Four must-dos for today’s credit unions
With a career that has until recently been completely outside the financial services industry, I’m often asked by others for my observations on co-operative banking in Canada. Unquestionably, there is a lot to love about credit unions: their community engagement, their relational connections with their members, their business values and practices, and their democratic, grass-roots accountability to their member-owners.
With so much to offer, it should be puzzling as to why credit unions lag as a true national alternative to banks. Likewise, many are asking why most credit unions are experiencing membership stagnation or decline. The concern is warranted—without a fundamental change or renewal, credit unions run the risk of becoming further marginalized at best and irrelevant at worst.
So how do we break out of the direction we’re going? Like so many things, I believe it begins with a belief in ourselves and our potential—not resting on the successes achieved in bygone decades, but seizing the promise of the present. Collectively, we need to believe that we can do better and expect more of ourselves. Here are four things I’d propose we do differently:
1. Let cooperation trump independence
Unlike many other industries that regularly face significant change, the banking sector—and especially credit unions—have only recently been confronted with the need for transformation. For credit union leaders, this means we must dramatically shift the way we cooperate and partner. Today we share in a way that friendly neighbours might: occasionally borrowing a cup of sugar or exchanging tidbits of information over a backyard fence.
But what I’m talking about is putting aside the pride in our independent spirit for the sake of creating value for our members. Failing to partner closely and leverage our collective size and reach—be it for purchasing power or marketing awareness—costs our members, the very ones we’re here for. We need to embrace working big while working locally.
2. Look outside our walls
It’s no secret that the banking sector operates in a competitive market. It’s important that we’re in the know on our competitors. The problem is that too often we’re paying so much attention to what our competitors are doing that we fail to notice advancements happening in other industries. Not only do we run the risk of missing new and emerging entrants into our business market, but perhaps even more concerning is that we isolate ourselves from ideas that could have the potential to make significant impacts to our credit union.
Let’s look to other industries for inspiration. What’s happening in the world of non-profits? Retail sales? Entertainment? Online and mobile technology? Can we adapt best practices from other sectors into our own company? Likewise, it’s also about learning what not to do and ensuring that while navigating the complex, ever-changing consumer landscape that we don’t run into the same negative situations other companies have recently.
3. Get serious about innovation and doing things differently
Some industries are in a constant state of reinvention, always finding ways to adapt to their changing environments. But in banking, we can easily be wrapped up and blinded by process and what’s always been done. For credit union leaders, this means we must always reassess and take time to ask ourselves “is there a better way to do this?” If we don’t, we risk turning our back on possibilities.
We need to be innovative and think outside the traditional constraints of our industry. Innovation’s an attitude—one that needs to be embraced by every employee. It’s what allows us to solve problems, seize opportunities and strive to be better.
So how do we do this? It starts with sharing ideas, listening and making changes on the inside so we’re prepared to adapt and flex to changes outside. Leaders must promote and encourage innovation and flexibility from our people by actively seeking input from all areas and thinking “what do we need to do to make this happen?” From my experience, companies that do this successfully are the most inspiring.
4. Provide the experience through all access channels
Over the past several years we’ve experienced a dramatic shift in how our members conduct business. Technology advancements have shifted the member experience from predominantly localized (branch or ATM) to virtual and digital experiences (online banking and mobile banking apps).
None of us would begrudge these advancements—they make our members’ lives a lot easier. But now with more service channels than ever before, we need to find ways to ensure the much-loved credit union experience of yesteryear can be brought to all these touchpoints. In short, our members may not be physically connecting with us in a branch as much anymore, but our convenient and member-friendly mobile or online experiences should meet their needs all the same.
There’s a bright future for credit unions who actively choose to evolve, adapt and advance. I’m proud that First West, Envision Financial and Valley First are committed to reinventing the credit union system in Canada to ensure that our cooperative approach to banking will be relevant to today’s rapidly changing marketplace.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and discuss ways we can take action today. Post your comments below or email me at email@example.com.
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