CUNAʼs Chief Advocacy Officer, Ryan Donovan, has said “Every interaction that [credit unions] have with a member, is a story that can be told. It contributes to data that helps prove the impact.” According to Donovan, many credit unions are sitting on this “advocacy gold”. But why?
This goldʼs value has only increased in recent years. According to a study out of Washington University and Vrity, The majority of people care about – and are willing to make financial decisions – based on values. Vrityʼs CEO says about values, “Itʼs the new differentiator for brands and the genie is never going back into the bottle.” With 82% of consumers identifying that they would pay more for a value-aligned brand, and 43% would pay twice as much, our 24 karat gold is what consumers are looking for.
So, why arenʼt credit unions doing a better job of telling everyone —showing their gold — from the very highest roofs ? Specifically, what makes their value alignment better. Why are mission-based financial institutions either sitting quietly on the sideline, or (worse yet) simply following behind banks, neobanks and fintechs that are leaning into the warm-fuzzies and compassion?
Every credit union person Iʼve met has a story to share about why credit unions are special. The passion and enthusiasm for the credit union movement runs strong through all layers of the organizations, with people excited to share with me their stories of member and community impact. Yet, the data gathered by Advancing Communities and CUSocial Good – programs specifically designed to support highlight and share credit union gold – is fractured at best.
I recently explored the “why”, “how”, and “why-itʼs-not-happening” in a panel discussion with Chris Morris from CUNA, Jay Kruse from Dakota Credit Union Association, and Eric Berg from NetGiver. The conversation highlighted the importance of capturing and sharing our credit union stories, and that these stories impact advocacy and legislative opportunities, membership growth, as well as buy-in and loyalty from members and employees.
With our stories being so very valuable, what then stops us from sharing? I propose that the reason is two-fold; History and Fear
Credit unions began by serving sections of the community. If you were a pipe-fitter, you belonged to Pipe Fitters Credit Union. Credit unions knew who their members were, and the converse was true. However that changed (and Iʼm generalizing here,) in the late 90ʼs with the passing of the Credit Union Membership Access Act which authorizes credit unions to have multiple common bonds among their memberships. With new opportunities for membership, the persona of our members became less focused and less clear. This caused a communication issue. Credit unions now have to reach out, proactively, to their community in which they are no longer the obvious or only choice. Putting forward a unique value proposition became suddenly imperative to the growth of credit unions, and a challenge for many who do not have the experience necessary or resources available to pivot and expand messaging.
Itʼs like this, imagine youʼve always had your eye on the ball. That ball was communicating your value to the people who already knew you. You offer personalized service, you provide lower rates on loans. You know exactly how to share that information with your captive audience. When your audience is no longer a select group, but now open and accessible, the ball gets lost in the sun. What happens? We freeze. We wait. We canʼt see it anymore … and now we have fear. Fear that we donʼt know what to do next. Fear of changing how weʼve always done things. Fear of failing.
Our brains are designed to find comfort in knowing. A study in 2010 asked a group of individuals to view a painting that they were told was from 1905, whereas the second group seeing the same artwork was told that it was painted in 2005. The 1905 group rated the painting far more pleasing aesthetically than the other group. As a people, we trust things that have stood the test of time, are familiar, pre-qualified and vetted over the new and untried.
Our history as closed membership financial institutions, and a fear of changing our time-tested methods, stymy and prevent us from exploring, accumulating – and dare I say – spending, our own GOLD. When asked what makes credit unions different from other financial institutions, the most common answer I hear is “weʼre a member owned bank”. What we could be leaning into with truer embodiment than any other financial institution, is the value alignment lived every day through the credit union mission.
During the panel discussion, attendees were asked: “Does your credit union formally share the stories of how you serve your community?” Out of about 75 people, only 5 proudly raised their hands. If we look at that very casually collected data and extrapolate out, we are only capturing 6% of the gold that we generate. Whether in a financial role or not, letting 94% of gold slip uselessly through our fingertips, is an immense waste of valuable resources.
Perhaps by identifying the hurdles, we can face the next question: How do credit unions extend beyond what we have done historically, and how do we get past our fear of change? How do we capture our gold?