Credit unions replace the SWOT with the 5 Cs

Mark Arnold, CCUE, On the Mark Strategies

If you’ve spent any time at credit union planning meetings and retreats, odds are you know all about SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). While there is nothing inherently wrong with the SWOT approach of taking a situational analysis look at your credit union, there was also nothing wrong with the dinosaurs. And now they’re extinct.

We’re not saying scrap all your current SWOT efforts to the point of extinction. Again, it has its time, place and value as a tool in the credit union world. But just as Batman didn’t carry only one item in his super-cool utility belt, your credit union should not rely only on SWOT as a sort of competitive viability crystal ball. Perhaps it’s time to replace the SWOT Analysis with the 5C Analysis.

The 5 C Analysis (from takes the evolution of situational analysis a step further. Stating that “In order to profitably satisfy customer needs, the firm first must understand its external and internal situation, including the customer, the market environment, and the firm’s own capabilities. Furthermore, it needs to forecast trends in the dynamic environment in which it operates.”

This isn’t your father’s traditional SWOT analysis, where management and board sat around for a session while a facilitator pulled flip-chart duty and scribbled down every answer flung his direction. Rather, 5 C Analysis takes a deeper dive, zeroing in on the marketing applications inherent to internal and external dynamics shaping your credit union.

The 5 C’s of the 5 C Analysis are:

  • Company—What do we do? What do we sell?
  • Collaborators—With whom do we work to make it all happen?
  • Customers—Who is our target audience? Who do we need to reach?
  • Competitors—Who are we up against?
  • Climate/Context—What is happening in the industry? In technology and laws?

Explaining the 5 C Analysis approach, Harvard Business Review states “Before managers can begin to formulate marketing strategies for their businesses, they must have a strong understanding of the internal and external marketing environments in which they are operating.” In terms of addressing both internal and external environments, 5 C Analysis makes a strong case to be at least an equal player with SWOT.

While the levels of 5 C Analysis may look similar to the typical SWOT, they encourage us to dig deeper, both internally and externally. It also allows you to gauge the limits of control (or lack thereof) your credit union has over each of the five points.

A sample credit union 5 C Analysis might go a little something like this:

  1. Company (or Credit Union):  Don’t just rehash the vision and mission statements here. Why are you here? What do you do? What is your credit union about? A financial services alternative to those sick of big banks? Personal service? Better rates? In other words, what makes your credit union different?
  2. Collaborators:  Be expansive here. Who do you work with to make the above point happen? Fellow credit union staff? The members? Vendors? State credit union leagues? Local civic and government entities?
  3. Customers (or Members):  This is somewhat determined by your field of membership. Is it every employee at this hospital? Anyone that lives, works, goes to school or worships in a particular county? A member of a particular faith? Identify who you need to go after and make that happen. And don’t forget your most important audience: your current credit union membership. Keep them happy or not much else matters.
  4. Competitors:  Other credit unions. Banks, big and small. Pawn shops. Payday lenders. Insurance companies. Who else is providing similar (not better) products and services than your credit union?
  5. Climate/Context:  What fun new laws is Congress coming up with these days? What cool new technologies are soon to make accessing your credit union even easier for members? Are you up to speed on all these, and more? If not, you’re shortchanging your credit union and its members that look to you for guidance.

While the 5 C Analysis may seem daunting, a closer look reveals that it may very well open up the details your credit union needs to thrive and survive in this turbulent economic period. Is it enough to throw the trusty old SWOT right out the window? Not yet. But it provides a fresh perspective and new tool you can use the next time your credit union begins the planning process.

Mark Arnold, CCUE, is an acclaimed speaker, brand expert and strategic planner. He is also president of On the Mark Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in branding and strategic planning. Some of the services Mark provides include strategic planning, brand planning, leadership/management training, marketing planning and staff training. His web address is and his blog is You can also contact him at 214-538-4147 or

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold is an acclaimed speaker, brand expert and strategic planner helping businesses such as credit unions and banks achieve their goals with strategic marketing insights and energized training. Mark ... Web: Details