Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Joining the Conversation, Being the Conversation

It has been much too long since I've posted here on The Loop. The past several weeks have been filled with exciting, but time consuming, progress as well as a bit of panic due to some hardware failures. Anyway, lets get to it.

The hot topic right now in most spheres of marketing is “how do we join the conversation?” Between Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, and all the other social sites that are enabling people to communicate in new ways we have our hands full. So, how DO you join the conversations that take place in these venues?

First, make a note, you can’t just start a Facebook page and hope people will be your friend. Take this past election for example. Every time McCain dropped “my friends” into a speech, twitter exploded with people replying “I’m not your friend!” You can be sure that you will get a similar response if you put up a Facebook page and try to be your members’ friend. As much as we’d like to be, we just aren’t their friend; we are their credit union.

People use these social sites because it offers them something. That might be a way to keep track of long time friends who have moved or are in school, entertainment, activism, etc. So, ask yourself this question before trying to get into the social media space, “what would this offer our members? What’s in it for them?” If you’re not providing something useful or engaging in the space you become just another advertisement that will be largely ignored.

The trick is to engage people and to show them that there is a person/people behind your logo. Be a person, do something that engages them and encourages their participation.

Don’t think this takes millions in your marketing budget either. There are so many great free tools and networks online that require little to no monetary investment. It just takes creativity, time, and knowledge of who your members are.

Here are a few simple things to remember when trying to engage your membership.

Get them involved

Let your membership feel like they are in control. Give them a space to interact with you, or be in the space that they are already conversing in. Encourage them to participate, and offer them something for their participation. Let them know that their input matters and that that this is their credit union (and in turn their website, and their branch, and their community).

Get them engaged

The best way to get your membership engaged is to actively participate in something. Maine State Credit Union just ran a photo contest that allowed people to submit their photos of “Maine through a Mainer’s eyes” to be used as the header images on the website as a small scale test of user generated content (pardon my cliché). We got over 200 photos from over 20 people (all members). I then put all those photos into a Flickr account (thanks to a great tip from Morriss Partee) and added them to several Flickr groups dedicated to photos of Maine. This attracted quite a few eyes to Maine State Credit Union’s Flickr account, the contest, and hopefully the institution itself. This has led to a lot of great conversations via email with members from all over the state about where they live and the places they love in the state.

Just a side note, running this contest cost almost nothing other than an investment of time and effort.

Start Conversations

Be a person, talk like a person, and interact like a person. If you are running a contest, or any other campaign geared to encourage member participation, try to be personal. Strike up a conversation. Make a comment on their participation. As an example, many of the photos that came in during our contest here at Maine State Credit Union were of places that I have been and it was actually quite fun to start conversations about those areas of our state. Find a common ground with your members and be a person they can identify with through conversation.

Join Conversations

There are some very easy, and cheap, ways of tracking what is being said about your credit union. Set up Google Alerts and keep track of what is happening online. If somebody posts a blog that mentions your name (especially if they are an existing member) leave a comment and join that conversation. If you want your members and potential members to be engaged with you, you need to be just as engaged with them.

Be a Person

Sign your blog posts with your name, not your credit union’s name. During your interaction with members online, be personal and avoid canned email responses. There is always something you can comment on or say that can really break down that “us vs. them” feeling that usually comes with an email from a financial institution.

So, be creative, be a person, and have fun with it. Find the tools that best fit your goal of engagement and be an active participant in your community. Show them that you are there because of them and that they are the ones that make the credit union go ‘round.

I wish you all the best this Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Scientific Method in Marketing

chemistryRon Shevlin posted a great article a while back about getting your business into social media. This quote from Ron really caught my attention,

As “innovation mania” sweeps through the halls of marketing, many marketers are looking to experiment with social media, lest they get “left behind.” While I’ve got nothing against experimenting, I am against experimenting for the sake of experimenting.

I couldn’t agree with him more.

If there was one thing that I got out of chemistry class during high school, it was scientific method (and possibly a love of making things change color, burn, and explode).

Scientific method always calls for a control, a set of variables and the discipline to change one variable at a time to see the effect versus the control.

This doesn’t simply apply to chemistry, physics or biology, but any instance of experimentation.

The creation of a new idea is always exciting. It’s easy to get excited about social media and rush to put a blog, MySpace page, or Facebook page up for your credit union to “experiment” with social media.

Without the principals of scientific method, it isn’t really an experiment at all.

Create a control

Creating a control is extremely important in experimentation. When applied in science it means running an experiment once without any variable present, like growing a culture of bacteria without any substances present to measure its rate of growth.

In marketing, you can create a control by running a pilot. Test the original idea within a selected group and measure their reaction.

Before piloting, identify what the variables in the project are so you can measure the response accordingly.

The other important aspect of creating a control group is to make sure the people in that group fit the programs target audience. Identify the types of people you want to aim for with the finished product and find people that fit the bill. What’s the use of testing a product targeted towards youth with a group that includes a portion of people who are 35+. That would be like testing the reaction of a flu virus to penicillin by testing the penicillin on a mold culture; it just doesn’t make sense.

Change one variable at a time

Once you have your variables and target audience identified and have started piloting the project, measure how your control group is responding based on that set of variables.

Don’t expect, or try, to overhaul the whole project at once based on the feedback you get. Make small changes one variable at a time and measure the effect it has on the control group as a whole. If you change everything at once, you will never know what variable it was that caused peoples reaction to become more positive or negative.

The purpose of a pilot should be to collect actionable data, and the more things you change at once, the harder it becomes to identify the specific changes that caused the reaction in the control group.

Test, test, and retest

The advantage to running a pilot before a full launch is that you get the chance to play with those variables. If you launch a product to the public and then change it every few weeks, people are going to start getting annoyed.

Take the opportunity to change variables in a closed environment. Test people’s reaction to each change methodically and carefully. Analyze their responses to each change and track the changes that elicit a positive response.

By doing this, you can create a finished product that reflects the nuances of peoples preferences and create a product that resonates as completely as possible with the target audience that was reflected in your control group.

So if social media fits into your brand strategy, go ahead and experiment, but do it right.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Are You Advertising Your Security, or Proving it?

Its no secret that credit unions aren't often in the media spotlight. So, like most other credit union folks out there, I've been really excited to see so much positive press coming out about credit unions.

I recently attended the 2008 Partnership Symposium in Fishers, Indiana. During the Idea eXchange section of the conference we discussed pretty heavily what credit unions should be doing during this financial crisis.

What should credit unions be saying to take advantage of the situation, and take advantage of all the positive press that has been given to credit unions.

My suggestion? Say nothing.

I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but hear me out.

You can say whatever you want. That doesn't mean its true.

Even the giant banks that are seeing most of this financial mess are saying "hey we're cool, everything's cool, we're safe and sound! Seriously, trust us."

Every single bank out there, including those that have recently failed, have touted the security and financial soundness of their institution. Many of those claims have been proven false.

Add this to an existing lack of trust in financial institutions...

and you get a large population of America who just had their skepticism proven. People are tuning out the feel-good, "don't worry, we're safe, trust us!" messages more than ever.

It doesn't matter what you say as a financial institution right now, it will be met with a large dose of skepticism.

It doesn't matter that you are a credit union putting out reassurances and not a bank because...

People don't see a difference between banks and credit unions.

As a certain CUSkeptic pointed out at the Partnership Symposium a couple weeks ago, to most people there is no difference.

I see the difference, and the fact that you are even reading this blog probably means you see the difference, but to your average Joe Sixpack its all the same thing.

So we're just supposed to sit here and wait?

In a way, yes. There isn't much we, as credit unions, can do by pumping out advertising to emphasize our security. Between consumer unease, distrust, and fear it probably isn't going to be heard or trusted if its coming from your marketing department.

Say nothing, but do everything.

The real opportunity here is not the chance to spout marketing that touts your security, but the opportunity to prove it.

Pay attention to all this positive press.

This may be the closest thing we get to a national brand. We have nationally trusted press selling the virtues of the credit union movement for us. They are telling the people that read their papers, blogs, and articles what they see as the unifying benefits of belonging to a credit union.

I don't think anyone would argue that this press is reaching, and being trusted by, far more people than an ad on local cable or a page on your credit union's website.

What we need to do now is...

Make sure we live up to the hype.

Take this positive press for credit unions and use it as a litmus test for how you are meeting expectations. Are you living up to the credit union "brand" that is being presented in these articles?

The best thing we can do to take advantage of the current financial situation and the positive press it's brought credit unions is to live up to what the people who people trust are praising about the credit union movement.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Morriss Partee CEO of at the 2008 Partnership Symposium

Morriss just wrapped up the final presentation of the day with a session on creating an engaging community.

Here are a few highlights.

This is our time to shine.

Community is not just a business to business thing, its between individual people.

Word of mouth is what worked for credit unions at first. The internet has enabled the spread of word of mouth in a big way.

Mass media has never really worked very well for credit unions.

Facebook has 100 million members.

Facebook would be the 12th largest country in the world if it were a physical country.

The traditional view of marketing is that the CU is in the center of the universe and we are sending out messages at them.

The networked word shows that those members are all connected in some way or another socially.

If we can engage in two way communication, we can become a part of that social network.

"56% of Americans fell a strong connection and better served by a company that is involved in social media."

The relationships that could be formed between front line and member via social media (if it were unblocked) could be much more powerful than marketing messages injected into the social media venue.

7 points of a successfully engaged community:
  1. Have a common bond or purpose
  2. Make them the rock stars
  3. Give them a voice
  4. Make it easy
  5. Its alive (there are people behind the pages)
  6. Make it easy to refer a friend
  7. Merge online and offline communities and activities

well folks, that's all for the traditional sessions for the day. I'll be updating during the Idea eXchange sessions as I get the chance.

Andy Janning AVP of Training and Quality Service at the 2008 Partnership Symposium

Andy just gave an interesting session on how to fire up your trainers.

The major points were:

Most trainers are constantly worried about "their place at the table". They should be worried about everybody else's place at the table. It is their job to change behavior to increase the performance of other employees.

Who's place do you really care about?

Are you looking at the smile sheet or the balance sheet? Trainers shouldn't be concerned about whether or not people liked their training sessions, but rather, what measurable effect the session has on employee behavior.

A good trainer is an agent of change. They are focused on helping reach goals. They measure how their training changes the behavior of employees.

Knowledge isn't power, performance is.
what you know doesn't get you a promotion, how you perform does. Training needs to be focused on performance changes rather than a deluge of information.

Jeff Russell CIO/VP of The Members Group at the 2008 Partnership Symposium

Jeff Russell of The Member's Group just finished his session on the future of payments.

Here are some Highlights.

People have things that they want to sell and there are people that want to buy them.

What roll do we play in that transaction.

If we don't pay attention to our roll as intermediary we have no right to be the intermediary.

The primary driver of payment convenience is however the people choose to interact.

Check usage is dropping by up to 18% each year.

There has been a digitalization of life. We don't need a physical instrument to move money.

Does anybody really want a card, or do they just want what it buys. "I don't want a hot water heater, but I want hot water."

18-24 year olds write 1.6 checks per month. Only 44% have written a check in the last 30 days.

Tomorrow's members may never have a checking account or even know what to do with the checks.

The mobile channel is key. Text message banking, the shift of online banking to mobile platforms and the ability to transact on a mobile phone will be a growing driver of payment systems.

Paypal is betting that some years down the road, mobile will be the big method of payment for consumers.

The current mobile payment system is a closed system. When will it be open.

2009 MasterCard will allow P2P transfers. Visa will launch a P2P payment system this month.

New model for payments is location based, knows your preferences, and automates the payment process via the exising mobile infrastructure without physical currency or a card changing hands.

The mobile phone is no different as a payment instrument from a mag-strip card.


  • Define your own payment strategy.
  • Stay on top of new trends.
  • Look for collaboration.
  • What do we do about the loss of interchange income?
  • What's our role in the future of payment processing?

Jeff Stephens of The Creative Brand at the 2008 Partnership Symposium

Jeff Stephens of the Creative Brand and also creator or the Blow Up Your Marketing podcast on Banktastic TV, just finished his presentation. Here are a few points I'd like to highlight.

Open minded and focused thinking are key.

Find your soul and you'll find your brand position.

Stop trying to be better and be different.

If you are focused on anything that ends in -er (better, friendlier, etc.) then you are competing on the same point as many other institutions and are a commodity and have little control over the direction you go. You're focus is determined by what others are doing.

3 points to being different

1) Find the story
2)Tell the story
3)prove the story

Its hard to tell the story if you don't know what it is.

The story is already there, you just have to find it. You have to be introspective, clear away the cobwebs and rediscover what your story is.

Don't worry as much about who your members want you to be, focus on who you are. This leads to Authenticity, being who you are and not all things to all people.

Its "differentiation" not "betterentiation"

You need to be apples to oranges, not apples to better apples.

Indifference will kill you.

Do something distinct enough to elicit a response. If some people hate it, that means some people will love it.

"Advertising is the price you pay for not being remarkable" - Anonymous

The more specific and narrow your postion the better job you can do creating relevant experiences.

Tim McAlpines Take Away Points From the 2008 Partnership Symposium

Tim McAlpine just finished his presentation at the 2008 Forum/Trabian Partnership Symposium. I won't Give you a full recap of his presentation, heck you can watch the whole thing live over at, but here are the take away points he gave.

  • Is it possible for a credit union to have super fans?
  • Innovation takes trust and a leap of faith.
  • Gen-y is not a passing trend.
  • Rethink the 3 month promotion.
  • Do one thing really big.
  • Mixing sales and social media is ok.
  • Give young people the resources and they will do great things.
  • Sense and respond
  • Keep it fresh.
  • Ask for the sale.
  • There are incredible young people everywhere.
  • Expect the Unexpected.
  • Dream big
  • Don't do anything half way.
  • Be afraid of Ron Shevlin

I'll try and post points from each speakers presentation as they happen. Stay tuned and check out the live feed!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Adventures in Canada: The Maple Syrup Mystery (AKA BCBBC)

BCBBC08 052 I just got home from BarCampBank BC in the incredible city of Vancouver. All I have to say is “Wow”! The BarCamp and the few days I was able to stay in the city afterwards were just plain awesome.

I’ve got a ton of notes from the event and will be getting some more in-depth posts up as I digest the giant amounts of info and ideas that came from it.

This was my second BarCamp, so I wasn’t unfamiliar with the format of the event, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t still impressed with it. I think, if anything, this event highlighted just how cool it is that every single one of these is different in its own unique way.

BCBBC08 068 As Mark McSpadden pointed out (from the live feed chat box no less!) after the topic wall had been finalized (as finalized as a BarCamp wall can be), we had just accomplished in 45 minutes, as a group, what normally takes a conference planning committee months.

The quality of discussion was great. So much got brought up, so many ideas got thrown around, and so much positive energy was at the event that it was just plain inspiring.

I think the coolest part of the camp wasn’t even the discussion, but BCBBC08 084 the fact that, with the help of Brent Dixon, the whole event was streamed live via Mogulus. Maybe it was that I knew people were actually watching live, or that every once in awhile we’d be relayed a question from a view, or that it totally fed my geek side. It was just too cool.

There were so many awesome sessions; from measuring a web 2.0 campaign, to social finance, to tapping into existing networks. There were so many great, smart people in one place and the things that came out of it were just incredible.

I’ll have a couple of posts up in the near future that go deeper into the sessions I attended as I get my notes organized and digested. Until then, enjoy the videos on Opensource CU, the live blogging that came from William Azaroff, and all the videos and pictures on YouTube and Flickr.

A huge thanks goes out to Gene Blishen, William Azaroff, and Tim McAlpine for making this event happen. You guys rock.

Friday, September 12, 2008

KV Federal Credit Union Strays to the Dark Side


This post is going to be a bit outside my usual branding/strategy fare, and I’m not usually one to throw any muck, but I just have to add some commentary on this matter. The unspeakable is happening in my backyard. KV Federal Credit Union ($51 million in assets) has decided to convert to a mutual savings bank in order to promptly merge with Kennebec Savings bank (a $650 million bank).

I was at the Maine Credit Union League in Portland for an orientation program when the news broke Tuesday morning. Needless to say the room immediately exploded in conversation.

Now, I’ve seen a few credit union to mutual savings bank conversions go down here on the intertubes, but never thought it would happen right next door. I’m not positive, but I think this might be the first cu to bank conversion that is being done for the sole purpose of merging with another, larger bank. To me, that is even more disturbing than a strait up conversion in my mind.

Now, there are always two sides to a story, so I’m sure my bias towards the base philosophy of credit unions will show, but I’m not here to report objective news.

KV Federal Credit Union has said, in response to questions about why they are merging with a bank, “The merger would allow the two institutions to become more efficient and position themselves for growth in a crowded banking market.”

I’m not sure what their continuing plan is, should this merger actually happen, but it is my opinion that to merge for the sole purpose of growing is one of the worst ideas ever. If your current growth plan is not building your member or customer base, how is a merger going to do anything but create an artificial jump in customers/assets? Not to mention that even though they refer to KVFCU and KSB as “two institutions”, once the merger is completed, the only institution positioned for growth is the bank.

To me, that goes against everything a credit union should stand for. The members would lose their say in the running of the institution, and their ownership. They lose their credit union, and as one member put it in a comment on a Kennebec Journal article, “I know I plan to tell them I will also close my accounts if KV Fed and Kennebec Savings merge-I joined a CU for a reason.”

I think many credit union members feel the same way.

I hope that the membership of KVFCU votes against this conversion. These members have built and owned the credit union for years and if the conversion goes through the only thing that will remain will be their account numbers.

That said, if the membership doesn’t vote this down, I feel that we should let the conversion take place. The board and management have shown that they don’t particularly care for the philosophy of the credit union movement. Those members who don’t care about the difference between being a member/owner and a customer will follow KV to Kennebec savings. Those that are a member because they know what it means and enjoy the benefits of being a member/owner will hopefully find a credit union who’s philosophy and vision fits their own.

What are your thoughts on this conversion?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sometimes Its Just Better to Start Again

You know what annoys me? Those jigsaw puzzles that have pieces that are all the same size and shape. You know…the ones that I never quite know if a piece is in the right place. Sure it interlocks with, and is generally similar in color or texture to the adjacent pieces, but then halfway through putting the thing together I realize it’s not even close to beingpuzzle piece in the right place.

You know what else annoys me? When I take an idea and add what I think are complimentary pieces to it…only to find that 75% of the way through, a bunch of those pieces don’t quite fit where they are; if they fit at all.

With a puzzle you’ve got the picture on the front of the box to tell you what the picture should look like. You’re able to remove the offending pieces, put them where they need to be, and continue.

When it comes to a marketing effort, campaign, or organizational change things are a bit more difficult. You don’t have that picture on the box to tell you how everything should look at the end. In many ways that’s a good thing. It leaves lots of room for creativity, but at some point you may find that a piece that once looked like it fit perfectly when viewed up close, doesn’t look quite right when you step back and take a look at the whole picture.

So when you find yourself in this position, looking down at a nearly finished creation and realizing that it doesn’t look quite right, what do you do? Do you try to find and remove or modify the parts that are skewing the rest of the picture, or do you take the whole thing apart and go back to square one; the basic purpose, focus, and reason for the project in the first place. Redefine your goal and refocus your attention on what you want as an end result and rebuild.

I think most times starting again from that first creative spark is easier, more productive, and leads to a better end result than struggling to locate and fix the piece that doesn't quite fit.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Little Things

What makes a successful socially driven marketing campaign? Is it the fact that you have a blog, a spokester, or videos on YouTube?


Anybody can do that, all it takes is a suitable Wordpress theme, a camera, and somebody to stand in front of it. What makes a successful campaign is what’s contained within the structure that a blog, YouTube, and the myriad other web tools that exist offer to the campaign.


These things are merely a container, and if you aren’t paying attention to what’s inside the container your going to get a mouthful of something that doesn’t quite taste like lemonade.

Its all about the little things, the things that create the tone, the atmosphere, and the voice you are aiming for.

As an example, take a look at Resource 1 Credit Union’s MyLifeMyMoney minisite. There’s been lots of talk about how it’s a blatant rip-off of Currency Marketing’s Young and Free product (recently launched by Resource 1’s neighbor TDECU). First let me say kudos to R1 for doing something most credit unions would be terrified of. Copycatting aside, it is still a gutsy move for any credit union.

On the site, the first thing that caught my eye was a bright green box on an otherwise gray site. In this box is a welcome message. See if you can spot what is wrong with this message:

Welcome to the MyLifeMyMoney website! MyLifeMyMoney is the perfect package of financial tools and products for adults ages 18-34, aka Generation Y. Surf around, check it out, and see why MyLifeMyMoney is the perfect way to bank for your generation.

The problem with this message isn’t grammar, length, or even the odd age range. The problem is the word “your”.

This campaign is an effort to connect with the Gen-Y crowd. One of the important things to keep in mind when dealing with Gen-Y is that they look for something that is “Theirs” or “ours”, something that isn’t handed down from a gray-haired banker trying to get their cash.

The words “your generation” say to me “hey we’re old, but we made this thing hoping you young whipper-snappers will open an account”. To really engage a Gen-Y demographic with a campaign like this it needs to feel like “we made this for us, this is our site, our blog, our product.”

Even if it happens subconsciously, this small piece of wording can undermine the entire effort, put potential Gen-Yers off, and portray an image contrary to what you're going for.

Its all about the small stuff, the tiny details, the words contained within the structure of a “web 2.0” marketing campaign.

So, to all you credit unions looking to start a Y&F style campaign, just because it’s yellow, doesn’t mean its lemonade.

P.S. Resource one, if you’re reading this, please lose the autoplaying video that pops up every time I visit the MLMM site. It’s not cool, its not helpful, its annoying. Thanks.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Keep the Gears Engaged


It’s been much too long since I have posted here. I’ve been hard at work getting Maine State CU’s new web site ready to launch by the end of July (which is rapidly approaching and causing me much anxiety). So I just wanted to share a bit of the stuff I’m trying to work into our site as it launches or as we continue to improve it.

First, let me say that a little variety can go a long way with a site. Your site doesn’t need to have tons of flash animation or graphics to catch people’s eye. Sometimes its as simple as having a set of header images that rotate each time the page is refreshed. Make people feel like every time they load a page they see something new.

Second, I think its very important that there is a tie between the online channel and the in branch experience. Even though more and more members are using online banking every day, there will always be a need for that personal interaction. I think being personal is one of the single most important (though cliché) things a credit union can do to increase a member’s relationship with the credit union.

Your tellers are the face of your branch, so why not the online channel as well. Use images of the people and places your members recognize and interact with on a daily basis. This puts a face to what is typically a cold and impersonal experience filled with stock photography (stock photos make me cringe).

Third, coordinate your marketing across as many channels as you possible can. Visually and in the copy, try and keep things together. A fractured marketing campaign can only lead to fractured response. By keeping things consistent through copy, color, imagery, and message, you portray (even if the member only notices subconsciously) a professional and consistent brand. Also, something as simple as color coding between website sections and print materials can go a long way in making it easier for members to spot the information they are looking for.

It’s all about keeping your brand consistent through coordinating your marketing materials (whether in print or electronic), keeping the electronic channel personal, and providing the information members want to see in a convenient, logical, and easy to navigate format.

If you want to get your credit union moving, all the marketing gears have to engage each other, otherwise you're getting way less traction than you need.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Hitchhikers Guide to Marketing?


I've been rereading "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" recently. First off, love this book, it appeals to many of my sides. The geek side loves the weird, creative sci-fi and my intellectual side revels in all the satire sprinkled into the (very twisted) storyline.

At one point in the story, the main characters find themselves on a ship full of marketers, accountants, and other "middlemen". They had been told their planet was doomed and that the entire population was to get into 3 giant ships and colonize another planet. The great thinkers in one, the middle men in a second, and the people who did the actual work in a third. They gave the middlemen a "head start". Turns out they just wanted to get rid of the middlemen.

Once the ship lands on what later is revealed to be prehistoric earth (yeah I told you the plot was bazaar) they begin trying to establish a civilization. After 500+ committee meetings, nobody has so much as discovered fire. One of my favorite quotes, and perhaps this strikes me as so funny because I'm now in marketing, is when a marketer in the group says (regarding their failed attempts at discovering fire) " you know that before any new product can be developed it has to be properly researched. We’ve got to find out what people want from fire, how they relate to it, what sort of image it has for them."

This got me thinking. Is it possible that we, as marketers, get so caught up in analysis and research that we lose sight of what might be a simple, elegant, and easy solution?

I'm not saying that we should just wing it with every new idea and product. There is a reason for research, a good reason, but does that sometimes get in the way of true creativity or blind some of us to the simplest solutions?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Offering Budget Assistance to Build Loyalty

The following post was written by Aubrey Knorr, a teller at Maine State Credit Union. She has been with the credit union for a year and a half and has been a great member of the MSCU team. Enjoy!

Finances are on everyone’s mind lately.

Stock Photos

Due to the rising prices in our economy, we all are trying to re-write our budgets to cut out all of the pointless and unnecessary spending. We are re-thinking what’s really important. Unfortunately, setting a budget and actually sticking to it are not strengths that a lot of people have.

As a credit union, it’s our job to help our members to the best of our ability. Most credit unions don’t have actual financial advisors to assist members with these matters; there is a way to help our members in this area using the employees that we already have.

Many employees already know how to analyze and manipulate numbers. This talent can be utilized by placing them into a position that would enable them to sit with members and plan out budgets that the member can stick to, based on the members own income and expenses.

In a world of rising gas, food, and energy costs, on top of loans, credit cards (about 15% of people have more than $10,000 in debt!), childcare, and working long hours, our members need our help. If we can help them to consolidate and cut back with a budget that they can stick to, they will learn to trust us with any of their financial needs.

It will help us to gain more members with more accounts, and a lot of loyal people who will always come to where they are best served. Every credit union and bank has loans to offer and accounts to use, but how many have people that actually sit down with the member and go over their financial assets and needs with them?

We need to start looking at the newest needs of our members, and that is coping with the ever-changing fluctuation of the economy.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Mmmmmm…Financial Education: Is there anything it can’t do?

The following post was written by a friend and fellow Maine State CU employee, Dan Emery. He is a teller here at the credit union and has really stepped up in an effort to bring financial literacy to the front of our minds through research and connections.

Operating a successful business is anything but simple. It doesn’t matter what type of business you’re in, there are worries and challenges at every level. These include supply and demand, profit and loss, service standards, product standards, employees and payroll, the budget, change and improvement and the risks associated with decision-making. Before a business makes a decision it has to take into account the advantages and disadvantages of that decision. The litmus test for a decision is ultimately the bottom line; is it going to make money or will we lose money?

Credit unions deal with these same issues but we have a unique situation. Our litmus test for decisions is very simple; “Is this good for our members or is this bad for our members?”

Sometimes, to do what is best for our members we have to spend money that we may not recover in a typical sense, but it will help us gain loyal, long term members. Other times an opportunity presents itself that is beneficial to both the membership and the bottom line. This opportunity is Financial Education.

Here are a few statistics on financial literacy in our country today*:

  • 15 million adults receive phone calls from collectors or are considering filing for bankruptcy.
  • Only 2 in 10 keep track of their spending – regardless of gender, age or income
  • Only 59% of young adults in Gen Y pay their bills on time
  • The majority of Americans do not have a sufficient emergency fund (3 to 6 months of income saved)
  • More than 76 million adults say they do not have retirement savings

These stats are only the tip of the iceberg. With a little research you will uncover MANY more shocking statistics like these. So what do we do about it?

We need to help these people take control of their finances! We need to teach them how to budget, spend responsibly, save, reduce debt and build assets. This should not be a one time class; this should be a multiple step process over an extended period of time. We need to create one on one relationships with our members. We should let them ask questions and then help guide them to determine their goals, wants and needs.

How will this benefit our members? Through this process we will build a bond with our members that will make them feel respected, empowered and comfortable and we will earn their trust on an entirely different level. They will gain an understanding of their finances that will give them control, hope and less stress. It is a great feeling to have control and an understanding of your finances.

So what does the credit union get in return? Most importantly we get happy members!

We will create a reputation that people find attractive and it will show we are truly worthy of their business. If we help one person take control of their finances they will tell others how well they’re doing and how it happened; our name will get mentioned and we will attract new, long term members.

Gaining new, financially educated members will result in new accounts, new loans, more loans paid on time, fewer overdrafts and bounced checks, higher balances and more frequent use of our services by more people.

Not only should we strive to educate our entire membership we should also strive to set ourselves apart service-wise. We should do our best to lower fees, raise rates and make our members feel like they’re a significant part of their credit union and not a customer.

A thorough financial education program is a solid, long term win-win situation for both the member and the credit union.

Dan Emery

Maine State CU

Friday, June 6, 2008

The CUSO Conundrum

In my last post regarding Denis Dollar’s forecast for credit unions in 2020 the comments I got were an eye opener as to what CUSO’s are and what they do (thanks to everybody who commented and helped me further my understanding of the industry).

As I’ve thought about how CUSO’s can benefit credit unions, and more importantly, their members, I’ve had a few thoughts as to the way I feel they should be handled.

Jeffery Pilcher wrote, “My guess is that Dennis Dollar thinks CUs will pursue these ‘additional revenue streams’ wherever they can be found.” I don’t disagree with him, but my support of this is dependant on how credit unions deal with this additional revenue. Jeffery also posed the question of whether credit unions will use CUSO’s “in lieu of traditional, organic growth.”

I certainly hope not. In fact, I see a great benefit in using CUSO’s as a way to increase a credit unions ability to grow organically. By bringing in additional revenue through CUSO business, a credit union should be able to put that extra cash into serving the members. If the CUSO isn’t directly benefiting the membership, that extra revenue could (and should in my opinion) be used to offer lower rates on loans, higher returns on deposits, and research to provide them with innovative products tailored to their needs; which could turn more eyes to your credit union than a generic ad or extra branch.

There is, in my opinion, a place for CUSO’s in the credit union movement. They might even be instrumental in moving forward. More CUSO’s means more extra revenue, which means more (and less expensive) services for members. If we can keep that in mind as CUSO’s are created it could blow the doors open for a lot of credit unions. However, if that extra revenue is misused (which is completely subjective here mind you) CUSO’s could become merely a way to chase a higher profit margin.

I still think it is a stretch to believe that CUSO’s will outnumber credit unions in the coming decade. As Anthony Demangone stated in the comments, “…there are already credit unions out there with more than 10 CUSOs.” However, for every credit union that has 10 CUSOs, how many have zero, or have a stake in a single collaborative CUSO?

I feel like it still comes down to a saturation of the business landscape for credit unions. If credit union mergers continue, it is inevitable that a credit union with existing CUSO’s will merge with a credit union that has redundant existing CUSO’s. In such a situation, I assume that one of the redundant CUSO’s would be eliminated, or they would be merged. Either way you are left with one CUSO from two. Add that to the fact that, as Robbie Wright points out, “Credit unions are limited in what type of activities CUSO's can operate. In fact Jeff Russell at The Members Group can speak specifically to the pains of getting the NCUA to allow certain types of activities.”

So, in conclusion, I see a very valid reason for CUSO’s in the credit union movement. I do, however, still disagree with the suggestion that CUSO’s will outnumber credit unions themselves. Unless NCUA starts allowing some off-the-wall CUSO’s and credit unions are brave enough to go there, there are only so many ventures credit unions can get into. With mergers combining some of the existing CUSO’s, this would lead to a higher ratio of CUSO’s to CU’s, but I don’t think that ratio would ever flip. It would take many mergers and the disappearance of the niche credit union for this to happen. In my opinion, if those niche credit unions disappear, we’ve lost sight of what credit unions are all about in the first place.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Credit Unions in 2020 (or Will We Have Flying Cars?)

I read this article on CUNA’s web site a couple of days ago detailing how Dennis Dollar (how cool is that name) thinks the credit union landscape will look in the year 2020 (thanks to Deb Trautman for passing the article along). Now, I’ve never been one to put much faith in forecasts that stretch for a period more than 5 days (even the weatherman can’t get THAT period of time right) because things never look like you think they will. Heck, we were supposed to have flying cars 8 years ago according to many “forecasters”.

Distrust of long term outlooks aside, some of the predictions don’t quite jive with me.

  • Credit union service organizations will exceed the number of credit unions;

My understanding of a CUSO (and please correct me if I’m wrong on this) is that they are cooperative organizations of credit unions designed to help them deal with regulatory issues and the like. They are like a credit union’s credit union. From Wikipedia:

A Credit Union Service Organization (CUSO) allows a credit union the ability to conduct business that they would otherwise be restricted from due to regulatory constraints. Most CUSOs are limited liability companies (LLC) which also provide a measure of protection to the credit union from the actions of their CUSO. CUSOs are usually wholly-owned subsidiaries of their corresponding credit union, and most if not all of the profits generated by a CUSO are returned to the credit union. CUSOs can also sell stock, usually to other credit unions, to help fund the creation and operation of the CUSO. In this situation, the profits are then converted to dividends and paid out to shareholders as specified by the CUSO's charter.

CUSO’s, like any other business, operate based on demand. I don’t see the demand for CUSO’s ever warranting more CUSO’s than actual credit unions. In fact; wouldn’t that be bad business?

  • Credit unions will face greater regulatory pressures, and this will drive mergers;

Credit Unions may face an increase in regulatory pressures in the coming years. Some of it can be avoided by staying true to the credit union mission, and beyond that, showing people that we stay true to that mission.

Beyond the fact that some of this regulatory pressure might be avoided, the first bullet point about CUSO’s seems to be contrary to this one. If CUSO’s are there to help groups of credit unions stay in compliance with regulations, and there are more CUSO’s than credit unions, shouldn’t all the bases be covered?

It would be a shame to see so many unique, small credit unions disappear due to being unable to stay within regulatory guidelines. There is much to be said for a small credit union, dedicated to staying small, and dedicated to its membership. A prime example is Mt. Lehman Credit Union. They have, with the guidance of their General Manager, Gene Blishen, positioned themselves perfectly to serve their members. They know what those members want, and offer it to them. Things like their TextUs product cater to the people they serve. It isn’t a giant marketing campaign, but a product that connects the credit union with its members in a way many CU’s struggle with. As Morriss Partee would put it, they are a microbrew of a credit union; unique and incredibly awesome.

  • Credit unions will market cooperatively nationwide

This is kind of a vague one. By “market cooperatively” does he mean a nationwide brand? If so, I think you already know my opinion. Credit Unions are a diverse animal. To brand something, it takes a common thread, product, or culture. By trying to put all credit unions under a single brand, it smothers so many cool, unique credit unions (like MT. Lehman) that have a brand that works for them and their field of membership.

Not only does it smother uniqueness, but branding credit unions under a single banner would be nearly impossible. There are so many different cultures, each credit union has it own way of doing things, and a brand requires a coherent culture throughout. When you walk into a Starbucks, you can pretty much tell what your experience will be. Credit unions are totally different. Walking into Boston Firefighters’ Credit Union is necessarily different than walking into Maine State Credit Union because the demographic served by each credit union requires a different approach.

In the first part of the article, Dollar is quoted stating that, “The megabanks will lead to a disconnect with local citizens.” If credit unions end up nationally branding/marketing how would we be able to connect with local citizens any better than a megabank? Our strength is in our diversity, not our size.

  • Shared branching will be a key credit union differentiator, with nearly all credit unions participating nationwide, thus reinforcing a national branding campaign.

I’m sorry, but shared branching is not a differentiator. Shared branching is a way for credit unions to compete with the nationwide banks, but that’s as far as it goes. With BoA having branches on every street corner, the fact that you can do business at many credit unions nationwide does not make us different, it makes us the same. It is something we certainly need to educate our members about more often, but to say it differentiates credit unions from banks is nearly outrageous.

My take on credit unions in 2020?

Credit Unions, in my opinion, will be the main provider of community banking. Not based on national branding, not based on shared branching, not based on mergers, but based on diversity. Our strength has always been, and will always be, our ability to listen to our members and provide them with the things they want. Credit Unions will collaborate, rather than merge, to deal with regulatory pressures. They will collaborate to form marketing efforts if it applies to a shared demographic. They will collaborate to pass innovative new products and services from one credit union to another, allowing each credit union to tailor the innovation to their members’ needs. What we need is not a national brand, but to work as a team of unique, individual credit unions. That is where the strength, differentiation, and innovation lie.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Save-or-Sink: Financial Literacy as a Brand Message

I’ll start this off by saying; I think credit unions have a huge opportunity coming up. Where many see a problem, we should see the opportunity to stay true to the credit union mission and to differentiate ourselves from banks.

What is this opportunity you might ask? Financial literacy of course!

According to The Young Americans Center For Financial Education:

  • Of the 6000 students that took the Jump$tart survey, 62% of them failed.
  • In the 18-24 age bracket 30% of their average monthly income goes to debt repayment.
  • 45% of teen know how to use a credit card while only 26% showed understanding of interest rates and fees.
  • Only 1 in 3 teens know how to read a bank statement, Balance a checkbook, or pay bills.
  • Barely 1 in 5 teens know how to invest.

Judging by these numbers, the young people of our nation (“my” generation) have very little understanding of how to manage their finances.

This is a tragedy in my opinion, and many people don’t see a solution. I see it as an opportunity for credit unions to fill a void that perfectly fits our mission of people helping people and promoting thrift.

Financial literacy is often breezed over, if covered at all, during the average high school career. Though it is unfortunate, it is easy to see why. Teachers have so much to worry about teaching that financial literacy often doesn’t seem like a priority.

This is where Credit Unions come in. We have the ability, resources, and hopefully, passion to bring financial literacy to classrooms across our fields of membership. We are perfectly positioned to take advantage of resources like NEFE to help bring knowledge of financial management to students in our local area. NEFE_logo_4c

If you don’t already know what NEFE is, it is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing people a financial literacy curriculum with a focus on high schools. They provide materials that are free to schools, including a full set of lesson plans, case studies, and workbooks. It is an incredible resource with a great track record of partnering with credit unions to bring it to local schools.

If your credit union hasn’t already looked into some kind of financial literacy program, now is the time to do it. The economy is struggling, debt is rising, and nearly a million people found themselves unable to stay afloat last year. The timing couldn’t be better for credit unions to jump in and help break the cycle caused by people living beyond their means. Many are finding themselves in a save-or-sink situation.

It is true that people just saving doesn’t benefit a credit union’s bottom line. In fact, if the dividends going out to deposit accounts aren’t matched by interest coming in from lending products, the profit margin can get tight.

Don’t think of promoting saving as an expense though, it is an investment in your community. When you teach somebody to save, it builds loyalty to your credit union. When they have some savings, they feel more comfortable, and are more able, to get lending products. Because they identify the credit union as the place that helped them to be financially sound, they are more likely to look at your credit union when shopping for a loan or credit card.

Show your community that you are looking out for them, teach them to be financially sound, and they will look to you more often when other decisions are at stake. Financial literacy is an investment in the future of your community. Though they may just be saving money now, they WILL be looking for that auto/home/personal loan in the future. If you can position your credit union as an advocate, it will be the place those people will look first.

Friday, May 9, 2008

My Audition for the 2008 Partnership Symposium

Sorry it took me so long to get this out there. It's been a crazy few weeks.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Loop Out & About Episode 2

This Saturday, Maine State Credit Union hosted our Third Annual Walk to Stop Hunger in Maine. The past couple years we held it at the University of Maine in August. This year we moved it to Capitol Park, right in front of the capitol building here in Augusta.

Here’s some information from our Leagues site (the total number of Maine households differs slightly depending on the site you are looking at, such as The Good Shepherd Food Bank site)

More than 40% of Maine kids under the age of 12 show some evidence of hunger
19,375 Maine children are hungry
An additional 64,087 children are at risk of hunger
New data shows that 12% of Maine households, representing 161,000 people, experience food insecurity
Hunger and the risk of hunger are widespread among Maine's low-income families with children
The likelihood of experiencing hunger or the risk of hunger is directly related to income
Children living in households which experienced hunger or the risk of hunger are more likely to experience health or school-related problems.
Several groups are found to be at greater risk of hunger in Maine; children, adults in low income families, disabled persons, persons with special needs, the elderly, those living in rural regions and the inner cities of Maine's largest urban places.
Several factors contribute to hunger in Maine; including income growth that is outpaced by cost of living; high level of underemployment; widening gap between rich and poor; illiteracy; and lack of consumer information on nutrition.

The event has grown every year. The first year had 180 walkers, year two had 196, and this year we had a big jump up to 225. Thanks to all those who attended, donated, sponsored, and walked for this awesome cause.

Since the Campaign for Ending Hunger was started by the league in 1990, credit unions state-wide have raised over 2.7 million dollars for the cause. In 2007 the campaign raised over $360,000 to help those in need in our state. This year we matched last years walk by raising over $17,000.

This year we expanded the event to include a band, bounce house, balloon animals, and a fun run for those under 10. It really was a blast. We all had a great time hanging out after the walk, enjoying some dogs and burgers and listening to some great tunes provided by the band “Good Friday”, my personal favorite was their cover of “Waiting on the World to Change” by John Mayer.

This year First Lady Baldacci, who graduated with a degree in food and nutrition, joined us for the third year running to speak at the opening of the event and also walked the trail with our CEO, Normand Dubreuil. During her opening remarks she cited some of the above stats on hunger in our state, praised credit unions and Maine State CU for their involvement in ending hunger. My favorite quote from her was “This is something that certainly with the economy we have now is facing all of us, this issue, and is certainly something that we as Americans can end.”

Thanks again to everybody who showed up on Saturday to donate their money, canned goods, time, and services to help Credit Unions put a dent in the hunger problem in our state.

A special thanks goes out to Mike Stewart who raised the most money of an individual (over $700). He’s a great guy with a great attitude and an incredible dedication to the cause.

Also, thanks to Anthony Geroux, collections Manager here at MSCU, who led Team Geroux to raise the most of any team (over $2400).

We all had a blast! I hope anyone who didn’t make it this year will join us next year for this awesome community event for a lot of fun for a good cause.

Edited With: Windows Movie Maker

Filmed With: Cannon Powershot

Music: You Know That (Is Nothing New) - Bill Mallonee

Softball, Irony, and The Joy of Office Sports

softball 002 On Saturday after our Walk to Stop Hunger (which I’ll have a post on later in the afternoon), a few of us got together for a good old fashioned game of wiffle ball home run derby.

After a few rounds, Shaun (a teller here at MSCU) was up to bat. Hans (who has spearheaded our softball team) was pitching. Hans tossed Shaun a pitch and was promptly hit in the throat by a powerful line drive off Shaun’s bat leaving a sizable red welt on his neck. We all joked that he’d better not do that with a softball at practice!

Fast-forward to last night. Maine State Credit Union’s softball team met for our first practice. We started with a quick game of catch just to warm up, and then set up on the field for a bit of batting practice.

Not a half hour into practice, Shaun was up to bat. We even joked that Hans was safe because he was playing left field, what could possibly go wrong? Paul (our security officer) threw the pitch and Shaun ripped one out to left field. Hans moved in to make the play. The ball caught the top of Hans’s glove and hit him right in the eye. Talk about ironic!softball 006

He ended up requiring a trip to the ER, 5 stitches, and sustained a small fracture on his cheekbone. Hans, being “The Man”, still showed up today for work, though he is sporting a Captain Hook eye patch and a pretty good shiner on his right eye.

Despite the minor hospitalization, we had a blast, got to know each other outside work, and got a bit of fresh air. I'm really looking forward to the start of the season next Thursday.

Moral of the story? You never know when lightning might just strike twice.

P.S. It was Hans who wanted me to post the picture :-P

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"Shouldn't You Know That?"

143919712_226cf37a9e Last night, the girlfriend and I went on a small shopping excursion. We were looking to make some pizza to accompany our viewing of The Kite Runner. So on the way home we stopped at the closest grocery store to our apartment to pick up few things.

We scoured the isles looking for pre-made pizza crust (yeah, we were feeling lazy) and were unable to find it. So we went up to one of the deli workers and asked where we could find them. His answer was “uhhhh...that’s a good question, ask customer service, they’ll know.”

We couldn’t believe it. We went and waited at the customer service counter for a few minutes (which happened to be vacant at the time) until somebody came out of the back office to assist us. We were pointed in the right direction and were soon on our way home for a delicious meal.

It wasn’t until later that my frustration with this deli worker made me realize an important aspect of the member experience at a credit union.

It is so frustrating to be shuffled from one spot to another to find the answer to what you consider a simple question. How many times as a teller did I send people to member services to get an answer to something I probably should have known? It happened every day.

People don’t want to wait, even for a few moments, when they come into the credit union expecting an easy transaction. Those few moments can be the difference between service a member might tell a friend about and an annoying experience they complain about to that same friend.

Easy access to information should be a priority for credit unions. Consolidate all your information silos into an easily accessed and searchable system. Something that allows anybody in the institution to access the information needed to serve members in a single sitting instead of shuffling them to separate departments.

Financial institutions are not simple creatures. There is a lot to them, more than most people can memorize. It isn’t a matter of memorizing all the procedures, policies, and processes, but being able to recall them quickly. A streamlined internal network can allow your tellers to “recall” all that information in a timely fashion and keep the shuffling down to a minimum.

This can benefit your institution in several ways.

First, it keeps your members happy. If they can approach a teller with a question on their loan and get the answer without being sent to see a loan rep. it can make a significant impact in their morale while at the CU.

Second, it’s a great way to allow tellers to become familiar with all aspects of the credit union. It’s basically like on the job training if they ever make the choice to move up within the institution.

Third, it can minimize confusion between departments. I wont lie, sometimes wires get crossed and what one person tells a member is incorrect or in conflict with what they’ve been told at somebody else’s desk. Consolidating all that information in a single system can minimize the occurrence of crossed wires. It can allow you to give consistent information across all departments.

Creating a streamlined system for your information, files, and policies can enhance the member experience, familiarize your staff with the inner workings of the credit union, and create more consistency/fewer errors within your institution.

As a side note, just to toot my own horn, this marks my 50th post here on The Loop. Thanks to all those who have supported and enjoyed it so far!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The CU Loop: Out & About

This is a pilot episode for what I hope will become a regular video segment here on The Loop, Hope you enjoy it! Check it out again next week when I'll be hanging out at The 3rd Annual Walk to Stop Hunger in Capitol Park here in Augusta.

As anybody who works at a credit union knows, we get tons of calls for donations and sponsorships each year. This year we were able to help a really great group of kids explore a new avenue for learning by sponsoring a robotics club at Messalonski High School. The team, called Infinite Loop (I knew they were cool as soon as I saw "Loop" in their name!), Competed in the US First Robotics Competition in Manchester, NH.

Mary Dolan and I got the opportunity to go check out a demonstration before the robot was finished. We were very impressed, but seeing the finished product on April 2nd during an open house they held was awesome. This was their rookie year, and I have to say that I'm looking forward to some great advances in their design as the years go on.

They placed 23rd out of 48 teams, a great showing for their rookie year. The team was sent the basic computing parts, sensors, and gyros from the FIRST foundation but the rest was up to the team. They put together the frame, connected the computer, power, sensors, pneumatics, etc. They were responsible for all the design and programing.

Most of these students were starting from scratch when it comes to robotics. With the help of the math team and with several team members in Calculus class, the team programed all the input and even programed the bot to operate autonomously for 15 seconds at the beginning of each event.

I'm very happy that we were able to help out this group of bright people. They got to experience a possible career path, explore new aspects of math they were learning (how great is it to actually get a concrete answer for "when will we EVER use this?"), and get some great hands on learning with everything from engineering to making T-shirts. In my opinion, there is nothing better than some hands on learning to build real life experience and see what the mind can accomplish.

So, Congrats to Infinite Loop for doing such an awesome job during their rookie year. I'm really looking forward to checking it out again next year. I even got invited to help them put the next project together come January.

Music: 86 Degrees - Epilogue
Edited with: Windows Movie Maker
Filmed with: Cannon Powershot

Thursday, April 17, 2008

BCBNE – The Tweets

On April 5th, as most of you already know, I attended BarCampBank NE. While in the sessions I tried my best to do some live tweeting of my favorite quotes. I went back and read them and found that they contained some information that I missed in my original recap of the day. Taking a cue from Morriss Partee, Here are a few of them and what I took away from them.

During our first discussion session, David Inverarity posed the question, “shouldn’t we have a system so that our members get a say in where our donations go? It is their money after all.” This struck a chord (might I say an epic power chord) with me.

Where does all this donation money come from? Well, from the members of course. This money would usually be redistributed out to members in the form of dividends. Because we use it for donations, the members don’t technically get a return on it. It is money that would otherwise go back into their pockets, so why shouldn’t we consult them as to where we donate their money?

Later in the morning, Ron Shevlin offered some sage insight. It might even be my favorite quote from the whole day. As I mentioned previously in this post, Gene Blishen had just finished describing how Mt. Lehman Credit Union offers large tents to members for weddings or other gatherings. Ron chimed in saying, “Its not about the stories we tell members, its about the stories they tell themselves.”

What is it about your brand that keeps people coming back? What story do they tell themselves in their minds that makes them choose you over the bank down the street? Everybody has a reason for using the same brand over and over. We, as credit unions, talk about the importance of telling your brands story, but it is even more important to create stories that the members tell themselves.

Later in the evening, my final tweeted quote came from Morriss Partee during a great conversation concerning the merging of credit unions. He posed the question “will P2P lending move in to fill the void as the number of small credit unions and community banks decreases?”

There is a general push for credit unions (and banks too) to get larger and larger. Many credit unions are merging with smaller institutions and the small credit union seems to be somewhat of a dying breed.

There is a need for a feeling of community. It is the reason social networking has exploded the way it has. The same goes for P2P lending. People like to feel like they are part of a unique social circle and companies like Zopa and Prosper are catering to that through social lending.

As the number of small credit unions decreases due to mergers and other factors, P2P lenders may move in to pick up the people who seek a personal touch in their banking. How can a large credit union hold on to that personal service with so many members?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Where Has All The Creativity Gone? [Open Source CU]

Creativity, despite being one of the things that people cite as the reason they love their job, is one of the hardest things to accomplish in a typical financial institution. So many executives and marketing directors get so caught up in the ROI and the numbers that creativity gets lost in the background.

Now, this isn’t meant to fault those people. Tracking the effectiveness of a marketing campaign is essential to their position. What if you could get some help?

When I say “get some help” you might reply, “We don’t have the budget to hire on a bunch of new marketing people!” Let me offer an idea that might kill several birds with one stone.

Innovate Your Institution

The hierarchal structure of most financial institutions makes it very difficult for lower level employees (Tellers and MSR’s) to bring up ideas. Typically the proper channel of communication ends up smothering the idea as unusable, or it gets lost before it makes it to somebody who might care.

Front line staff, MSR’s, and Loan Reps are the people who have the most contact with your member base. Why shouldn’t their ideas be considered just as highly as anyone else’s…if not more? They may see an opportunity where nobody else does.

There is so much creative power located in your teller, member service, and loan departments that almost never sees the light of day. What might come out of this collective group if given the opportunity to throw out ideas in a community environment, bounce them around, and create something of value?

Give people the opportunity to be creative and you’ll find a fountain of unique, interesting, and valuable ideas for products or processes that might have never come to light.

Retain Your Valued Employees

If you are looking to retain employees (tellers especially) there needs to be a sense that their position offers something of value to the whole, especially when trying to retain younger, GenY employees. Giving people, regardless of position or “silo”, the sense that what they have to say makes a difference can be very powerful.

Create a wiki, or discussion board, anything that gives people the opportunity to discus new ideas or concepts in an environment that is free from the fear of rejection. So often people are afraid to share because they feel that their idea will be shot down from the get-go and the possibility of humiliation makes them shy away from unleashing their creativity.

Create an environment that is open, collaborative, and free from this fear and you might just end up with a great source for creativity within your institution.

Your next question might be, “Well how do we get these people to come up with ideas? Do they really care enough to contribute?”

Create Evangelists

Credit Unions have a built in advantage when it comes to encouraging this kind of participation. There is an underlying cause behind credit unions that goes way beyond gaining profit.

I recently made a trip to BarCampBank New England on April 5th. It was held at America’s Credit Union Museum and it has inspired me beyond words. Seeing how it all started has given me new direction, inspiration, and dedication to my work at Maine State Credit Union.

The best way to get people excited about working at a credit union is to tell them the story. Show them what a credit union really is, what it stands for, and why it started in the first place. People find it much easier to get behind a cause than just a company. Share with them the powerful message behind their job. Show them the meaning of the institution and the movement as a whole and they might just be inspired to help move it along. It happened to me, it can happen to anybody.

Create a place for collaborative brainstorming, get people motivated behind the cause, and allow them to express ideas in an open environment where their say counts and you’ll end up with credit union evangelists…who just so happen to work on your teller line.

I originally wrote this as a guest post on the awesome blog OpenSourceCU, Check 'em out!

Monday, April 7, 2008

An Incredible Weekend of Conversation

My brain is still reeling from information overload from BarCampBank New England. What a weekend. The wealth of knowledge that came out of this meeting of the minds was astounding.

America's Credit Union Museumacumuseumentrance

The day started with an tour of the Inspiring, educational, and moving Credit Union Museum. All I can say is wow. The way this movement started is incredible beyond words. As I sit inside a huge building, the understanding that credit unions started as a tin box where poor mill workers who could not get service from a bank deposited their earnings blows my mind. To see the actual house that served as St. Mary's Bank (the literal translation of La Caisse Populaire Ste.-Marie is “Bank of the People,” St. Mary’s) was awe inspiring.

My favorite quote from the tour was when Morriss Partee ( pointed out the fact that, as we stood next to a bench in a hallway, "this is the place". It gave me goose-bumps knowing that I was standing where, almost exactly 100 years ago, the first mill workers waited to deposit their first dollars into the thebench first credit union in the USA. America's Credit Union Museum is a place that every single employee of a credit union, from Tellers to Presidents, should experience. It will literally change the way you see the movement.

Social Media DiscussionGinnycreepy

The first session, proposed by Ginny Brady of UFirst CU, was a great discussion regarding social media and its uses. My favorite quote from the session came from Ron Shevlin, "it isn't about the stories we tell people, but the stories they tell themselves. It is about creating experiences."

This quote came after Gene Blishen described a very unique offering that Mount Lehman Credit Union provides it's members. They have 2 large tents that they offer, free of charge, to their members for genethesage weddings, funerals, and any other large gathering they may be holding. What a great way to connect with members. When somebody associates your credit union with such an emotional event as a wedding, you can bet that it is a bond that will last.

If you can use social media to facilitate the spread of these kinds of stories it has the potential to be a powerful "word of mouth" message.

Current IT Priorities

davedelvecchioNext up was a session started by Dave DelVecchio who brought up the major IT issues facing credit unions now. Needless to say, it was a lengthy list. As tech continues to advance it brings up many security issues, risks, and higher implementation costs.

Which segues nicely into the next topic of mergers.


Christian Mullins of CU Potential led a very detailed and interesting session on credit union mergers. He talked about many of the wrong reasons for credit unions to merge, including growth for growths sake. Huge credit unions gobbling up the small ones just to increase field of membership and assets. The ever insightful Ron Shevlin posed the question, "what are the right reasons to merge?"

According to Christian, when a credit union can no longer sustain itself on its own. To compete with the large banks credit unions have had to make the move to offer similarly diverse options such as online banking, account origination, etc. Many of these small credit unions simply don't have the assets to implement this kind of product and so they lose a competitive advantage and become unsustainable.

Gene Blishen pointed out that at this point a credit union could still try and stay a "boutique", but that is harder said than done.

Wiki's, YouTube, and Collaboration.andylaflamme

Next we moved on to the subject of wiki's, youtube, and collaboration. Despite being incredibly nervous and scattered, I managed to get some discussion going about fostering a community of credit unions. Ron Shevlin again jumped in with some great advice. He started off by asking, "what will you give me for my answer?" Apparently my offer of 75% of a bottle of coke was enough for him to continue. "Everybody will always ask, what's in it for me?" There has to be some value to the individual before there is a sense of community. It is never about the technology, but the purpose, value, and direction behind that tech. Just because you have a wiki or discussion board doesn't mean people see value in using that space.

Charlie Kroll (CEO of Andera) added that perhaps it is a matter of fostering that community and THEN implementing a technology solution to bring them closer together.

Finally, David "Man of a Thousand Tabs" Inverarity demonstrated some of the technology that his credit union is using in Canada. This included showing the group their Wiki site for employees as well as davidmanofathousandtabs their great One Member One Vote campaign. It was incredible to see the new way they are letting the board candidates connect with the membership, share their message and vision, and encourage those that might not see a need to vote.


We ended the day with a session of Rock Band. Ron Shevlin, Morriss Partee, and I rocked the house with a little Boston, Flyleaf, and Soundgarden. Then it was off to dinner at Richard's Bistro, which I would recommend to anybody looking for an incredible meal in Manchester. Plus the restaurant was surrounded by several credit unions...making that much cooler.

Thanks to everybody for making this such an awesome event. Thanks to Morriss Partee for organizing this BarCamp, and a very special thanks to Peggy Powell for letting us crash America's Credit Union Museum on a Saturday. She is the sole employee and does some incredible work. I'm hoping to go back to the Museum soon so I can absorb some of the things I may have missed the first time through.

Here's to many Barcamps in the future!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Visibility Forecast for Today is...

Is your credit union's brand visible? TV ads, print ads, direct mail, blogs; all of these things aim to do one thing, make your brand visible to the people in your community. Whether that community is a small town or a nation, it is all about being visible to the people who might be looking for your service. For most credit unions, we are looking to be visible within our specific field of membership and connect with our members and potential members.

Blogging and other web2.0 efforts have the potential to connect credit unions to their members, but it isn’t for everybody. Whether it’s too new and untested or your membership just doesn’t fall into what I consider “the blogging demographic”, you can still find the world of blogging useful. Not only can credit unions find value in blogs themselves, but they can also take lessons from the blogging world that apply outside the electronic world.

The single best piece of advice I can offer to anybody starting a blog (for any reason) is, participate. The single best way to get a blog noticed is to participate in discussion. Make comments on blogs in your niche. Be a part of the community.

The same goes for getting your credit union noticed in your local community. The best way to get your name out, let people know what you do, and how you are different, is to participate. Get involved with your community.

It’s not even just about raising money for charity or performing community service. There is so much activity going on in most places. Most of it gets overlooked more often than not. That’s a shame.

Softball leagues, school clubs, sports teams looking for sponsorship; they all offer us the opportunity to get involved, participate, and bring our name to the community. There are opportunities all around us in our communities to be a part of those activities. Whether its by actually forming a softball team to compete in a local league or sponsoring a local robotics club at a highschool in your field of membership, there is a constant flow of events begging for participation, why shouldn’t we be there with the people we serve.

What has your credit union done to participate within your local community? I’d love to hear your stories.