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I heard a great story last week. It was 1934, in Tacoma, Washington. The story begins in a stairwell at City Hall and involves a cigar box.

Wooden_Cigar_BoxIf you were to start a story with those details and be speaking to someone outside the credit union movement they would probably imagine all kinds of scenarios. But if you’re a credit union junkie, like me, you know where this story is going. It’s the formation of a credit union.

In 1934, my parents had not been born yet. There was no television, internet, microwave ovens, copy machines, email, cell phones, frozen pizza, iPads, bottled water, or air conditioning. There were plenty of banks however. And yet people felt compelled to take their paychecks out of a bank and put it into a cigar box in someone’s desk drawer. Why was that?

Common bond. They knew each other, they trusted each other.  It was a simpler time. Money went in the cigar box, and if someone needed to borrow money from the box, a group of their peers (credit committee) would decide if the purpose was provident and for productive purposes. A note was signed and the loan was made. The depositors received a reward (dividend) for trusting the system and have the satisfaction that they helped a co-worker. For decades these common bond credit unions had ZERO competition. We created credit union competitors when we adopted the community charter.

There would be no marketing department in the cigar box credit union for decades. The members were the marketers. The HR department was the ongoing new member drive. The decisions of the credit committee determined the success of the loan promotion. When it was time to formalize out of the cigar box the 1st branch was really the “break room.” Member/owners/co-workers would run the banking errand on their break at their credit union. Positive word-of-mouth was essential for survival.

Fast forward to today – common bond is all but a thing of the past. We have computers that make all the decisions for loan approval in a nano-second. We periodically have “Membership Bribes” to attract new people. We prefer members use the ATM, or online banking rather than come into a branch. There is no common bond. And don’t tell me that “lives, works, worships, in a 12 county area is a common bond.” Oh, and if you have your territory description on your website, please take it down. It’s embarrassing.

Unless your founding story has been tarnished beyond belief (Enron’s Credit Union comes to mind) I think it is our duty to tell it. To preserve it. It’s what makes us unique. It helps to remind us that we are merely the custodians of this history at this point in time.

And here’s your challenge – finding that common bond again. You need to target an audience in that vast territory that you have claimed. Otherwise you will become just another “me too” financial institution marketing with shiny happy people shlepping your 25 bp car loan advantage to people who could care less.

What is your story today? What is your vision for the future? Who will you serve? How will you make the competition irrelevant?

Again.

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One credit union trend I love is the “All Staff Training Day” Taking an obscure holiday like Columbus Day – remaining closed – and going off-site to a fun place for the entire staff to learn, laugh, bond, eat and receive logo SWAG.

I have had the honor to be the guest speaker at many of these events. I’ve seen CEOs dress up like bikers, HR Directors in a Pickle Costume tossing rubber pickles into the crowd, amazing and funny videos, but most of all I get to see tellers smile.

You see, I started my career as a teller. And I loved being a teller. I loved the validation that comes at the end of every day that is the balancing of the cash drawer.  Tangible evidence of your greatness. And a sense of completion that you rarely get once you move into management.

I also remember just how much control I had over the Credit Union’s reputation.  Which is to say I had the ultimate control. And I used my powers for good – always.

Most credit union’s travel budgets look like this:

travelbudget.001

So, I’m available for your next staff training day.  I’m holding Columbus Day, Veteran’s Day and MLK Day for whomever contacts me first.

Email me for more information denise@6thstory.com.

And if you don’t need me this year – tell your friends. Seriously, if you know someone that has access to the CUNA Training List Serv thingy – love to get a shout out.

This is the message I sent to the staff of Del Norte Credit Union last Friday.
What you Do Matters

brandyou2012.004My first job was as a serving wench for ‘Enry Beazely’s Fish-n-Chips in Portland, Oregon. My first boss was – you guessed it – Mr. Beazely. 

On my first day he told me “Denise, we are put on this earth to serve. And when you are serving others, and that can mean pumping tartar sauce in a cup, you are doing work that MATTERS.” 

From that day forward I made a vow that I would always do work that mattered. And that’s why I love credit unions – we are here to serve our members, and if we’re not directly serving them we are serving someone that is. 

Know that what you do, every single day at Del Norte, matters.
It’s been my honor to serve you.

Denise Wymore

And so there you have it. Today I begin a new journey as Co-Founder of PrincipleSix.  The name comes from the sixth cooperative principle: Cooperation among Cooperatives. I truly believe we are better together. Our market share remains stagnant because we steal members from each other – not from the real enemy – big banks.

Oh, and I found out that members DO care that we are a cooperative. They might not use that word – but when you emphasize that you are local, not a bank, don’t charge ridiculous fees, have better service and give back to your community – it matters to them.

Will everyone in your marketplace care? No, of course not. But it’s a difference we need to honor.  I have first hand knowledge of the success that can come from sharing branches, sharing advertising costs, and innovating to solve problems.

I am drunk with power, I just bought a $400 suitcase and learned that I can project Keynote from my iPad. Life is good.

Hope to see you soon.

UPDATE: Lesson learned. Just because the URL is available it does not mean the name is available. There exists a wonderful group of grocery store co-ops that call themselves P6 but registered their name is PrincipleSix. We talked with them – nice folks – and in the spirit of cooperation we have decided to not use PrincipleSix.

I am proud to announce that I am Co-Founder of 6th Story. Telling your credit union’s story using the sixth cooperative principle. Good stuff to come.

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.

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.

KeepItCoOpLogo

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.

keepitcoop.001

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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