Bringing life to new ideas through credit union partnerships

“Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.” -Franklin D. Roosevelt

Competition within the financial marketplace has never been more intense. With the continual rise of new startups, technology and innovation, credit unions must find ways to compete in this race towards consumer relevancy.

As credit unions juggle new priorities and explore ways to evolve within that marketplace, there’s an engrained, but often overlooked solution, that is changing the game for credit unions like Conexus Credit Union and Innovation Credit Union: cooperative innovation.

Allies in innovation

In 2014, Conexus Credit Union and Innovation Credit Union realized they had similar needs in an overlapping market – both were looking for a reliable, internal source for financial services innovation to better serve their members and keep up with the ever-evolving needs of their Saskatchewan communities, citizens and businesses.

Commonly in the system, cooperation is used between credit unions or service organizations to create efficiencies and share services.  But in this instance, Conexus and Innovation realized they could combine powers to create new pathways for innovation.

Both credit unions agreed to collaborate with the Filene Research Institute to launch an innovation group utilizing the Filene Method of innovation. Each credit union dedicated staff and resources to form small groups and explore various problems their members and communities are facing.

The program – modeled after Filene’s established i3 program – took approximately seven months to complete and the ultimate goal was to have the small groups research, formulate and pitch their ideas to the leadership of both credit unions in the fall of 2014.

Results in collaboration

After the dust settled, both credit unions realized value and success through their partnership. By the end of the project, two ideas put forth by the small groups were ready to progress into the building and implementation stages at both credit unions.

The two ideas included “CU Grow”, a program for entrepreneurs to partner with their credit union in growing their businesses outside traditional channels, and “Travel Mate,” a comprehensive travel service for members that provides financial security and access while traveling.

Future collaboration between Conexus and Innovation is expected to not just continue but expand, as both credit unions are making a long-term commitment to the partnership and to building out their collaborative innovation process.

Conexus CEO, Eric Dillon shared, “we are dedicating resources to ensure our efforts can continue in 2015 and beyond, and look forward to continuing to working with Filene as we grow our innovation culture from what we learned. This experience has created positive impact on our strategy and culture which will ultimately lead to even stronger outcomes for our members.”

Cooperation: our not-so-secret weapon

A recent Filene report, “Addressing the Growth Revenue Challenge”, noted that only a quarter of credit union leaders surveyed feel that building new products to attract new members is a priority, and only a third are prioritizing new products for existing members.

At the same time, new regulatory and compliance issues are shifting credit unions’ focus away from the need to foster innovation and implement it within internal processes.

For more than 150 years, credit unions have used our cooperative model to build a unique niche within the marketplace and better the lives of members.

By flexing their cooperative muscle, credit unions can still find ways to work together to create radical innovations and disrupt the marketplace together for years to come. But before we can do that, we need leaders like those at Conexus and Innovation Credit Unions to look beyond competition and realize the mutual value in collaboration.

Chad Helminak

Chad Helminak

Chad is the Chief Impact Officer at the National Credit Union Foundation. Web: Details