3 strategies for small credit union success

by Sarah Marshall, North Side Community Federal Credit Union

Small credit union executives wear a lot of hats. It keeps work interesting, but it can also involve being pulled in a lot of different directions. Small credit union CEOs need to be strong generalists; having working knowledge of regulation and compliance, lending, investment management, human resources, customer service, marketing, policy and more. In all of this mix, sometimes it is difficult to think about growth and long term success strategies. Here a few strategies for building a strong institution ready for growth.

1.Partner: You can’t do it alone. Work closely with other institutions in the community on outreach, programming and financial education. Most credit unions offer some level of financial education to our members, but it is important to remember that many organizations really are thinking actively about the financial well-being of their communities. Your local political officials, non-profits, and religious institutions are thinking in some way about the financial health of the people they serve. Sometimes a conversation can spark some big ideas, and a strong partner can increase your impact. Don’t forget about outsourcing some tasks either. Yes, you could do the monthly member newsletter in addition to the underwriting loans. However, there are many skilled and talented consultants who can enhance your capacity without the need to hire a full time employee. To excel, your credit union sometimes needs to stop doing everything in house.

2.Plan like you are big: It is ok to have big plans and goals as a small credit union. Growth starts somewhere. Clearly, there are capital and balance sheet constraints to growth. Not every growth plan can be completed and executed in a year, but plan for the big things. Start building bigger projects into your plans and you may be surprised how and where the resources appear to execute them, especially when they are top of mind. Put things in your budget, and figure out where and how to increase income to grow the revenue to execute the project. Don’t stay status quo.

3.Participate: Leave time in your schedule to attend trainings, conferences and networking events more than once or twice a year. Learning enhances expertise and can improve operations. However, the value of getting to a conference and having a drink or dinner with industry peers or community partners cannot be overstated. It is easy to make excuses not to do these things in a pile of operational busyness, but these meetings are the key conversations that spark strategic thinking. Sometimes the informal sources of information are the most critical, leading to ideas, competitive knowledge and resources that are not otherwise accessible. Make sure you are getting out of your branch – as a small credit union leader, you are not just an office manager! You are the external face of your organization.

And last but not least, don’t forget succession planning! One of the downfalls of small credit unions is the transition of a long term CEO. Some executives at small organizations almost entirely carry the weight of the organization. A lot of institutional knowledge and strategy is lost when a CEO with a long tenure leaves a small credit union. Be prepared for it – CEOs will want to leave or retire some day. If the goal is the longevity of the credit union, prepare for it far in advance. Give your credit union time to train a key employee into the role or comfortably prepare for a longer search. Running a small credit union is a unique role, and finding the right fit will take time. Small credit unions are vital financial institutions, and their success is important to their communities. It is possible to do well as a small institution, but it takes some thoughtful thinking!

Sarah Marshall

Sarah Marshall

Sarah Marshall is a consultant in the credit union industry, and can be reached for partnership and speaking opportunities through Your Credit Union Partner. Her background in community development includes ... Web: https://yourcupartner.org Details