourishing all over the country. And the original “microbrew”, Massachusetts’ own Sam Adams is now so large it’s not even a microbrewery anymore.

So raise a pint of your favorite local, handcrafted beer with me as I propose a toast– to the wonderful men and women, the professionals and volunteers all across the United States, Canada, and the rest of the world, who are tirelessly committed to making their credit unions great every day — professionals who are helping people of all shapes, sizes, stripes, backgrounds, and situations, improve their financial lives every day.

But that’s just what I think. I’d love to hear what you think.

New York’s Finest get their own CU… at last.

December 11, 2007

Just read a very cool article in the November 21 issue of the CU Times about a new CU being founded in New York City. Great brands and great credit unions begin with a target audience — and that’s the case here. This CU is called Finest Federal Credit Union, and it’s target member is law enforcement and their families. The article explains in great detail how this credit union knows and understands that unique membership, and how its products and services are going to be tailored uniquely to them. The interesting thing is that there are many Police and Fire CUs across the country, and several are relatively large. (77 CUs have the word “Police” in their name). But none exist in New York City. It’s about time New York’s finest has a credit union of their own. (I wonder if there used to be one, but it expanded in a quest for growth, and lost sight of its original membership?)

Determining Your Marketing Budget

December 4, 2007

Just read an article in the WCUL’s weekly e-newsletter about simplifying marketing budgets by calculating a current member’s net worth. Since this is information is of a very foundational nature, and is one perspective on how to do it, I feel compelled to provide some solid additional info.

I will keep things simple (a rarity for me) and answer the original question, “Are there facts and figures out there regarding typical marketing budgets for credit unions?” The answer is yes. I submit three great sources for your evaluation. The first source is the stellar discussion on the subject from leading VPs of Marketing and Marketing Directors at credit unions across the country. There are 57 messages on the subject there. This is direct information from people who are DOING it.

Source number two for DETAILED, SPECIFIC marketing budget analysis is EverythingCU’s credit union marketing budget report. Instead of giving ranges that are so broad as to be meaningless, or giving averages for a range of credit union assets sizes that are so broad as to be meaningless, this report gives you what you want to know: what YOUR peers are spending. And there are a number of ways you can determine your peers, by asset size, membership size, and compare within your state, region, or nationally. Lots of ways to slice and dice! I was tickled that recently I was able to show VP of Marketing, Jon Reske, that his current marketing budget was $100,000 below his peer average in the northeast. That’s what our report is designed to do– give you the ammunition you need to get your marketing budget increased.

And the third great source for marketing budget information is our latest webinar on the subject, Time to Talk Marketing Budget delivered by Mark Arnold, SVP of Neighborhood CU in Dallas.

After checking out these three outstanding sources of Marketing Budget knowledge, I doubt you’ll want to look at CUNA’s gross generalizations again. (Oh, by the way, for year-end 2006, the national average marketing budget for the twenty CUs between $216M and $220M in assets is $322,611. Four out of these twenty CUs have a marketing budget north of $500k.) I hope that my credit union friends can get word to the Washington CU in question.


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