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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