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I posted on my blog this week for the first time in five months. I got five comments! My ego made me check my stats and I discovered my most popular category – the stuff folks really dig – bitching.
So here goes.
Two days ago the Los Angeles Times ran a front page story on how dry New Mexico is. How dry is New Mexico, my land of enchantment? The driest of the dry according to the Times. Last year, for example, it rained a total of THREE inches. But in the last 30 days we have experienced double that rainfall. It’s been a typical monsoon season. Clear and sunny in the morning – hot by noon – clouds rumble in – wind kicks up and rain dumps on our desert dusty land. It’s been delightful.
My drive home on the Cochiti Highway each night is beyond belief. The usual cracked parched dirt has been replaced with a lovely blanket of green. The cows are grazing, the bunnies are feasting, it’s like living in the Northwest without the gloom.
Last night as I was sipping my cocktail on my back patio I noticed Mark tugging on a little plant that had begun to grow between our flagstone. I shrieked at him. What are you doing? He said, “I’m pulling up a weed.” That’s not a weed! That’s a desert miracle. Some persistent god given growing living plant that is merely adding color to our otherwise beige patio. Nope, Mark argued, it’s a weed.
What is the definition of a weed? A weed is something that you did not plant and feel like you may have no control over unless you kill it at first site. Doesn’t matter if it’s nice looking, may serve some purpose, it’s not in my plan, it’s got to go.
It got me thinking about the culture of credit unions. A “weed” is often seen as new thought or the enthusiasm of a new employee wanting to improve something by suggesting change. Management often sees this as a threat because THEY didn’t plant it and if not killed at first site could grow out of control (influence other staff).
Weed killer comes in many forms – the spray kind “Oh, we tried that once.” The classic manual weed pull “Our computer system can’t handle that.” And finally bringing in the big guns, going to the root (the dandelion digger) to make sure the weed will not return “This is the way we’ve always done it.”
I vow to protect my weeds. To find beauty in them and celebrate their success. I’m going to look at them differently, as certainly having some potential. Especially when there’s been a severe innovation drought.
I hear it all the time – our members don’t CARE that we are a cooperative. And why should they? What have you done besides state the antiquated rhetoric “A credit union is a not-for-profit owned and operated by our members with a volunteer board of directors…blah blah blah.” We seldom even USE the words Co-Op.
Raise your hand if your credit union URL ends in .coop! Did you know you can’t just willy nilly buy a .coop on Go Daddy? Nope. You must APPLY for it and prove that you are indeed a cooperative.
When we asked a random sample (statistically significant) of our members on a scale of 0 – 10 “How likely is it they will recommend the credit union?” and “Why?” the answers were astonishing. Almost 30% of our members love us because we are local, not a bank, a credit union, or a financial cooperative. They do care.
Armed with this information we designed a logo – cuz that’s what we do in marketing.
Like to say we had a master plan, but we didn’t. Thinking we would slap that on our web, maybe a t-shirt, we really didn’t know. Then it came to us – let’s find local Co-Ops and see if they’ll partner in on the message. In Santa Fe (which is like liberal-granola-eating-Subaru-driving Portland only with sunshine) had only ONE Cooperative, the La Montanita Co-OP Market.
But up north in Los Alamos (where we started) we found two! The LA Co-Op Market and Little Forest Playschool, a parent run co-op since 1951! We met with them to brainstorm on how we might work together. Little Forest Playschool has an annual sale to raise money to run the pre-school – we offered free advertising. We put it up in our lobby on our InLighten Screens. LA Co-Op Market asked if we could partner with them to do a membership drive. We opened 83 memberships at our Los Alamos branch in one day for the market. Then it happened – the word got out and a delightful woman named Micheline approached me about adding the newly formed—- wait for it —- Los Alamos Beer Co-Op to the campaign!
Armed with these amazing partners we approached all of the Northern New Mexico credit unions and asked them to join in. Not a hard sell. Last week-end we sponsored the first Keep It Co-Op Community Concert in Los Alamos and on August 21st will host the First Annual Keep It Co-Op Community Concert in Santa Fe. The city of Santa Fe liked the idea so much they kicked in some serious coin to support the event.
All Northern New Mexico based credit unions participate in shared branching – so guess what we’re doing next?
Anywho – feels good to blog again. I haven’t been able to because I always felt like I’d be revealing credit union strategy or the code to our super powers – but damnit – we need to cooperate!, not compete.
Cooperative Principle Number Six: Cooperation Among Cooperatives (it’s a good thing)
Can you imagine if the Don’t Tax My Credit Union effort was renamed to Don’t Tax My Co-Op! ?
Police tape. Tape that says “CRIME SCENE. DO NOT CROSS.”
It’s tape – that’s not even sticky. It’s more like a party streamer. But it keeps people out.
Can you imagine seeing “construction site tape” on the highway instead of those big orange barrels. Um, please don’t drive in this lane anymore – sometime today an overpaid highway worker is going to be standing here.
That was more than 140 characters so I am glad I didn’t Tweet it.
If you want my business:
DON’T leave me a cold call email message with your pitch asking ME to call YOU back.
DO – woo me. Send me something fun in the mail.
DON’T schedule a WebEx meeting with me and then bore me with your slides with phrases like “Drive results with highly targeted campaigns that work together seamlessly”
DO get to the point. Speak to me like I’m a friend. Let your guard down a bit. Get off the script.
DON’T call me on your cell phone when you’re making a presentation.
DO call me from your home phone and let me hear your dog barking in the background. Cuz we could bond over that.
I heard of a “policy” today at a credit union (not mine) and it got me thinking about how these crazy rules come to fruition.
Is it a cost savings driving the insanity? Or a lack of trust? Just plain mean? Here are the top five that come to mind as kinda dumb. Feel free to add yours.
1. Not buying a new employee the corporate logo shirt until after they have completed their 90 day (we’re not allowed to call it probationary anymore) waiting period.
2. Not allowing tellers to receive emails except internally. Everyone else in the CU can get external emails.
3. Making new employees wait a year until they can take any paid vacation.
4. Giving more vacation the longer you stay. Here’s why I hate this one. You are usually upper management by the time you earn your 5 weeks and two things happen: 1. you don’t feel like you can take that much time off – nor should you in those positions and 2. you end up forfeiting (losing) many weeks and it makes you bitter.
5. My personal favorite. If a teller is out of balance more than three times in a 30 day period they are fired. That was the policy at my first job.
Are you paying attention to what is happening? I blogged some time ago about the distraction that was Dodd Frank.
I’m not bragging or anything but I think I was pretty spot on. Credit unions are still enjoying their exemption from the interchange amendment (as promised) and instead of worrying about potential loss of income we should’ve been preparing for the opportunity of the decade – new members that are going to finally move their money from the big-bad-TARP-taking-too-big-to-fail banks. As I predicted, banks WILL find a way to make up for that lost income. B of A’s decisioin to begin charging for the debit card was the salt rubbed in the wound of their reputation…..game over.
Let’s face it - checking account promotions haven’t worked for years. Bill pay did its job. It is sticky. Most people feel stuck in their current relationship. The only time a person is willing to move their checking account is if they are so pissed off at their current financial institution.
Thank you Bank of America for pissing off your customers. Again.
But here’s the rub.
1. Most credit unions don’t need deposits right now. They need loans.
2. Most credit unions new member process is cumbersome. Frontline folks are either not trained or not given permission to qualify new members for credit. Fix that.
3. Switch kits suck. There, I said it. Everyone says they have one but no one has a decent one – that I’ve seen. It doesn’t help me “switch” it just illustrates, in brochure fashion, what a nightmare this is going to be. How about a human switch kit? Be the concierge for the checking and help them move these over.
4. Most credit unions don’t instant issue debit cards. At the center of this opportunity is the beloved debit card. B of A wants to charge their customers $5 a month to use it and if they switch to a credit union it’ll take them two weeks to get a new one. Fix that!
5. Most credit unions are open from 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. And that wonderful woman Kristen Christian has declared Bank Transfer Day as a Saturday. Open your branches!
This is just the beginning of the marketer’s dream. You see, we have time. About two months and 10 days to be exact. To improve our onboarding experience. The earthquake hit when B of A made the announcement. The tsunami will hit on January 1st of next year when they actually begin charging the fee.
My husband Mark has always said that B of A’s tagline should be: ”We Bank on Inertia.” And until now, it’s worked in their favor.
But I predict that our time has finally come. We are TARP free, self-funded, financial cooperatives with a volunteer board. Somehow that has meaning again.
I’m convinced now that we go away on vacations because of some kind of weird peer pressure. Think about it. When you declare you’re going on vacation, the natural response is always “Where are you going?” If your response is,”Oh, I’m just going to stay home and relax…” well……dull.
I’ve been bragging for weeks about my vacation. Italy and Croatia! I planned to blog my adventures every day and take tons of pictures. I’ve been on vacation now for 3 days. I’m sitting in an airport hotel next to Dulles. I won’t bore you with the details but this has been the trip from hell so far. I actually prayed for the world to end yesterday – not even that happened as scheduled.
Last night I had a meltdown and today I am feeling quite Zen about the entire thing. Here is what I have learned:
1. Service levels in America are at an all time low. This recession has done the opposite of what I had hoped. Instead of people embracing their jobs, lucky to still have one, they are surly, sloppy and scared.
2. As much as I love rewards programs I have experienced the effect they have on employees. Case in point – I am Marriott Gold. When our flight to Rome was cancelled we were sent to the airport Marriott. I did not have my Gold card with me (didn’t think I would need it) and the desk clerk said no problem – she would look it up. Apparently she did not. Last night when we tried to charge our dinner to our room the waiter said we had the room number wrong. Mark went to the front desk and was informed that we had to move to another room – one door down.
It should be noted that this is when I lost it.
Seems they had a big group that reserved a block of rooms and when we checked in after sitting on the tarmac for 3 hours and then were told our flight to Rome was cancelled and stood in line for 2 hours to find out we cannot get out of DC for three days…….oh sorry, wasn’t going to bore you with the details…..anyway beeotch did not look up my Gold Card number!
We moved all of our stuff to the room next door. THEN I called down to ask about a fax I was supposed to have received and casually asked if my Gold number had been entered yet. She said it had not and she looked me up. Suddenly the world changed. Apologies all around and get this – come back down to the lobby and we will rekey you so you have access to the Concierge lounge, etc.
This is when I lost it. I really just wanted my points for the three night stay – I expect that everyone will be treated well at a Marriott. I have blogged numerous times about how much I love their service. This is the first time it has been horrible. Apparently their policy is to only treat the elite well. The rest of you can go to hell. This was a real eye opener for me.
I live in the Land of Enchantment. 300 days of sunshine a year. I have a lovely home and now a wonderful little doggie that is so excited to see me it makes my heart ache. Last night I fantasized about just being home for the week. Waking up when I wanted to – taking hikes with Mark and Dexter. Watching movies. This is the last vacation I think I will ever take – where I leave paradise to subject myself to long lines, crowds, surly service, hotel food, living out of a suitcase and…wait for it……starting tomorrow. The Euro.
(a follow up to my last blog post about trying to start a credit union in New Mexico for Artists & Craftstmen)
Last night was the night. I had been preparing for a week. I was to get up in front of artists and craftsmen and explain how hard it is to start a credit union today. I work for a trade association that was founded to do just that. Nine years ago was the last time a new credit union was formed in our state. Only 2 years ago they meet their capital requirements. It’s hard to start a credit union today.
Naturally I began the presentation with a brief history of credit unions in America. Edward Filene, the signing of the CU Act in 1934 by FDR, the alarming stats that showed the peak of credit unions (1969 – almost 24,000) to the dismal fact that today there are less than 8000. I showed a brief alphabet of the regulations that will haunt them. In the spirit of transparency (in case anyone googled corporate credit union) I carefully laid out the recapitalization of our system by the NCUA. Sigh.
Is it really possible that we’re done with people helping people?
Everyone I talk to politely scoffs at the notion of starting a credit union today. It can’t be done. Why would you even try? I can only assume their filter for this reaction is the credit union of today. Struggling to remain all things to all people in an interest rate environment that is strangling the bottom line. A financial coop that finds themselves shoring up the system (again) and fighting off legislation (again). I see a tired movement. One that is willing to not only allow big mergers, but encourage them. But to what end? For the last ten years I constantly hear the predictions of the next ten years: There will only be (insert shocking number) of credit unions in the US. So, are we done?
What is our long term plan for people helping people?
Rein Whitt Prichette is an artist. It’s not a hobby, it’s his life’s work. He told the story last night of how a $1200 loan would have made all the difference in his life. He’s been banking at Wells Fargo. There’s no way they would give him a loan. He has no credit score. He has no W-2. But he does have art in the Albuquerque Art Museum. His serigraphy is featured in a first edition Franklin Mint collectors book. Would your credit union give him a loan? Not likely. So, I have to ask again, “Are we done?”
I see a movement hanging on – not planning for the future. I see CU leaders squinting down the lane to the finish line, blinders on, clutching what’s left of their 401k. I experience tellers that have a job, no hope for a career. Loan officers that are trained to pull the credit score lever and belch out the A+ paper and toss the rest in a pile of doom.
Wow – that was bleak. I know not all credit unions are like that. But let’s be brutally honest here for a moment. Size breeds anonymity. And the larger the financial institution the more they rely on technology to make decisions and sort the masses out. We’ve stopped talking to our members. Listening to their stories. Assessing their character. I fell as if we’ve stopped helping people. We make loans. Non-risky, middle market, credit driven, A paper loans. I know a lot of this has been driven by the regulators. I get that. But it’s not lost on me that we may become the reason credit unions were started in the first place. Rein cannot get credit. He’s the little guy of the 21st century.
The future does not bode well for the small credit union. So it begs the question: Are – we – done?
Rein was very nervous telling his story last night. He does not want charity. He wants to leave behind a system that will enable artists to take care of each other. He’s lost everything at this point, except for his passion. He ended with this proverb:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
I’m not done. Stay tuned.
Observations on credit union trends.
The re-branding (let’s change our name and logo) trend
Somewhere along the way a speaker or consultant or, dare I say, and ad agency posing as both, convinced credit unions that their biggest obstacle to growth was their legacy. It’s too specific. People will still think that they have to be a Portland Teacher (for example) to join. Even though the evidence to the contrary was staring at them on their balance sheet.
And so the name changes began.
Altana, Aventa, Aspire….
Community, Community Driven, Champion Community….
Encompass, Encore, Extra….
Meridian, Meritrust, Milestone….
Wildfire, Red Canoe and wait for it…….Salal.
This trend thankfully has slowed down. But only to be replaced by: Merger Mania!
Now I get that in this historic bottoming out of our economy mergers would increase. But if you are paying attention, there are many mergers in the works that don’t HAVE to happen.
Here’s my theory. When a trend begins, panic ensues. Those that are not considering changing their name or merging begin to think that maybe they should. After all – everyone else is doing it. We must be doing something wrong. We should change our name. Maybe they know something we don’t know. Let’s merge. That must be the right decision.
Before you know it, bad economy, poor heathcare, gulf oil spill, tornadoes, hurricanes, increased pat downs, cats and dogs living in sin.
(insert needle across the record album noise here)
(Now insert birds chirping and a harp playing softly)
What if we decided to take a deep breath. Assess our situation thoroughly. Focus on what we do well. What we’re known for. Can we sustain ourselves with a simpler model? Get back to basics?
Our members need us now more than ever. We have 100 years of history that has proven we can make money in a devastating economy.
Remember, we not only survived the Great Depression we thrived. The years following that historic event resulted in a credit union boom.
If you don’t have to merge – don’t. It’s a bloody distraction.
Oh, and “economies of scale” is math. It’s not a strategy.
Well, we’re in a crisis. So forgive me if I’m blunt, but these times give me no choice.
Here are the brutal facts:
- Credit unions are literally dying of old age. I met a CU professional yesterday who told me the average age of their membership was 71. I replied “Are you sure that’s not the average age of your board?” Nope. The members. Then I asked the obvious, “What’s your loan-to-share ratio?” He just chuckled.
- This year Generation Y will outnumber the Baby Boomers (the largest generation in US history). Boomers are beginning to die. The youngest Gen Yer is getting their driver’s license next year. The oldest will turn 36. There are 70 million of them. In two years they will all be old enough to enter into a legal contract (get a loan on their own).
- Mathematically speaking credit unions did not need Generation X (the smallest generation in US history). Therefore we didn’t bother to market to them, or figure them out, or listen to them or even begin to understand what the next generation will demand. This is largely the cause of the 48 year old member age average, and why it still climbs.
- Credit union members aged 25 to 42 have dropped by 17% in the past two decades. These are our prime borrowers.
- The proliferation of community chartered credit unions (post HR 1151) did not result in increased market share for the industry. Rather, membership flatlined for the first time in history.
- The majority of the sitting credit union CEOs are within 5 years of retirement. They can see the finish line. Consequently, many of them will put blinders on to avoid distraction. They are entering the lame duck phase, and are not likely to make any big changes.
- Mergers will be used as big fat band-aids. But the wound will not heal. It will begin to fester.
- Social media is not a fad. It’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. If you don’t get it, embrace it, and practice it – you’re toast.
- The recession and NCUA assessments sanction inaction.
- Shiny happy stock art people used in marketing will kill us. Cut it out!
- You cannot calculate an ROI for every damn thing. It’s an excuse we hide behind so we don’t have to take a risk.
- Brittany S. Pearce is a better performer than Britney Spears. (I’m a Gleek)