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keepitcoopHave you ever planned a really big event? Something you’ve worked on for months? Lots of moving parts, lots of meetings, many calls, legal crap of course, but tons of fun stuff too?

And then that day comes.  You wake up with butterflies in your stomach. You’ve dreamt about everything that could go wrong – you’re surprised just how organized you are.  It’s in the universe’s hands now.

And so was that day for me – last Wednesday. The first annual Keep It Co-Op Community Concert at the Santa Fe Railyard starring singer/songwriter Craig Carothers and Grammy Award winner Don Henry.

This moment was actually years in the making for me. Without boring you with the details I was able to combine three things I really love into one perfect moment:

1 – Craig Carothers – see Chapter 3 of my first book for the backstory on why I love Craig so much.

2 – Santa Fe, New Mexico – the first time I ever visited the City Different I made a vow – I would retire (aka die) here.

3 – Credit Unions – I am so proud of what I’ve helped build here in Northern New Mexico with our Keep It Co-Op! Campaign

And so I give you…..the perfect moment. Oh, and picture a light summer breeze…sitting in a lawn chair…….and this happens.

Mark turned 50 earlier this year and I had no idea what to get him to celebrate the big day.

After all, I got a cordless Dyson on my 50th, so the pressure was really on.

My friend Matt suggested I buy him the “Up” band by Jawbone.  It’s kind of like the Nike fuel band, but a little tougher looking.  Mark’s a gadget guy so it was the perfect gift. And to make it even more meaningful I got a matching one. We were going to get fit together.

Jawbone-UpThis thing is like Santa – it knows when you are sleeping, it knows when you’re awake – seriously. It tracks heavy (snoring) sleeping, light sleeping, when you get up in the middle of the night to pee. How long it took you to fall back to sleep after getting up. It was crazy.

You can set it to buzz after so many minutes of being idle. A subtle reminder to get off your fat arse and move around. You can log in your food intake. You can invite other people to watch you sleep.  It tells you when the battery charge is getting low – three days in advance.

It’s the most annoying thing I’ve ever owned – and one morning when it kept buzzing/bugging me I ripped it off and tossed it in a bathroom drawer. And there it sits. Alone, in the dark. Wondering what I’m eating.

I think the reason I hated the Up band so much was the dependency of the thing. The same reason I chose to not have children. They always want attention – you have to keep feeding them (so I’m told) and make sure they go to bed on time, etc. Who needs it?

Mark on the other hand LOVES his Up band. Just one more gadget to watch instead of talking with me. Mark has two iPhones, an internet radio, and a weather station on his night stand and sleeps with the UP band around his wrist. He knows precisely the temperature and humidity level outside, and how heavy the morning traffic is on the Edens.

We have an Octane Fitness elliptical trainer in our home. Mark works out almost every day on that thing. He has also entered into a competition at work through Nuvita. He wears a heart rate monitor while working out so he can reach his target cardio level,  the eliptical tracks calories burned so that can be charted, and then he logs in his minutes, uploads his steps on the Up band. It’s his Nirvana and he looks great.

I think I”m going to strap on my sneakers and go for a walk.

As many of you know, I live with a CFO.

I know.

But he has taught me a lot about how the financials of a credit union work. There are a lot of moving parts to say the least. But what always strikes me as absurd is in observing trends in financials and – well that’s it. Just staring down the numbers.  Too often credit unions only keep their eye on the scoreboard – and never pull their head up to get in the game.

One of my favorite quotes from Peter Drucker:

“An enterprise’s purpose begins on the outside with the customer…it is the customer who determines what a business is, what it produces, and whether it will prosper.

I think there is still some belief that we can control volume with the rate. Up or down, our products will increase or decrease as we will it. Not so anymore. You can’t have the best rates in the market anymore. Let me explain. 1.99% vs. 2.49% is not enough difference anymore, and loyal members are figuring it out.

My latest obsession is what I call “Reputation Risk.” If the customer/member is determining your profitability – how are you measuring how that member feels about their experience with your product? The obvious solution is Net Promoter Score – and you know I’m a huge fan.

But I’m diving a little deeper and seeing some trends that may sound the alarm on reputation risk.

Potential Alarm #1 – Your loan approval rate.  How many people do you say “no” to?
Potential Alarm #2 – The average age of your BORROWER. It’s likely 2-5 years older than your membership
Potential Alarm #3 – The percentage of fee income to total income. Watch out for “bad profits”

I’m going to be speaking on September 10th for the new CU Watercooler Talks about this exciting new project. Come join me!

Here are the facts:

2011 marked the beginning of retirement for Baby Boomers

Many Boomers borrowed from their 401(K) plans to get them through the recession

Many Boomers were led to believe home prices would more or less double every decade, a belief that many baby boomers to neglect retirement savings.

Jane White, author of “America: Welcome to the Poorhouse,” explains that many boomers will still have mortgages and home equity loans when they’re ready to retire – something past generations didn’t have to worry about.

But this is something credit unions do need to worry about.  For the first time in credit union history the largest generation IN US history is going to die with enormous debt. And unless they are insured, that debt goes to their estate – which most won’t have – so it will go to your charge-offs.

Did you know that the average age of the credit union borrower is 2-5 years OLDER than the average age of their entire membership?

Why is this?

your-credit-scoreBecause we live and die by the bloody credit score. I personally hate FICO.  It’s not logical, almost impossible to decipher and until you have one, you are nobody. And who’s the idiot that decided the number wasn’t enough – let’s attach a grade to it. A, B, C, D……….sound familiar?

You can’t un-see a C credit score.  We are so conditioned to judge people by that stupid number we’ve stopped hearing their stories. In this economy a lot of people – good people – struggled with their debt.

But let’s talk about the group that is seriously discriminated against. Those with NO score. And how do you get a score? You have to get credit. Somewhere else……

That’s why Team 2 of the FIlene’s i3 program decided to subvert FICO by literally gaming it.

We have recruited 20 young adults with no credit score, approved them for a $500.00 VISA card and in six months, the person with the highest score wins $500.00! But more importantly, they will all be on their way to being somebody.

We are off to the races!

I think in music videos. And since MTV and VH1 don’t air them anymore I have to rely on my own versions.

I can be sitting in an airport and music pops in my head and suddenly I have created a video montage around me.  If I had the time, talent, software and money – I would make videos all day long.  I love it when a character dies or someone is kicked off of a reality show and music plays and they do the slow-mo synopsis of their time on earth/TV.

aa_solsbury_hill_10Stop and think for a minute what your video would look like? The highlights, the low lights and now I challenge you to come up with your theme song.

My theme song has always been Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel.  It’s a rare autobiographical song dealing with his break as lead singer of Genesis and anticipation of his new challenge as a solo artist.  I have been able to identify with that feeling many times in my life.

My heart going Boom, Boom, Boom.

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.

WEEDSIt 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! ?

Just sayin……

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August 2013