Credit Unions, Dads, Daughters, and Dogs

by. Andy Janning, NO NET Solutions

These are my daughters. I love them more than my own life. The dog’s not too bad either. More on her in a minute.

During their Spring Break, I’ve been reflecting on my relationship with them. And since I’m kinda crazy about credit unions and their members, I’ve done a fair share of woolgathering about them, too.

I’ve found some common threads running through those seemingly disparate bonds. We have a responsibility and a call to care for and serve them. We want them to grow up, stay loyal, say nice things about us between bites of potato salad at the family reunion, and establish their own independence and identity so they don’t turn our lives into an episode of The Walking Dead when they’re 40.

Every parent and credit union employee says they want the best for their kids and members. With that in mind, a few more parallels become apparent:

Help them find the right one

I’m not going to be the #1 guy in the lives of my girls for much longer. They’ll date and marry one day. I have the luxury of holding this reality at arm’s length now but my mind and heart will both fold under its weight too soon. Before I escort them down the longest aisle I’ll ever walk to give them away, though, I need to give them the freedom, wisdom, and courage to make wise choices about whom they invite into their lives.

While we wish every member kept every penny of their money under our roof forever, and regarded CUs as their primary FI, that certainly isn’t reality. Ron Shevlin makes a convincing case against it. With so many choices of financial institutions out there, we owe it to our members to help them make the best choice with their money…even if that means we encourage them to go somewhere else to make their financial dreams come true. Crazy talk, you say? It worked for a certain jolly Macy’s employee in Miracle on 34th Street.

Listen well to win

The ability to listen – actively, deeply, genuinely – is one of the best skills I’ve ever learned as a father and businessman. The tightest hugs and biggest smiles my daughters have ever given me came after I’ve given them my time, patience, acceptance, and proof that I care enough to really comprehend what makes them tick. Listening to them in a way that helps them work through the problems they legitimately own, rather than trying to impress them with my brilliance and forcing my pre-conceived solutions down their throat, gives them the competence and confidence my knee-jerk stream of orders and advice never will.

Members need us to listen to them as well, but not merely for the cues that may lead to a new checking account. We must serve them well, to be sure, while at the same time listening at a deeper level, past our own institutional selfishness and personal agendas, to their core needs.

Does the member really need the $5,000 overdraft protection loan your marketing and front-line sales have earnestly talked him into, or does he really need better financial management skills to avoid the overdrafts in the first place? Are we listening in the hopes of helping him find true financial freedom, which may mean a world where (gasp!) his CU relationship isn’t the point around which his money orbits? Or are we doing just enough listening to keep him so dependent on us that his loyalty comes from convenience rather than conviction?

Give ’em a dog

The schnauzer-d face above belongs to Lilly. Almost until the moment she jumped into the girls’ arms, I was dead-set against anything else with a heartbeat taking up permanent residence in Casa de Janning. But it was when I was in Colorado recently, speaking at the CUES Execu/Summit, that I realized my no-heartbeat rule sprang from my selfishness (“Don’t wanna interrupt my carefully-crafted routine! Waaaah!”), lack of trust (“They can’t keep their rooms clean! How will they take care of a dog?! Waaaah!”), and fear (“What if the dog destroys something?! Waaaah!”). I needed to pull my head out of my armpit and give this dog thing a shot.

Oh, how they’ve surprised me. By giving them something meaningful to take care of that transcended themselves, they’ve stepped up in ways I never thought possible. They feed Lilly, take her out and walk her regularly, clean up her messes, play with her, love her. And their rooms have never been cleaner.

We tell members they’re owners of the credit union but give them virtually none of it to actually own. Everything from new product design and pricing, branch design and operations, loan rates, and a thousand other decisions are made behind closed doors and away from the members they’ll directly impact.

We want their business but not their input on what keeps us in business, out of fear that they’ll make a mess, disrupt our decision-making processes, or force us to realize they know their own needs better than we do.

We treat their comments and existence as inconvenient abstractions. It’s no wonder they don’t show up to our annual meetings or know what the heck we are in the first place.

Ask members to create your next product. Devote space in your branches to letting members design the newest one. Hold webinars to encourage members to poke holes in, praise, and publicize your mobile app. Use your social media channels to collaborate with your members instead of hurling sales spam at them. The possibilities are only limited by your willingness to get over yourself and give them something bigger than themselves for which to be responsible.

In return, they will surprise you, promote you, help you, push you, change you. And love you.

Andy Janning

Andy Janning

Andy Janning is the author of the books Heroes, Villains, and Drunk Old Men and The Breast Cancer Portrait Project, an 8-time state and national award winner for overall excellence ... Web: Details