I’ve been a coach for much of my adult life. One of my greatest joys as my children were growing up was supporting their athletic endeavors as a coach. Through coaching, you can help shape an understanding of the importance of crucial life lessons including selflessness, endurance, grit, and focus. I’m now in a season where I have the opportunity to watch as my granddaughter, Frankie, is just beginning to participate in swimming and soccer. It’s brought so many memories racing back. It’s also given me the chance to reflect on those lessons. One lesson in particular, focus, keeps resurfacing in my thoughts about credit unions and our bright future.
If you’ve ever had a toddler, watched a toddler, or marveled at the joy of a grandchild toddler, you know that focus is not their biggest strength. They see bright shiny objects everywhere. Part of their charm is in how they marvel at the wonders of the world all around them. It’s why watching a young grandchild play early sports is so joyful and also why it can be so painful for parents of that same young child.
Leaders struggle with focus too. The world is full of possibilities. You’ve likely either been the person saying the words or listening to the words, “imagine if we…” A leader with a new idea shares the same boundless view of possibilities that a grandparent sees in their young grandchild playing early sports. They know they are likely not going to be the person trying to encourage focus away from the color of the sky or the jumping abilities of a grasshopper. The parent sees the many hours of redirection and kind words of encouragement, just like our team members, they have a sharp focus on what it takes to execute.
Today, credit unions in our country face an inflection point. The 2020 American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) findings show that credit union consumer satisfaction has been rated lower than banks two years running. CUtoday.info released an article about the research outlining the challenges in front of us. As I read this, I felt frustration about the limited way credit unions were represented in the piece and defensive about the exceptional work that credit unions do daily with a pure focus on improving the financial lives of those we serve.
Despite my frustrations, I believe that this data shines a light on a shift. The way that people experience service has fundamentally changed. We no longer identify service as an interpersonal engagement. Human interaction is part of it. It’s also the website navigation, the texts we receive, the mobile app experience, the data integration that anticipates our needs … or doesn’t, and most importantly how all of the many touch points we leverage come together to make our lives easier.
If we want to shift the way that people experience credit unions and keep the bright banner of exceptional member service waving, we must address ease of use. While it is tempting to look at our vendor partners, the cost of investment, the cross-functional effort needed to build such a strategy, and the laundry list of technology shifts needed and quickly find the next bright shiny object, we cannot. Our ease-of-use strategy needs our focus and commitment.
Similarly, it is time to start telling our story. In the same way that I daily share stories about Frankie with anyone and everyone who will listen, our industry has been bemoaning the lack of awareness and engagement with our brand since the beginning of my tenure within the space almost 28 years ago.
We’ve undervalued marketing as a competency. We’ve underfunded our marketing budgets. We’ve failed to come together in a meaningful way to collaboratively share our “why.” We haven’t leveraged our greatest storytellers, our members, to tell our story for us. I feel a gut punch just as I did when we experienced a bad call in a game I was coaching, each time I see the ads that our fintech competitors have created. They have co-opted our story. They are encouraging people to save automatically and pay themselves first. They are making it easy to take out small loans and build credit. They are creating first accounts for parents to build the important first financial habits of saving, spending, and giving.
The last year has been extremely difficult. It’s tempting to extend our strategy in an attempt to answer the multitudes of challenges facing our country and human beings. It’s alluring to consider adding to our plates and imagining what more we can do. I’m a dreamer and I want to do more. In 2021, it’s my invitation that we come together to solve these two challenges both within our own shops and together across our movement. It’s time to take more than 10% of the market. People need credit unions now more than ever. To do that, we must focus. Importantly, a focus on these two strategies feeds what I see as the most important strategy for credit unions, human capital. If we do these things well through an exceptional culture, we’ll also win the war for talent.
I’m a true believer in the power of cooperative finance. I wake up determined daily to ensure that Frankie and her friends will all not only be big fans of credit unions, but driven to bank and work at credit unions, because it is the best choice. In order to make that reality, our strategic focus must narrow. As we build and shape these strategies, there will be time for more sky gazing, grasshopper chasing, and dreaming. Trust me, I’ll never stop. But today my fellow credit union leaders, just like our kids watching our grandchildren learn to love sports, these strategies need our focus so that we can win in the long term. As I always say, the best is yet to come.