2014 GAC CUSO Guide

by. Kirk Drake

If you work for a credit union or are on a credit union board – You may have heard about CUSO’s or Credit Union Service Organizations. In many credit unions, CUSO’s provide critical operational services and generate much needed income.  The role of CUSO’s is expanding rapidly.  It is time we all learn more about CUSO’s.

CUNA’s GAC or Government Affairs Conference for the most part focuses on political action within the credit union movement. Nonetheless, because so many credit union executives come to Washington, DC a lot of vendors and CUSOs come too. Even though CUSO’s are OWNED by credit unions, it has been my experience that they are largely overlooked, not asked to  participate in most of the political advocacy and are lumped into the general “Vendor” category. In reality, I think CUSO’s are one of the most important – if not THE most important way for innovation, adaptability, and differentiation credit unions have and are crucial to the long term viability of the industry. As a CUSO fanatic, I wanted to help promote CUSO’s as a whole at GAC and have thus created this GAC – CUSO Guide.

What makes a CUSO different from Vendors?

Essentially, just like a credit union is member owned and that makes it special – the exact same thing is true about CUSOs. Credit Union ownership in strategic partners ensures that credit unions have a voice, can emphasize their priorities, and can customize the services for either themselves or their membership.  The people who run many CUSOs are often experienced credit union professionals who are providing the same services to multiple credit unions under the CUSO that they used to provide to a single credit union as that credit union’s employee.  It also means when the CUSO wins financially, the credit union clients and owners also win.  There are no non-credit union shareholders to please.  Many jointly owned CUSOs pay handsome dividends to their credit union owners, in addition to saving them money on the services provided and generating revenue through products and services a credit union cannot offer directly, but can through a CUSO.

How do CUSO’s enable collaboration?

CUSO’s provide the business structure to foster collaboration among credit unions. My experience has been that in order to create sustained collaborative efforts that transcend management teams and CEO relationships a CUSO is necessary. CUSO’s create an independent neutral zone that enables all parties to work for the common good – occasionally at an individual or organizations detriment. Without this – tough business decisions and issues cannot be dealt with efficiently. Sometimes these decisions are key for the health of the organization and ability to achieve something that as one we cannot. Ultimately, the board governance, shared business ideals, joint problem solving, and industry focus breeds increased trust and collaboration which yields innovative ideas and businesses that reshape the industry. It isn’t that collaboration won’t occur without a CUSO, I find it just makes it much tougher.

continue reading »