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 (EverythingCU.com) 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.