The promise we hold
On this International Credit Union Day, it’s my hope we celebrate not just what the cooperative banking movement has accomplished in B.C. and across Canada, but more importantly the promise we have as a movement for the future.
The impact of credit unions is tangible. In B.C., for instance, our movement has made us the banking choice of 1 in 3 British Columbians, employer of more than 8,200 full-time equivalent employees, contributor of some 25,000 hours in volunteerism, and proud community partner through millions and millions of dollars in giving last year alone.
But we all know that our past achievements don’t guarantee future success. So on International Credit Union Day, I encourage credit union leaders across the industry to give careful thought to their future success by asking these four thought-provoking questions that I regularly challenge my own team to think through.
How is my credit union creating value for the members we want to attract?
During my time leading global brands in the U.S. and Canada, I quickly learned that to be successful my organization needed to take the lead in creating value for customers. That might be in quality of product, excellence of service, speed of decision making, or means of accessibility. When I joined First West and started asking this question, we quickly realized that we needed to change the trajectory we were on. For instance, we rethought our product strategy and introduced some of the most competitive accounts in the market, like our Simply Free Account™ and our refreshed Unlimited Chequing for Business™ account. When we started listening to and valuing what consumers really felt about service fees and complicated account packages, we changed. In doing so, consumers responded by valuing the simple, straightforward products and services we’ve introduced.
How is my credit union meeting consumers where they’re at?
Though the death of the branch has been prophesied for years, the reality is that branches are still very much alive. But the experiences consumers want within these physical locations and through our online and mobile channels continues to shift dramatically. Because of this, we’ve begun to radically rethink how we deliver services to our members. We’re also thinking about how our services complement one another across delivery channels. Here’s something I often wonder: if Apple were to go into banking, how would their stores be different than what we have today? How would their online and mobile services differ from what we offer today? If we imagine there would be differences, then why aren’t we taking action to make those changes in our branches and with our technologies?
How is my credit union cooperating to make us better?
The fiercely independent nature of individual credit unions is one of the biggest risks our movement faces. I get why credit unions have a tradition of independent behavior—they’ve seen that past partnership arrangements or traditional mergers have taken away from local decision making, local identity or local community connection. But choosing independence is not a viable long-term strategy. It’s too expensive, creates little real value for the average member and ultimately limits growth (or makes growth considerably more expensive). Because we have such an independent mindset we don’t have a national brand strategy. And it’s why inter-branch accessibility in and across provinces has still not been addressed. I’m hopeful though that the tides are beginning to change. Since coming on board at First West, I’ve challenged our team to choose cooperation and partnership with other credit unions over finding success only for ourselves. I’ve also seen some excellent examples of cooperation with B.C.’s Solutions Centre group. Those organizations who are leveraging cooperation get it—step by step they’re finding that success will come by partnering together.
Is our credit union committed to growing our membership?
One of the most shocking things I observed when I joined the credit union system as a CEO was the largely apathetic view on growing membership and customer base. I admit that First West also struggled with addressing nominal or negative membership growth before I joined. But with an inspiring vision and a belief in what we could be, we’ve seen our membership growth numbers turn from flat or declining to some of the best in the industry. The excitement this trend reversal has created in our organization is palpable and affects the culture and confidence of our employees in ways an incentive program or rewards system never could. Simply put, credit unions that don’t grow, won’t last. As individual credit unions and as a system, we must challenge ourselves to focus on growing our membership.
Today, more than ever before, credit unions have the opportunity to be major shapers of the country’s financial landscape. And the great thing is that when credit unions succeed, our communities, families and economy succeed as well.
I’m always eager to hear what your credit union is doing to transform the way it does business. Drop me a note at email@example.com or leave a comment below. Happy International Credit Union Day to you all!