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So I’m driving into work this morning listening to Pandora on my iPhone through my car stereo and something new happened. About every 3rd song a nice young woman comes on and says “Would you like to listen to Pandora without interruption? You can for only $36.00 a year. Just click on the button on your mobile device.”

My commute is about 45 minutes. I heard the ad about three times.

For just $3.00 a month I could listen interruption free. That’s good pricing. I signed up.

The psychology of parting with the value of our time turned into money fascinates me. So let’s look at the 3 dollar dilemma.

  • I will pay $3.00 a month to avoid commercials on Pandora for my drive in to work but
  • I will bitch about paying $3.00 a gallon for the gas I’m burning on that commute.
  • I won’t think twice about paying $3.00 for the cup of coffee I’ll buy at Starbucks on my way but
  • I resent paying $3.00 to get money out of an ATM to pay for my Starbucks.

I heard Bank of America is going to start charging for checking! Outrageous! Greedy bastards.

How can they charge people to have global 24/7/365 access to their money?

Would your members pay $3.00 a month for that convenience?

Older does not mean wiser. That’s what we like to tell ourselves, to forgive ourselves. But who are we kidding?

I learned something very valuable from my 22 year old niece today.

Just be yourself. No matter what – it’s all you have. If the world doesn’t like it – so be it. But if you can live with and love yourself – you will be infinitely happy.

When little Amanda was a toddler she made me laugh. And not in the, oh, how cute, you’re a little person and we’re trained to think you’re cute, to encourage your cuteness. Nope. This kid was funny. She had timing. She had confidence. She never demanded an audience, she loved herself and was happy in her body. She was so fun to watch. I could tell even then, she was something special.

She became a teenager. And she developed a style all her own. She didn’t so much eschew the fashion trends as she completely established them – for her world. If you took Molly Ringwald’s fashion independence in Pretty in Pink and crossed her with Ellen Page’s attitude in Juno – you would have my niece Amanda.

A couple of years ago Leonard Nimoy (yes, Spock) put out a call to Northampton, Mass (where my niece lives) residents to “come as you are” to be photographed. She queued up. She said Mr. Nimoy was incredibly nice, made her feel completely at ease as he photographed her.

Well, she heard her photo made the “Secret Selves” exhibit due to open at MASS MoCa later this month.

And today, The New York Times called her. They would like to interview her about the Nimoy photo. Needless to say, she was pretty damned excited.

So let’s say she does get a write up in the New York Times. I know it will not change my niece. It’s just another stop on her journey through life. It’s a bonus. She doesn’t need some outside force to recognize her greatness – she is happy to be here and happy to be her.

I love you Amanda.

Aunt Denise

Be present.

That’s what Kevin Carroll asked us to do at the closing keynote session of The 1 Conference in Las Vegas this month. 2800 people from 60 countries were present, but he asked us to truly be present. Put your cell phones down. Pay attention. Listen.  Because he was about to tell his story.

At the age of 2, his father left, never to be seen again.  At the age of 6, three weeks after he started school, his mom picked him and his two brothers up from school and drove into the night. Finally arriving at an old trailer. She instructed them to stay put – and promised she would be back. One day went by – then two days – then three days. After five days Kevin took a stand and told his older brother “I’m going to go tell on mommy. She broke a promise.”

His grandfather wisely made the children memorize his phone number in case they were ever in trouble. He went next door and asked a complete stranger to call him in Philadelphia. The neighbor agreed to take these boys to the Greyhound station and ask the driver if he would please trust that these three young boys would be picked up in Philly and the bus fare paid. Finally he found himself in the safety of family. As soon as he arrived at his grandparents house he asked if he could go out and play. Being stuck and afraid for days in the trailer resulted in some pent up energy that he had to let go.

The playground was empty. Except for a red rubber ball. You know the kind. The one you played dodge ball with, or four-square, kick ball, whatever. Having no one to play with, he made up his own game.  He would kick the ball in the air and yell out a random number. That number was how many times the ball could bounce before he retrieved it. He was a fast little kid and could move. He was lost in this game. Then some kids arrived, intrigued, watching him play this weird new sport. They asked if they could join him.  Of course he said yes, and so he played that day. And the next. And the next with these kids in his neighborhood. And for the first time in his young life, he felt like he belonged. He was a part of a group, with a common bond. That sense of belonging was powerful and he never forgot it. It saved him.

Kevin has been a member of a credit union since 1980. In 2005, First Tech Credit Union in Beaverton, Oregon had the courage to help him start his own business.

Today Kevin holds a Master’s degree, has served in the Air Force, worked in the athletic department of the Philadelphia 76ers, was a catalyst for change at Nike, and now is the author of three bestselling books. All based on this red rubber ball and how you can elevate your game through the hidden power of play.

As Kevin was speaking, I noticed the CUNA logo illuminated on the curtains behind him. In the center is our red rubber ball. Suddenly I looked at this old logo with fresh eyes. I’m not sure what it was originally supposed to represent – but today it should signify “a sense of belonging.” The true credit union difference.

You don’t join a bank – you become their customer.

Membership should matter. We can never forget that.

I have been so busy with my new job that I haven’t been staying up on the news. And by that I don’t mean the local “if it bleeds it leads” downer or the national “you elected him, now let’s see if he can get re-elected” rhetoric. I mean the stuff that is happening around the credit union world. In small offices, with real people. Things that matter. People helping people. You know – stuff we’re supposed to care about.

I read on just now that may become a bank. I’m excited for them. Competition is good and innovation is better…this PFM model should not be overlooked.  But the article, at this point, is speculation. It was not confirmed by and says that it comes on the heels of their major competitor, folding. I had no idea. And it makes me sad.

I met  co-founder Jason Knight several years ago at BarCampBank San Francisco. He was so passionate about the Wesabe model. And everyone there was enthralled by his vision. A few months later Jason resigned from Wesabe because of personal reasons.

Co-founder Marc Hedlund took over as CEO. The website now has a personal, real,transparent, heart felt message from Marc explaining why they are closing down.

Wesabe had the balls to try. There, I said it. And they have the decency and integrity to explain why they must close. They cared about quality and security. And yet so many businesses that we deem “too big to fail” are bailed out with taxpayer money and allowed to continue – business as usual. And that business has nothing to do with caring for the customer – it’s all driven by the bottom line.

So I lift my glass to honor the pioneers at Wesabe. You will not be forgotten. We were moved by your vision and your spirit. Know that your efforts were not in vain. They challenged us and made us better people.

Marc and Jason –  we thank you.

I was just on iTunes getting my Glee soundtrack fix when I came upon this review, written by a 16 year-old:

“Obviously the original “Don’t Stop Believin'” can never be topped, but that’s not the point of this song. The point of this song, and of the show Glee, is to reinvent old classics for a younger audience, which is a good thing because then people in my generation can be exposed to really great music they otherwise wouldn’t know.”

It got me thinking about our Crasher friends and their latest adventure. You remember those kids that Crashed the GAC? Well, they’re back at it again, only this time in Vegas. And stuff is going to happen.

They are reinventing old classics for a younger audience. They have hijacked the credit union brand. And it makes my heart sing.

BRAND HIJACKING: is about allowing consumers (and other stakeholders) to shape brand meaning and endorse the brand to others. Its a way to establish true loyalty, as opposed to mere retention. We’re not just talking about creating hype here. We’re talking about a new template of going to market. We’re talking about a complex orchestration of many carefully though-out activities. And above all else, we’re talking about being willing to collaborate with a group of people you’re not used to collaborating with: Gen Y.

It’s summer. All of my favorite shows are in reruns. And so I find myself watching So You Think You Can Dance. If you’ve never experienced it – let me just say it’s the opposite of a freak show. Unlike American Idol auditions and America’s Got Talent (whatever that is about), these kids are seriously gifted artists. That’s what makes the show so intense.

Each week they are called upon by seasoned professionals to do the impossible. Learn and then publicly perform an amazingly difficult routine. Then they are  judged and declared “safe” to move on to another grueling week, or relegated to the bottom three where they have to do an impromptu dance off. FInally one of them is sent home or fired. It’s insane.

And so it got me thinking about our mission. Not for profit, not for charity, but for service. That’s it. We don’t have to do one of those impossible cartwheels where you don’t even put your hands down but rather rely on gravity and momentum to propel your body over while you subject your head to a hovering anchor. Nope. We just ask that you do what you promised. Return phone calls. Answer questions accurately. Pay attention. Care.

Can you imagine at the end of each work day that you are subjected to a video account of all of your moves?  In slow motion. Your mistakes. Your missteps. And there are judges that point out things like “Okay, and here’s where you let your phone ring….and ring…and you don’t pick it up.” Or “I don’t see you connecting with your audience – making eye contact. Your members don’t feel welcome.”

In this economy we need to step it up people. So you think you can out-serve the banks? Show me why you’re safe.

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July 2010