Monday, December 31, 2007

'Tis the Season for Resolutions

What an adventure it was getting into the office this morning. Its snowing again, and somehow I missed that we're getting another foot today. I live on a little side street, so we didn't get plowed out before I left. Within the 200 yards to the main road I managed to get myself stuck 3 different times, requiring several minutes of shoveling to free myself from my icy prison.

It's New Years Eve! hopefully you'll all be out enjoying the merriment tonight. I've finally come up with a few resolutions of my own (I'm such a procrastinator) that might also give you a few ideas for your own blog or credit union.

5) Change the way we look at social responsibility. As I mentioned in this post, I feel like credit unions (especially large institutions such as MSCU) have seriously lost touch with the communities they serve. I want to see the focus of our social responsibility program move away from a single lump dollar amount. If we really want the public to see the effort and get involved, we need to be out in public being involved.

4) Participate on more social networks. There are many out there and new ones are springing up as we speak. To be honest I've never been the Myspace type, but it (and other sites like LinkedIn, Bebo, tagworld...etc.) offer a much needed change in the way people interact. I think it is especially important for CU's (or more preferably, a person from your cu) to get into these networks and allow people to interact with an institution that is seen as unchangeable by most people in the public. Put a face, or at least a voice, in front of your institution that your members (and hopefully a few non-members) can identify with.

3)Educate people on the difference between Bank and Credit Union. Behind the scenes, your credit union is a completely different animal than the Bank of America down the street, But can your members see that difference? Probably not. Do something to show that you're different. Whether its focusing your advertising on the non-profit, local, and personal involvement that you offer or starting an online community, do something to show what makes you different. Just make sure you're actually offering that personal feeling before you make it the focus of your advertising efforts.

2)Refocus on what the credit union movement actually is. When I see a credit union, I see a co-op of members who own their financial institution and have a unique opportunity to influence what happens to the money they put there. Most people see a bank with a funny name. People aren't aware of the nature of credit unions, and unfortunately there are some credit unions that have lost touch with the message as well. We need to rededicate ourselves to serving our communities financially, educationally, and as a source for volunteer efforts around our local areas.

1)Have fun with it. The best way to get people involved is to make something that would usually be a chore into something interesting and fun. Start a blog, organize a group outside the walls of your credit union, start a contest...anything that can engage your membership in something that interests them outside of deposits, loans, and investment accounts. It's important that YOU have fun with it as well, if you don't seem interested, nobody else will.

So, there you have it. My short list of things I hope will change the face of credit unions in the coming year. Remember, the only way for there to be change in the credit union movement is for you to change it. Don't wait for the CU president to suggest it, go in and present your opinion. Without a new point of view, things will keep going the way they are, and if you wait too long, it might be too late.

I hope you all have an exciting, happy, and safe new year.

Oh, and an obligatory "don't drink and drive"!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Evolution of the Committee


There is an interesting conversation going on over at The Life and Times of a Credit Union Employee about allowing your members to create products, services, and feedback as a community.

For generations, the way businesses got feedback and made group decisions was to form a committee. This group would get together periodically, discuss their topic, and form a report. The business would then make changes based on their report and hope the committee was a good sample of the general public.

I've read countless articles that berate the Gen-Y crowd for being apathetic and uninvolved. I think they need to reevaluate what it means to be motivated and involved. Gen-Y IS involved in the community, but in a way that isn't recognizable by "the suits" who look for a report to judge success. It's all about knowing where to go and where to look.

Take this Facebook group supporting the American Cancer Society. There are 300,000 people supporting this cause and a lot of them are engaged in active discussion about the effects of cancer on America and ways to help. What if you could have this kind of support around your credit union. You could consider it the largest credit union committee ever formed. A committee with an ever evolving report. A window into what your members are looking for. The trick is to present yourself as something people can be passionate about. Be more than a financial institution! Be a cause, a co-op, a non-profit, a charity...anything but a bank that calls itself a credit union.

In closing I'd like to make one final point. Perhaps it isn't that Gen-Y refuses to get involved, but that we have refused to get involved with Gen-Y.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

What Does "Social Responsibility" Mean To Me?


This morning I was asked to attend a meeting with the Social Responsibility Committee here at MSCU. One thing that struck me was that the focus of this meeting was fundraising. Not only was it the focus of this meeting, but every meeting, all the time. Let me give you some examples of things we have done for our Ending Hunger in Maine campaign this year:

-Sold Holiday CD's

-Sold Candles

-Spring, summer, and fall raffles

-The Annual Walk to End Hunger

Now, between all these fundraising efforts we raised $30,000 to help local food pantries and shelters. That's great and it helped thousands of people, but social responsibility to me is more than gathering money for a cause. I feel like there needs to be a shift in the way we interact and associate with our community.

It isn't enough to sit inside and collect money, we need to reach out and impact the world we live in. The Walk to End Hunger is one of the only events in the state that actually encourages community involvement and participation. Guess what, it has been a huge success, raising over $10,000 for ending hunger annually for the past couple of years. There are people out there that enjoy doing volunteer work, people who care about the people around them and their quality of life. I feel that if Credit Unions are going to stay competitive with banks we need to reach out and affect the places we serve in a more visible and interactive way.


Here in Augusta, people have started to realize that, "hey we need to do something about this place, we could make it so much better than it is". Most of the talk is in the newspaper. The city has been calling in advisors and committees to figure out a way to revitalize the area, but there isn't a way for local people to easily get involved in the cause. I am currently working on ways to engage MSCU in this effort. If your community is in this mode, take advantage, let your CU be the one to say "I can do that" and get people out there working to improve life in your community.

What are some ways you've engaged the community around your credit union?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

An Alternative to National Credit Union Branding

Well, Christmas is over. I guess I just have to accept that its back to life as usual. Hope you all had a wonderful holiday! I spent most of mine in the car driving from one end of the state to another, so needless to say I had a lot of time to think. I've had something on my mind all weekend and I'd like to hear your opinion on this idea I have.

There's been a hurricane of talk about social lending, a national awareness effort, and even a full fledged branding campaign the past couple of weeks. I've been running through different points of view in my head and came up with an option I think has a lot of potential; Create a national social lending service, inclusive of all cu's, and use that service as the uniting "flag" for credit unions.


Taking a lesson from Zopa, create a site where people can apply for a loan or invest in deposit accounts on a very personal, p2p level. Once the application is filled out, the user is asked to chose a credit union that fits their "style". Think of it as a mixture of Zopa and I think this has the potential to unite credit unions within a "brand", but also keep them personal, local, and involved.

Lincoln_Maine_FCUThere are great, small, personal credit unions all over the nation (for example Lincoln Maine FCU to the left). Unfortunately most of these small credit unions don't have the funds or voice to reach out the way they wish they could. Uniting under a single peer-to-peer lending service would give these small credit unions a chance to reach out to people who identify with their specific message, without sacrificing outrageous amounts of cash for an ad campaign. It would let people who fit their field of membership find them. The fact that the applicant has a choice of where they become a member reduces some of the "corporate marketing" feel of a national brand or ad campaign.

One of the issues with a branding campaign, and even with an awareness effort (though less so in my opinion) is how to insure that all credit unions fit the model portrayed by the campaign. By uniting under a service and not a brand the "bad apple syndrome" would be dampened. Because the focus of the national ad would be the service itself and not a specific behavior of credit unions, the spotlight would be pulled away from those few rouge cu's. That isn't to say we should use it as an excuse not to get those bad apples back into the spirit of the movement, but it would reduce the chance that those few would ruin it for the rest.

The way p2p lending works is very indicative of the credit union movement, so in a way it would serve a triple purpose. To unite all credit unions in a national effort, increase awareness of our "people helping people" message, and take focus off the few "bad apples" who have strayed a bit from that message. Zopa has already proven that p2p lending is an effective way for large credit unions (such as Forum and USA Federal) to reach people on a very personal level. I think it may also prove effective in getting small credit unions ForumCreditUnionHQconnected with the people they want to serve. Whether the service is Zopa itself or a CUNA created site (similar in business model), I think there is great potential for credit unions uniting under an umbrella service such as p2p lending.

So there you have it, not a concrete business plan by any means, but hey, its an idea.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Home for the Holidays

Well, its Christmas eve everybody! I swear it gets hear faster every year. Hopefully you are all home safe and enjoying the holidays. I'm looking forward to seeing what next year brings here on the blogosphere. I've enjoyed my short time here so far and I can't wait to continue the discussion in the new year.

Here's to another great year of web 2.0 goodness!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Brand Me, Credit Union!

Yesterday, Morriss Partee of and I were Twittering back and forth on the subject of a national credit union ad campaign. I was arguing that if the ads were done in a way similar to that it might be worth it to raise awareness for credit unions. Morriss was arguing that it would only be a giant waste of money. After sleeping on it, I've come to realize the danger of launching such an ad campaign.

This realization springs from a single thought that hadn't really crossed my mind, "where does the money come from for this ad?"

Here's how I see it. CUNA pays for the ad campaign, local credit unions pay CUNA, and members pay local credit unions in the form of rates and fees. We have always prided ourselves in offering free services and better rates than banks. If CUNA starts pushing for a national campaign of some form, more and more of the money coming from members is going to be funneled into the effort. More money spent on a national campaign means less being redistributed to members' accounts as dividends.

Once credit unions are being recognized as a national entity it will be hard not to continue with that image...which means more ads. More ads mean more money. If dividends are already stretched to the breaking point, and the ads don't bring the influx of members they were intended to, where will it come from? Thats right, Higher rates and more fee's. This in itself would defeat the whole purpose of the ad campaign. We would lose our very image to a national cu branding effort.

A national ad campaign has the potential to force credit unions into a position where we blur the line between bank and credit union even more than it already is. If we lose our image, we lose the battle, and I don't want to see that.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Abilene Paradox: An Adventure in Group Dynamics

The past few days have been filled with training sessions...some of them more interesting than others. Tuesday i had the pleasure of hearing our director of training and marketing (as well as i3 participant), Mary Dolan, speak on an interesting aspect of group dynamics called, The Abilene Paradox.

For me, the word "paradox" always conjures images of Stephen Hawking and black hole theory. Maybe its because I'm a nerd that I've always associated it with complex mathematics and mind bending theories; the definition itself is a bit enigmatic, "A paradox is an apparently true statement or group of statements that leads to a contradiction or a situation which defies intuition". Whoa! wrap your head around that for a second! Don't panic though, its a lot simpler than it sounds.

The Abilene Paradox happens when a group makes a decision that is in direct conflict with the individual feelings of the group's members. How exactly does this happen? I'll use a (dramatized) situation that has sprung up recently at MSCU. Say you are on a committee at your credit union. This committee consists of you, the President, Vice President, Jim from member services, and Susan from the teller line. Your job is to discus the opening of a new branch.

Susan has seen the number of members coming into the main branch drop steadily since the opening of a second branch. She knows that if the credit union were to open a third branch the work load would be non-existent. She also knows that the other members of the committee have been very excited about opening this new branch, so she goes along for fear of being ostracized from the group.

Jim has heard from many members that it isn't the number of branches, but the quality of service that keeps members coming back. He also knows that people looking for multiple branches are looking for nationwide access and shared branching is their solution. He also knows that the president is dedicated to spreading branches throughout the credit unions broad field of membership, so he agrees to the plan to avoid angering his boss.

The President and Vice President have had many a conversation over the benefits of another branch and decided that the cost of the operation outweighs any benefit gained. They also know that all the committee members back the plan whole-heartedly and have expressed their excitement about expanding the credit unions membership. They go along with the plan because the rest of the committee says it is the right move.

So now we find ourselves with a paradox. Every single member of the committee is individually opposed to a new branch, but they contradict their opinion in fear of being removed. Be it by unemployment, ostracism, or a drop in reputation, everyone is afraid of being removed from the group in some form. So, the plan continues because each member is supporting the plan to protect themselves from their own imagined risk.

What to do, what to do? The simple answer is "SPEAK UP!" If only it were that easy. Here are a couple of tips taken from the training session and my own mind that (hopefully) help point the way.

-Separate "real risk" from "imagined risk". Whenever I need to make a decision my mind lands on the worst case scenario. What I, and everybody else, needs to remember is that this is a negative fantasy. We make up events in our minds and hold back because we are afraid they will come true. Figure out what the real risk of your action is, don't base your decision making on imagined catastrophe.

- Don't be afraid of being different. Your peers are not going to chase you out of the board room with pitch forks and torches because you offered a differing opinion. Sometimes a different point of view is exactly what a company needs to find itself on the right track. Or you might just find out that most of the committee never wanted to go along to begin with.

- Don't hold back because you're "not an expert". Yeah, Jim may have gone to school for business, but that doesn't mean that his opinion is any more valid than your own. Do some research, back up your point of view, present it in an intelligent way, and the fact that you don't have a degree in that specific field tends to disappear faster than the platter of doughnuts on the break-room table.

Keep these things in mind the next time you find yourself around the conference table. Do you really want to find your credit union on a road that nobody wanted to be on in the first place?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Can Credit Unions Keep Up With Social Lending?

I was reading Tim McAlpines blog over at and his post "dinosaurs didn't have broadband, whats your credit union's excuse?" got me thinking. With all this talk about social lending being the "next big thing", what is your credit unions stand? Are you ready to embrace this new marriage of community and technology, or are you too caught up competing with the Bank of America down the street to see this rising opportunity to reach people on a personal level.

I know I've been talking a lot about Zopa, but I'm really excited to see a change in direction for lending (and of all the social lending companies I've looked at I find them the most attractive). I'm especially excited about the inclusion of credit unions as the main source for fund security. Right now, there are six CU's that Zopa has partnered with. When I first heard that these six credit unions had a field of membership covering all of the United States i was a bit upset...what about the rest of us? So I did a bit more research and found that credit unions that still want to be a part of Zopa can apply to do so. It was at this point that i realized the brilliance of Zopa's business model. It isn't about turning huge profits for Zopa and it's select few credit union backers, its about letting the consumer choose how and where they borrow. So, my advice to you is, don't fight the wave of alternative lenders, join them. I can feel the stampede coming...its your choice to get up to speed, or get trampled by those that are.

Monday, December 17, 2007

When Financial Aid Just Doesn't Cut It

A few days ago i wrote a short post on and the way that it, and a few other p2p companies, are changing the lending landscape. I mentioned using it to buy a new car, or TV, or to consolidate your debt, but i realized this weekend that i neglected to mention what may become one of p2p lending's primary purposes. It happened while i was sitting in front of the TV and one of those obnoxious Astrive student loan commercials interrupted my South Park viewing.

What would you do if you found yourself short on next semesters tuition? Astrive claims that its a better idea to cover your remaining costs with one of their loans than a high interest rate credit card, and i would agree. The issue though is that with an Astrive loan you could still end up with an interest rate of 10.5% and paying it off for up to 20 years...better than a credit card, but not exactly a great situation.

So, you point your browser over to our good friend Take out that 5 grand you need to cover the cost of textbooks or R&B and let everyone know why you need the money. Chances are pretty good that somebody looking to invest is going to support your goal to further your education and help you out. So, even though the interest rate might not be dramatically lower than Astrive (the lowest going rate on Zopa is 8.75%), you'll be getting a helping hand on the payment every month as well as cutting out any commercial bank looking to profit from charging you bogus fees.

My point here is, look around and explore your options, they're out there waiting to be found. Credit Cards always seem to be the "quick fix" for money issues, hopefully sites like Zopa, Lendingclub, and Prosper, will become a more viable options than an 18% credit card...or the military, for getting yourself an education.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Would you like your reciept?

How much do you spend on coffee, fast food, or that honey bun that caught your eye at the gas station? Most likely, you're exactly like me and have no idea. Wasabe has been a great (and FREE!) tool for managing daily spending, on December 8th they announced a new branch of their product on the Wheaties For Your Wallet blog, Wasabe Mobile.

"Today we’re happy to announce Wesabe Mobile, a cell-phone accessible version of Wesabe that lets you check your balances, see recent transactions, and enter cash transactions from any cell phone or PDA web browser. To check it out, fire up your cell phone browser and point it to"

I personally have been waiting for a product like this for quite some time. Finally a way to ditch that wad of receipts I usually collect during my daily journey across Augusta. All i have to do is punch in the transaction amount and a quick description and the mobile app. will send it to my wasabe account at home...brilliant!

So, if your pockets look like mine by the end of the day,

Wasabe might be just the ticket.

The Rise of Alternative Lending

I'm tired of Loans...I'm tired of paying some faceless institution more money than I borrowed to buy that new car or TV. I'm pretty sure that if I'm fed up with it, a lot of others are just as fatigued with the system. Fortunately, a few credit unions and newcomers to the Internet movement have tried to tackle the issue with what has been termed "alternative lending".

The site, with its recent US release, is trying to change the way people borrow. Zopa sort of "cuts out the middle man" in lending. Borrowers take out a loan (which then signs you up for an account at one of the six Zopa CU partners), then set up a profile and "advertise" their reason for getting the loan. Got some extra cash? Put it in a Zopa CD and choose which borrowers have a purpose you support. Depending on your chosen rate and amount, your investment helps lower those good intentioned borrowers' monthly payments. Whether its somebody trying to start a business, buy a new car, or consolidate their debt, you can give them a helping hand without ever risking your own financial well being. They explain it pretty clearly with this quick little "how it works" page

This approach makes so much sense and puts a human face on the loan instead of a logo and a percentage rate. It would be really cool to see collaboration of local credit unions in the same way. It could be a big step in changing the way people borrow and invest. Hopefully in the future more and more credit unions will jump on the alternative lending bandwagon, get some much needed change made, and bring our "people helping people" motto into the real world in a totally new way. Would you rather borrow from a faceless institution or from your brother Charlie?

Of course that's assuming you trust your brother Charlie...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Exactly the kind of plug CU's need!

I came across these while perusing a few other CU blogs. The original "series" can be found on This is exactly the kind of thing we need. It explains why we're different and not just a "bank but smaller". Everybody's first question for me is always " why are credit unions different?" and these videos answer that question in a clear and entertaining way that I couldn't hope to reproduce in the written word, so enjoy!

Monday, December 10, 2007

The start of something new!

Well, this is my first post on the blog. I want to talk about my plan for this blog and the accompanying Myspace and Facebook pages. The Loop is my idea for a place to have active discussions about whats going on in the financial world, here at the credit union, and life in general. I'll be here to rant about Credit Union Magazine articles and national announcements, but I really want to hear what you all have to say. This Isn't about me or MSCU, its about "us". This is about Ending Hunger in Maine, building a community, educating the masses, and listening to what people my age (dubbed "that whole Myspace generation" by my bosses) have to say about the way things work around here. So, i look forward to ranting about many issues to come and hearing you all rant back, don't be shy now, let it out! I'm looking forward to hearing all your points of view and hopefully to bouncing some ideas back and forth. And if you happen to feel compelled to contribute to a cause, I've got a few Ending Hunger events (i promise they don't involve walking) in the works that I'll let you all know about in the near future. Welcome to The Loop!

Oh, funny side story...just before it snowed last week, my roof started leaking. I went to get the blender out of the cupboard and found it mostly filled with nasty yellow/orange rain water...awesome, but at least it all ended up in the blender instead of all over my kitchen floor or dishes. The landlord "couldn't find a good quote" on roofing, so she was going to "tarp it"...and nobody wants the blue tarp on their roof for a winter! I mean come on, I'm giving you 500+ dollars of my hard earned cash every month and you don't want to spend enough to have a reliable roof put over your tenant's head? So, after much complaining she finally got a company to come do the now i have a giant banner with a large picture of Betty Boop and the slogan "we strip and lay daily" flapping gently in the wind outside my window, but i suppose it beats the big blue alternative.