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.