Let’s talk about reality – the credit union movement is an older movement, and in some cases older founders are still engaged and involved in their institution. The first credit union society was formed in Germany in 1849, and it was in the early 1900s that North America saw this model replicated locally. Our movement was founded during a time where technology was non-existent, when towns still had important local buildings as gathering places, and communication was much slower. Our brick-and-mortar institutions have served us well over the years. At our small credit union, so many of our members tell us their first or best experience with a financial institution was at a credit union. The legacy we have built as an industry is strong and proud. It is also amazing how many members will go out of their way to use our services, even when we aren’t the most convenient providers.
In the early-2000s, a company called ING Direct launched in the US. Its model was simple – deposit accounts were online, with a few ‘cafés’ throughout the country. It offered a slightly higher rate in exchange for lack of access to brick-and-mortar. It felt a bit revolutionary at the time, and I recall it even feeling a bit scary to send money to my account with them. ING Direct US was acquired by CapitalOne and is now the 8th largest U.S Bank by deposit accounts. The idea caught on – maybe bricks-and-mortar aren’t always the most important feature of a deposit account. But why are we talking about banks? Because the financial industry is still changing and evolving. Mobile apps, remote deposit capture, Virtual Tellers and Fintech are not going to go away. Brick-and-mortar is still relevant, but many leaders in the industry know that we need to engage millennials over the long term to stay sustainable. Millennials are the most connected generation, many having grown up always using technology. Our college students today can’t imagine not having a cell phone to communicate with friends. Millennials are more engaged, and more connected to social causes than prior generations. Credit unions, with our community orientation, can capitalize on this fact that the current generation entering the workforce wants to be socially responsible. This is our next generation of member, as well as what our next generation of manager, then later what our industry leaders and CEOs will look like. Diversity in staffing is important, and having multiple generations in the same workplace is a huge advantage to any organization. Older, experienced employees have expertise and skills that are invaluable to the stability of a credit union while younger employees can bring a fresh perspective and draw attention to rapidly changing industry trends. Therefore, it’s important to have an engaged organization where sharing and learning happens and employees can learn from the best of what each generation has to offer.
- Make Sure Employees are Engaging Cross-Departmentally: Organizational silos prevent learning. They also prevent understanding of the challenges that your teammates are facing. Do the best you can to have departments (even if you are very small) engage other departments in the process of product launches, collections, member-onboarding, and general operations. Ideas come from communicating across perspectives.
- Allow Staff to Cross-Train in Areas Outside their Roles: While it is important for isolation of duties for dual-control purposes, people often find they have strengths in areas of interest. If your credit union is larger, consider establishing a mentor program between veteran employees and new employees. Younger employees may be interested in figuring out what their long term career interests are and enjoy the opportunity to learn about opportunities to growth within the organization or industry.
- Provide Opportunities for Autonomous Decision Making within Boundaries: All credit unions are guided by policy and compliance requirements, and we all must be responsive to regulatory changes. However, whenever and wherever possible, give creative control to staff. Give some flexibility in decisions about member service, and have a platform for employee feedback. Give newer employees to the industry to stretch and make mistakes within appropriate boundaries.
Creating an organization committed to growth requires a willingness to change. In smaller organizations, it is often observed that a role becomes defined by the strengths and skills of the individual managing the responsibility. A job description can evolve based on what one individual can bring to the table. The industry is changing. We must preserve the important legacy that our founders have left us, but we must also recognize where we need to change in order to remain relevant. New voices and new faces provide the opportunity to think differently, and we can develop a strong onboarding program for our younger employees.