Credit unions’ secret weapon for attracting talent

In any business, the formula for success can differ depending on many variables, but the one constant “secret sauce” is the ability to attract and retain top talent. Whether it’s a credit union or a huge technology company like Google, no organization should overlook the importance of its people and what it takes to attract and retain them.

In a recent interview with Chief Executive magazine, former head of “people operations” for Google, Lazlo Bock, said that it’s not enough to find great people, you actually want to grow and keep them. He said, “People want a couple of things out of work. They want meaning, they  want to be trusted and they want to be empowered.”

I’ve thought a lot about this idea of “meaning” in the workplace during my career. Any good CEO knows that he or she is helpless to be successful without an incredible, dedicated team. At  CU Solutions Group, my team has bailed me out on countless occasions with their innovation and execution.

Talent matters, and one of the most important ways to attract and retain good people is to foster a culture that brings real meaning to work. No industry is better suited to do this than the credit union sector of the financial services industry. But leaders shouldn’t just assume that their credit union is projecting this purpose in hiring and cultivating relationships with team members, it needs to be more intentional and clear as a part of a credit union’s culture.

For several years now, CUSG has operated with a vision statement of, “We help credit unions serve, grow and remain strong.” But a couple of years ago, our HR team and CUBE TV video crew created a video that is used with new hires that represents the meaning behind our work.   I didn’t even know they were creating this video, but It was clever, fun and representative of  the culture that we have at our company. The phrase that most caught my eye in that video, was that our employees wanted to “make an impact.” That’s what gets them up in the morning. They connect the dots between workplace dynamics and the ultimate meaning in their work: through helping credit unions succeed, more people can afford their own home, or a new set of wheels or find ways to save and get ahead financially.

So, for the Michigan Credit Union League and CU Solutions Group, we added a phrase to our vision statement: “We help credit unions serve, grow and remain strong, so we can make an impact on people’s lives.”

My team reminded me of an important principle, one that is key to attracting and retaining good talent. If I can help them create a culture that provides a great work environment and reinforces the “why” behind what we do, it will not only motivate customers and members to do business with us, it will help us attract and retain top talent. That is, in part, what motivates good people to work anywhere. And if our employees and management staff are motivated and passionate every day, we will be more innovative and service-oriented in all that we do.

Credit unions’ secret weapon for talent acquisition and retention is in the service mantra that is so unique to credit unions. They give back to their members and communities. They’re not for profit, not for charity, but for service — they’re people helping people. Our industry is a movement, and all of us who make it our career believe in this difference. If credit unions can continuously reinforce this difference during the hiring and interview process, on their  websites, in their marketing and via social media, great people will not only want to join the credit union team, but hopefully make it their career.

Another way to bring meaning to a company’s culture and brand is through cause-based marketing. American Express did this in June 2014 when it launched its Spent campaign. Then- Amex EVP (and now CEO of PayPal) Dan Schulman, was on stage at the MCUL Annual Convention and Exposition the day the film was launched. It generated 10 million web views in a single day.

The Michigan Credit Union League had Mr. Schulman back to speak at its annual convention in 2017 as CUSG introduced a credit union industry version of Spent. We called our campaign the

Just Getting By project. Dan spoke glowingly of our effort and pledged that PayPal would work with us in the shared responsibility of helping people get ahead financially. I’ve heard Dan speak several times in his position as PayPal CEO, and noted financial inclusion is a central guidepost for his company as it seeks to lower costs for small businesses and consumers. This ought to be doubly true for credit unions. We shouldn’t let companies like American Express and PayPal out message us either with customers or with the talent that we seek to acquire.

This venerable, for-profit American Express brand had taken a page out of credit unions’ quiet service playbook and parlayed it into an impactful social media campaign. It succeeded in its objective of compelling people to get involved and help those struggling to get by financially, many of whom were being taken advantage of by payday lenders and other alternative financial service providers. Many of us viewed the Amex Spent campaign and asked ourselves, “Why didn’t we do that in the credit union industry?”

So, for the past two years, our CUSG team has been working on a similar project called Just  Getting By. Our video production crew used a grant provided by the Michigan Credit Union  League to produce an hour-long documentary that is broken into 19 short video vignettes. Each tells the unique story of a person struggling to get by financially. The root causes of these challenges include student loan debt, job loss, medical emergency, divorce and unwise financial decision-making. Often, the common thread is a lack of strong and effective financial education. In the JGB film, we added commentary from four financial education experts, and make a  strong connection between financial challenges and the solutions offered by credit unions.

Importantly, the target audience is not only those who are financially challenged and seeking help, but also those who already belong to a credit union and who will love their credit union even more in the knowledge that it cares enough to help those in need — not just those with prime credit. It’s true that not everyone in need can benefit from a credit union, but many will be able to consolidate loans, reduce fees and forge a path toward financial health.

CUSG’s goal with this project is to make a connection between the stories and the solutions. Ultimately, financial education and a good financial partner (i.e., credit unions) provide some of the relief needed. The website, Just Getting By, showcases the full documentary, the 19 vignettes, the ability to share the stories via social media and the opportunity to get help from a credit union. For visitors who are not already credit union members, using the site’s credit  union finder provides an easy conduit to join. Credit unions can become a part of the JGB movement by clicking on the “Get Involved” link, or by going directly to

CUSG has made it easy for credit unions to customize JGB content for their own Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages, thereby reinforcing their own brand and services. It’s an excellent way to show that the credit union cares more and does more for those in need than other financial services providers. This message is a great example of cause-based marketing, and credit unions are uniquely suited to do it.

Making an impact on people’s lives is what credit unions are all about. In the financial services arena, credit unions should own this message. And when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent in a credit union including those tellers and member service representatives on the front lines, employees will want to work for a financial institution that walks the talk. Staff will be proud that their employer is committed to helping educate and lift people up, especially those who are struggling to just get by financially. Not only is it the right thing to do, but formalizing the message through the Just Getting By project is a way to empower the credit union movement individually and collectively.

Creating a vision for aligning a credit union’s culture with the way that it helps make an impact on people’s lives may be the secret weapon for attracting and retaining talent as credit unions compete against banks and other providers. This alignment is also an important differentiator when consumers and small businesses choose their financial institutions. The Just Getting By project can help with this. Check it out at

Dave Adams

Dave Adams

Dave Adams is  President / Chief Executive Officer of CU Solutions Group. The  CUSG office is located in Livonia, Michigan. Mr. Adams joined the Michigan Credit Union League in August of ... Web: Details