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There’s nothing like a good ol’ recession to make us question everything. It’s been said that people work together best, when there’s a crisis. That’s when we really pull together as a team.

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)

My hand is raised. I began my credit union career in 1980 as a teller for Pacific NW Federal Credit Union. Tom Sargent was the CEO. I kicked ass as a teller. Not only in the balancing area – I also had a “following.” Members who would wait for me, on their lunch hour, because I was their teller. I’m damn proud of that.

The other day I heard someone disparage their tellers. The conversation went something like this:

ME: Well, why don’t you let your tellers take care of that?

THEM: Oh, our tellers are not smart enough to figure that out?

ME: Why did you hire idiots? (okay, I didn’t actually say that but I wanted to).

I don’t know the exact number, but I would venture to say that at least 50% of our sitting CEOs started on the teller line. Like me, they moved their way up the food chain, and I believe have a better understanding of the true operations of a credit union. The ground truth, as it were.

Is it possible that our next batch of CEOs are in your lobby right now –  on their feet all day, barely making a livable wage, dealing with the most regulation in history, under the constant threat of robbery?

They say that in the next 5 years, a humungous chunk of sitting CU CEOs will retire (many were supposed to be gone already but the economy delayed departure). Too often I hear the cop-out phrase “Well I won’t be around to worry about it…” or “I retire in a year, it’s not my problem.”

My challenge to you: Mr. or Ms. CEO (formerly overworked, underpaid, bottom of the food chain teller) – we need to groom this next generation of CEOs.

Give them the same opportunity you had. It is your problem, you need to own it.

I’m speaking to a group of marketers today in the DC area. Just for fun, last night I Googled some of them to look at their calling cards – their website. It’s 2010. The world wide web just celebrated it’s 20th birthday – I expect great things.

I am not kidding when I say that the first 8 sites I pulled had the SAME look, tone and feel….and more importantly they all used SHINY HAPPY PEOPLE stock art. All of them.

Isn’t the marketer’s goal to differentiate? Especially in a crowded, noisy, over communicated market like DC? Can we find no better way to tell our story than with pictures of paid models appearing to love us?

Oh, it’s gonna be a fun day. Stay tuned……

I began my week with a bit of a scare. Some horrible rash attacked my entire face! It came on quite suddenly and with my history of allergies, asthma and related wheez-doggedness, it freaked me out. I went to the dermo who promptly punched me in the face and said we gotta send this to the lab.

Results came back – it’s official. I have atopic dermatitis. An allergy symptom of sorts that has robbed my skin of its youthful luster. Or put another way – I am now the girl with the ruddy complexion. We’re treating it with drugs and lotions and potions, but it’s with me for life. And guess what triggers it? Stress. Oh, that’s a relief.

Being a public speaker and consultant, this gave me pause. I mean, people shouldn’t judge you by the color of your skin (mine is a bright red and bumpy at the moment) but let’s face it, sometimes they do.

Luckily this week I was also fortunate enough to be a guest on not one, but two blog talk radio shows. The Liquid Lunch and Current Issues in Credit Unions. I have a face for radio now, so this made me quite happy. I also realize I have the face of a writer. I mean, let’s face it – get it – many writers never show their mug. I’m going to be the JD Salinger of the blog-o-sphere. Seriously. If you need a good writer for your blog – call me. I can write more than one.

And finally this week ended my long term, sometimes dysfunctional relationship with Saturn. As many of you know, I have been crazy in love with the Saturn brand since the beginning. I purchased five of them over the years. I named them Buttercup, Toonces, Goldie, Rosie and finally Sunkist. But GM killed the company and I’m left with a bitter feeling. So I called my local Saturn dealer upon hearing of their impending closure and basically said “Hey guys, why not do me a solid and buy this car from me so we can part as friends.”

They did just that. I drove to Vancouver Saturn, left my car and a copy of my first book, Tattoos: The Ultimate Proof of a Successful Brand. Saturn was Chapter 4 on my list of tattoo-worthy brands. On the inside cover I simply scribed:

“To my friends at Saturn. Thanks for a great ride.”

Cheers!

D.

This is why I love the blog-o-sphere. It gets my heart pumping in the morning so I don’t have to drink as much coffee. Thank you Jeffry Pilcher and Sarah Cooke. Seems they both followed Ron Shevlin’s advice on How to Generate Blog Comments – PPO (piss people off!)

The discussion is around whether or not the moniker “credit union” hurts us or helps us. It’s a great discussion to be sure.

So, what’s in a name? According to Alyce Cornyn Selby, author of the book that asks that question, pretty damn much everything. When you name a child – it’s probably one of the most important moments of your life. Luckily you have 9 months to think about it. So, let’s say the child disappoints you – change their name! To Buster. That’ll show him.

I’ve been pretty outspoken around the subject of name changes. Especially when a credit union takes a venerable class of professionals like teachers or healthcare and turns them into Generico CU.

But now it’s gone too far. The debate that is currently raging on attacks the “credit union” brand. I’ll admit it – I’ve never liked those two words. Credit. Union. But hey, it wasn’t my baby to name and now that he’s turned 100 years old, I say we show him some respect.

Our category. Our legal entity. Our history, heritage, reputation, and dare I say DIFFERENTIATOR is the fact that we are a member owned financial cooperative that is called a credit union.

If anyone should be clamoring to change their category name it should be banks. Banks are synonymous with failure, greed, taxpayer bailouts, corruption – pretty much bringing our economy to its knees!

I just think we need to nip this conversation in the bud, as it were.

Years ago I had the pleasure of working with Financial Resources Federal Credit Union. Their original sponsor (and still primary SEG) is Johnson & Johnson. They were never allowed to use the J&J brand, so they chose a rather benign name. In fact, very few members even used the name in conversation. Instead they referred to it as “their credit union” or, and this was my favorite “J&J’s credit union.”  There was great love for their club. And so these members marketed FOR the credit union. They would tell their family members they had to join their credit union.

Two key words in there – “join” and “their.” You don’t join a bank.

The argument on the CU Times and Financial Brand blogs is centered around public confusion. My favorite comment (and I mean this felt like a mainlined double espresso when I read it): “I agree with banishing the term “join a credit union” – it is misleading to the public.” Yikes. Just typing that made my hands shake again.

In his groundbreaking new book “Flip the Funnel” Joseph Jaffe asks this question: “What if we got it all wrong? On average 80%-90% of most marketing budgets are aimed at attracting a complete stranger. Offering iPods, cash, and better rates than they will give their loyal existing members

If you think about it, shouldn’t we be spending more money against qualified prospective buyers versus shots in the dark at bagging a random stranger? Of course we should. It’s a complete no-brainer.”

Fight the real enemy people. Give your field of membership a reason to care. And if you want to be a bank – go covert.

I’ve been with United Airlines for 10 years now. Yesterday I logged my 971,105th mile. And those are miles sitting in a damn seat on United. Paid trips. Not buying stuff at the mall. Nine hundred seventy one thousand one hundred and five miles.

Each year you have to re-qualify for your “status.” I get that. Last year I fell short of the 100K status I’ve enjoyed. BUT, once I hit one million miles (very soon) I will have lifetime status. Never have to re-qualify.

I have goals. I will log my 1 millionth mile with them.

Life in the Premier line isn’t bad. I still get to board the plane before most of the passengers, enjoy the express security lane and they consider all of my miles (lifetime) when I am on the wait list for a first class upgrade.

What I miss the most – the private number for 100K passengers. Even though I still know the number (have it memorized) the computer asks “To make sure we direct your call to the right place, please enter, or speak your mileage plus number…” And so off to India I go.

I was just told that to change a flight (which, btw, I tried to do online but it said I had to call) they had to call the service desk to manually recalculate the price. It would be about 10-15 minutes to do that – did I want to hold?

Yes. I will hold. I really need to change this flight. And so I listen to the Gershwin tune – over and over and over again…..on speaker phone….cutting in and out as I type furiously.…giving me hope that some United employee with a calculator will tell me how much more money I have to give them to fly in a middle seat on their lousy airline.

It’s hard to describe my frustration. And I thought writing this post would help, but I realize it’s really not. Only adding to it.

Because you see – no one at United cares. Even if I complain to the person who eventually will answer my call. Nothing will change. Sure, I could boycott them – that’ll show them.

On average I spend $45,000 on airline tickets per year. So you could say I’m coming up on a cool half million to fly one million miles with United. You’d think someone in their accounting department is doing the math.

Oh, and I just heard the breaking news – Tiger Woods is going to apologize for his behavior. Wow. That’s a relief. The world is right again……..

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