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julie_and_juliaIt began with a call from my mother-in-law Julee. She had just returned from seeing the Julie & Julia film starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. She was gushing. We just HAD to see it.  A few days later she called again to see if we had seen it yet. She forgets how hard it is to drag her son to a movie.  He is Netflix’s target audience. Nothing is so good you have to leave home, stand in line, pay too much for popcorn, and sit in the dark with a room full of strangers. 

After the second call I googled the movie. Found out that it was based on two books. Julia Child’s My Life in France and Julie Powells’ Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen

I love to read. Always looking for a good book to wrap my mind and arms around so I downloaded both at that moment on my Kindle

I clicked on the final page of the second book this morning. Wow.

I’ve never second guessed my mother-in-law’s super powers or her subtle way of suggesting. But these two books are exactly what I needed to read right now. I feel like I’m living a parallel-virtual-time-traveling-life. 

Julia Child had just made a major move to a foreign land because of her husband’s job. 


She was in a foreign land, with time on her hands, looking for some meaning. 


This economy has taken me off the road and plopped me down in a tiny dark office in the back of our rental house on a Dead End street – which I vowed I’d never live on because of it’s connotations. 

Which brings me to Julie. She decided to take on a huge project. To cook every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child – in one year. She lived in Long Island City in a tiny apartment with her sweet and patient husband.

Sort of ditto.

Definitely ditto on the patient husband part and Long Island, although not the city. My huge project right now is writing a book/workbook/recipe for developing your credit union’s 2010 marketing plan. 

Julia Child partnered with a friend and worked long distance to publish her first cookbook. 


I’m partnering with Jim Jerving to write this marketing cookbook and we’ve only met once and now virtually meet once a week to go over our progress. We don’t always agree on the ingredients and have changed direction about three times but I think we can see the end now. 

Julie chronicled her journey on her blog.


She had days early on when she thought no one cared but she continued to pour her heart into this therapeutic medium. And lo and behold the readers began to respond. Their comments inspired her to keep on going. She discovered the real purpose of blogging -a  sense of community and purpose.  

Look for the 2010 CU Marketing Business Plan Cookbook – seriously, we do not have a name for this thing yet – please help! – to be available for purchase soon. 

Disclaimer to friends and family: Mark and I are not married, per se, but according to common law and certain documents drawn up by attorneys for all intents and purposes are legally bound. Until it makes sense for us financially – we probably won’t do it – much to Julee’s chagrin. Hey – he’s a number’s dude – what can I say?

What you are about to read is true. It happened in one week. On an island called Long, in a state of New Yorkiness.


Macy’s sent me “thank you” coupons in the mail. They were printed on heavy card stock meant to look like Macy’s credit cards. It promised 20% off my next purchase. 

Eddie Bauer sent me a $20.00 gift certificate to thank me for using my Eddie Bauer Friends card and purchasing over $200 in merchandise. Mark got one for $10.00. 

SW Airlines sent me a Hertz Rental Car coupon that promised incredible discounts on my next rental. 

I found the mall. In the Haven of Smith. I needed some summer type-tops. I wanted humidity proof – meaning you couldn’t see that I was sweating profusely – and cute. I’m at Macy’s. I find the perfect top. I decide to buy two (different colors of course). I proudly present my coupon. Oh, um this can’t be used to purchase these tops. What? She turned the card over. In a 2 point font the restrictions were listed. Not only could you not use this coupon on certain brands – like Ralph Lauren – you could not use it in entire departments – like housewares, furniture, cosmetics, jewelry, shoes – I’m not kidding. 

I’m pretty sure after reading the entire thing that they wanted you to buy some socks. 

Eddie Bauer is next. Armed with what I think is $30 cash I hit the sale rack. Found me some cool beachy shoes, presented my two gift certificates. Oh, you can only use one of these. Sigh. 

Hertz Rental Car – I’m going to Portland next month and need to rent a car. I’m already Hertz Gold so I get a wee bit of a discount but let’s use this coupon. I do as instructed, plug in my Promotion Code – and blammo. Big red letters at the top of the screen saying “This location does not participate in this offer.” Of course. 

Last night I ordered shoes online from They offered free ground shipping. Sweet. This morning I get an email from them:

We have upgraded your ground shipping to overnight. Here’s your tracking number. I click on it – it tells me that the UPS guy is driving to our house right now with the shoes! Shuddup! This can’t be possible? It will have been less than 24 hours from the time I clicked the purchase button to the time I get the shoes. And they are coming from Kentucky!

That means someone had to, in the middle of the night, walk down a warehouse aisle and find my shoes and pack them up and put them on a plane!!!!!! 

Ding dong. I just got them. Incredible.

Keeping promises. That’s all I expect. If you take the time and money to send me a 20% off coupon – I expect to be able to get 20% off. 

But exceeding my expectations – which by this time were pretty damn low – is where it’s at. 

I will never buy a pair of shoes from Eddie Bauer or Macy’s again. Ever. has my business for life. 

Right now credit unions have an opportunity to stand out. Consumer’s expectations are at an all time low. The CU Warrior has a great post today about this very subject. You should read it. 

Oh, and thanks for reading this. It means a lot to me. 

I am an immigrant. When I moved from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington, other than the fact that I had to pump my own gas – it’s illegal in Oregon – and pay sales tax – there is no sales tax in Oregon – it was pretty much the same culture. People were friendly, super laid back, bathing and shaving your legs was optional, a real “come-as-you-are-casual” atmosphere. 

Not so much moving to Long Island, New York. I am an immigrant. I feel it every day. I’m in a strange new land. People look different, talk different, and there are huge cultural differences.

At the grocery store – doesn’t matter how nice, how pricey, or how cheap – you bag your own damn groceries! You learn this quickly. Incidentally I’m getting really good at it. 

Personal space on the train – fuhgettaboutit! Bring a book, get over it, try not to make eye contact. 

Long Island is not the same as Queens and Brooklyn – even though they are ON Long Island – you never ever refer to those boroughs as such. Ever. 

New York state is in three distinct chunks. The city (which really refers to going to Manhattan but technically would be the five boroughs – see map), upstate – which refers to everything outside of NYC-  and Long Island. 

NYC map.001

How do you get from Long Island to New Jersey? You don’t. 

There are north shore people and south shore people. Choose wisely. 

New York recycling is suspect. You throw it all in a blue bin, Maggio brothers come by and toss it and crush it in a garbage truck. Hmmmm…..and on regular trash days you can literally throw out anything. Old stained mattress? Yup. Computer monitor from 1988? Yup. Broken and suspiciously soiled armchair? You bet. All for the same price as regular garbage. 

Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi episode – there’s some truth to that. You have to KNOW how to do business with certain entities. Like riding a ferry for instance. You have to have a reservation and you pay for it then – BUT, you also have to queue up on the boat to get a ticket to get off the boat. Or – NO FERRY FOR YOU!

I am learning to love Long Island. The more I venture out and try new things the more I start to look and sound and act like a New Yorker. I live in Port Jeff. I like to drink kawfee and tawlk. I love my niece like she was my dawter. Am I right? 

Immigrants have to do three things to survive and thrive in a new culture. 

  1. They have to respect and connect with the cultural norms.
  2. They often have to “let go” of some of their beliefs in order to adapt.
  3. They will bring some of their unique culture to the community that will enhance it. 

When someone new comes to your culture (credit union) from a foreign land (bank) how do we respond?  

juliaChildHave you ever heard someone say that in a meeting? A planning session? Or worse yet, a brainstorming session? 

If everyone felt that way – you try something once, it fails, it cannot be done – we wouldn’t have airplanes, electricity, telephones, post-it-notes or the Food Network! 

I just finished reading Julia Child’s My Life in France.

She didn’t set out to become a highly rated televised cooking show, she had a passion for French cooking. She wanted to teach American housewives, who did not have servants, to master the art of French cooking. She spent 10 years writing her first cookbook. The manuscript came in at over 700 pages. 

Her first publisher, after giving her an advance, told her there was no audience in America for something that detailed. The TV dinner had just been introduced and that convinced the folks in charge at this publishing house that no one was interested in cooking anymore. The American housewife was looking for fast and easy. That may have been somewhat true – but not everyone was looking for that. Could there be a niche for French? Maybe you could be successful by not appealing to the masses? Interesting thought. 

Luckily someone at Knopf publishing shared her passion for French cuisine and was able to convince the company to take a chance. 

The notorious James Beard was actually the first person to be televised cooking. He had no real camera presence. He was an artist – not a great communicator. So it was concluded by many that “No one wanted to watch someone cook on television.” 

Think about it – today we have an entire network, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week that is devoted to watching people cook. One of the highest rated shows in a season is the Next Food Network Star. 

So the next time you hear someone say, “You know, we tried that once – it won’t work.” You may be hearing an idea so great its time has finally come. You may have finally found your true differentiator!

Question everything. 

Planning Process 2009.001I’ve been getting quite a few requests to facilitate planning sessions lately. It’s that time of year. Time to plan for our future. 

Which made me rethink my process completely. I have never SWOT-ted people (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). I think that’s kind of a waste of time. Why? Because I usually see the same answers:

Strengths – Our board. Our employees. Our members.

Weaknesses – Branch locations. Technology. Training.

Opportunities – Technology!

Threats – Economy. Regulation. Banks.

Instead I take a broader approach and talk about reputation. How do you really differentiate yourself in your marketplace? SIDEBAR: My definition of differentiation – especially now that credit unions can compete with each other – something your competition cannot easily copy

This year I think we need to talk about values. And not in a touchy- feely sort of way. If you have a values statement on the wall, I would pack it up and carry it along to your retreat. Then I would take a good long look at each word and describe how you practice that value. How do you measure it? Are you just paying lip service to some?

Let’s say you value “integrity.” That’s a powerful word.  

in-teg-ri-ty (noun): the quality of being honest and having strong morale principles

And forgive me, but based on the many comments on my Reputation Killer post I have to ask this. Let’s say you adopted the courtesy pay program that allows a member to “see” their courtesy pay availability on their ATM receipt. Does that fit your declared value of integrity? Are you running the fine line between educating the member and avoiding disclosure requirements? Imagine how lively that discussion would be? 

I totally agree with Carla Day’s comment. 

Over the years, it seems that there are becoming two distinct groups of credit unions that I like to call “credit union” credit unions and “bank” credit unions. The former really do look out for the best interest of their members and their members are their mission. The latter use the big bad banks as an excuse to promote programs that hurt members. They are doing it and want a piece of that pie. For example, if we don’t have courtesy pay and charge $32 each time, we can’t offer online banking, bill payer, mobile banking, etc.

What’s your credit union’s moral compass? What’s your filter for making decisions? Just the bottom line? I know it’s tempting in these times, but the purpose of planning is to look down the road – 100 years. 

We just celebrated the first 100 – what will the next look like?

Where’s a wealthy Boston merchant when you need one? 

NOTE: The quote at the beginning of this post comes from an amazing artist and story teller. Check him out at

The first time I met Carol Schillios I was 19 years old. I was a teller at a government employees credit union in Portland, Oregon and I actually got to go to Seattle to a conference! It was to be the first of many road trips in my life. But at the time I didn’t know it.

Carol spoke about Member Service. At the time I wasn’t even really sure what a credit union was. Seemed like a bank. Our branch was kind of ugly, the head teller was always hunched over her desk smoking Salem menthols and running tapes on checks. 

She did have one member service training moment. It looked like this: “Hey ladies, when a member comes up to your window, you need to put your cigarette down while you wait on them.” The expectations were pretty low.

Carol oozed member service. I’ll never forget the passion with which she spoke about ownership and people helping people. She had and still has this twinkle in her eye when she talks about helping people. She believes with all her heart that we are put on this earth to serve. It you are serving someone, you are doing something that matters. It changed my life. That day I remember thinking “Some day I want to be like Carol.” 

Carol has gone on to help people in ways that I have to admit, I don’t think I have the guts, the conviction or the stamina to match. She’s currently camping on top of her shop in Edmonds, Washington until she raises $1 million to make a difference in the world. 

Carol received the coveted Herb Wegner award two years ago for her work in Africa

Today we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Estes Park meeting that formed CUNA. 

“Seventy-five years ago, an extraordinary group of credit union pioneers held a ‘meeting of the minds’ in Estes Park, Colo., about a national association that would enhance the movement throughout the land and help it become self-reliant,” said CUNA President/CEO Dan Mica.

There were 52 delegates from 21 states and the District of Columbia that traveled to this historic meeting. Can you imagine what the conditions were like? There were no cell phones, no internet, airlines were in their infancy, and no air conditioning!! 


Carol has a cell phone and is blogging from the roof – but she is taking showers from a sun warmed bag of water, she is relying on friends to bring her food and she’s braving summer elements, bugs, cramped living conditions – I can’t even imagine.

Today I can think of no other way to celebrate the people who have helped so many people than by honoring Carol Schillios. 

If you are willing to collect a buck from your fellow employees for a birthday cake or pizza, why not for Carol’s cause? 

She’s given so much to us – let’s get her off that roof!

I can’t stay silent anymore on this issue and I know it’s going to ruffle a lot of feathers. So I’m going to approach it from a brand perspective. Brand is after all, your reputation. What you’re known for. And right now Credit Unions are getting a ton of unwanted press from the People magazine of the news world – USA Today.

Last week it was interest rates on “pay day loan” alternatives. This week it’s courtesy pay

On Tuesday I was speaking at the CU Association of New York’s annual meeting. My topic, “2009 Reasons to Question Everything.” I took a chronological look at CU press in the past 8 months. At best we look like we’re struggling under the weight of a corporate stabilization – at worse we look like greedy bankers hiding behind this statement:

“…courtesy overdraft is provided because, “If we didn’t, (consumers) would go somewhere else and get it.”

That quote is directly from this latest USA Today coverage. But on Tuesday when I showed the previous week’s coverage an audience member rose their hand and basically said the same thing. So rather than losing it I took a deep breath and turned that comment back to the audience. I asked them how they felt about this statement –

“If we didn’t provide payday lending and courtesy pay, our members would go somewhere else and get it.”

There was a great debate that ensued. It was a debate of values. And it came down to this – are you okay losing revenue to a banker/competitor by doing what’s best for the member? Some argue that gouging them less (400% instead of 600%) was best for the member. Others said they didn’t want any part of enabling that kind of dangerous behavior – they were still in the business of helping members live within their means. Then it shifted back to the year of “chasing ROA” and having no choice. Others sheepishly admitted to being addicted  – or dependent – on the revenue at this point and it would be really hard to replace it. 

As you head into your strategic planning sessions this year – I think it’s time to review your values. If you’ve framed the word “integrity” on the wall and still allowed yourself to subscribe to the “courtesy pay” without advertising so we don’t have to comply with Truth In Lending, you might want to rethink that word. 

I know that sounds harsh – but these are harsh times. You cannot temporarily inject your bottom line with bad profits and expect it won’t impact your reputation and the reputation of all credit unions. 

Remember, we were founded to promote thrift and to provide loans for provident and productive purposes only.

When we moved to Long Island earlier this year I began to fly Southwest Airlines almost exclusively. I was the “Queen of the Sky” with United. 100K mile flyer three years in a row and only 40K shy of reaching the coveted “million mile flyer” mark. United doesn’t fly out of Islip Airport (US Scareways does, and they are code share partners but woah……).

In all those years and miles with United I’ve had a few kindnesses thrown my way. Once a pilot sent handwritten notes on the back of his business card to all First Class passengers. That was pretty cool. But for the most part, the perks I received were built into their frequent flyer program. Clearly displayed in their rules. Nice, but not “wow.” It’s what I expected for the amount of money I’ve spent on their tickets.

Last night I received a “wow” from Southwest. 

A very simple thank you in the form of a gorgeous luggage tag. 


They don’t know that I’ve flown United for 9 years faithfully – all they know is, I’m new to their world and I seem to be flying them more than the average passenger. So they thanked me.

It got me thinking about the way we onboard our new members. Southwest didn’t “bribe” me to fly with them. They never do – they have a good reputation and they were convenient to my new airport so I tried them out. 

When I signed up for their Rapid Rewards program, they didn’t send me a welcome letter trying to “push” their other products (routes). I flew more with them because I liked the inflight experience very much. The people are pleasant, they don’t charge you for sodas, pillows, aisle seats and luggage. And they give you as many peanuts as you want – for free. In today’s flying world – that is huge!

They already had my loyalty – this little luggage tag sealed the deal for me. 

What are you doing to track your most loyal members? Most credit unions know how many services per household, on average, they have across the board. But do you know the names of the members who have the highest services per household? Have you done anything special for them this year? 

I feel like we sometimes treat members like a sick little notch on the bedpost. Okay – got that one. Goal achieved. Now let’s see if we can get another one. 

Can you imagine standing in line to board a plane, you’ve paid for your ticket, you’re a very loyal customer and some marketing person is offering FREE tickets to passersby…….that’s what marketing bribes feel like to existing, loyal members. 

This year we have to see retention as the new acquisition. No more begging for business. Figure out how to make your current members feel special. Reward their loyalty and show them you love them. 

They will in turn, market – or blog – about you to their friends! That’s loyalty economics: 101.

p1-deerheadlightsI’m heading up to Saratoga Springs today to speak for the Credit Union Association of NY’s Annual Meeting. My first break-out session is entitled: 2009 Reasons to Question Everything. In 50 minutes I need to help credit unions look at the past and help them prepare for the future. Or, said another way, if I were to facilitate your planning session this year, this is what I feel your board needs to think about.

Their values. I know that sounds all touchy feely and some of you may be thinking -we already have corporate values. Yes, but do you practice them like a religion? Corporations don’t have values, people do.

Since late 2008, credit unions have been in a “thrown situation.”

Imagine you’re driving down the road at night. It’s raining, windshield wipers are flapping at full speed, there’s a fog developing, the road is windy with no street lights – it’s white knuckle time. Now imagine a deer steps out of the woods in front of your car. You are in a “thrown situation.” You can’t not react. You don’t have time to really access all of your options, so you do what your gut tells you to do – or your values.

Now some of you may, without hesitation, will hit the deer. Others will no doubt swerve to avoid hitting the deer knowing they may plow into a tree to do it. Neither decision is right or wrong or for me to judge. It is what it is. What you value. Personally, I’d be a swerver.

Anyway – when the NCUA announced that they needed restablilization – some of us hit the deer – others chose to swerve, and some, well just froze – deer in the headlights as it were. 

Never before have we felt more divided, in my opinion. When I hear a CEO that I greatly admire say “Philosophy doesn’t pay the bills.” I think what? When did that happen? 

When credit unions get coverage like this – I think we need to have a discussion about values. 

The 7 cooperative principles are not suggestions. They really are our doctrine. What we should practice religiously. Accepting TARP, in my opinion, would’ve been changing religions. Congress saved us from ourselves on that one by pointing out that we are a “not for profit well capitalized financial cooperative” and would not get taxpayer bailout money. Whew. Dodged a bullet. 

But by even bellying up to that trough we are getting lumped in with new regulation

Our reputation needs some mending. This year, at your strategic planning session I think it’s a great time to really talk about what you value. If you’re not on the cooperative bus, maybe you need to pull the string and get off.

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August 2009