by Bo McDonald, Your Marketing Co
I feel compelled to write about this subject, in hopes that it may spark a debate and perhaps even spur some to have a change of heart, all in the name of the credit union movement. Let me preface this thought by saying that I always have been and always will be in favor of healthy competition.
Take a look at your marketing materials. Is the term “financial co-operative” in there anywhere? Now take a look at notes from your last strategic planning session, or even your marketing plan. Under “competitors” do you mention any other credit unions? WHY?
Having grown up in Upstate NY, I’m a huge fan of the work of Rod Serling, most famous for his creation The Twilight Zone. One of the last episodes on the first season was titled “The Monsters on Maple Street”. The episode starts as the residents of Maple Street are enjoying a late summer afternoon cutting grass and playing ball. Immediately, a showdown passes overhead, a loud boom is heard accompanied by a flash of light. Once the sun has gone down and night is near, the residents of Maple Street find that their cars and electronics aren’t working, and there is no power. The neighbors of Maple Street gather to discuss the matter. One of them, Pete Van Horn, volunteers to walk out of the neighborhood to discover the extent of the problem.
Another Maple Street resident, Steve Brand, offers to go into town but a boy from the neighborhood, tells him not to leave the street. Tommy rehashes something he has read in his comic book about an alien invasion that took place, and the “aliens” would not allow Steve to leave. Furthermore – as part of this fictional invasion – the aliens insidiously placed within the neighborhood a family that appears human. The power outage is meant to isolate and contain the neighborhood.
Another neighbor, Les Goodman, tries unsuccessfully to start his car. He gets out and begins to walk back towards the group when his car starts by itself. The bizarre behavior of his car makes Les the object of immediate suspicion. One woman begins to discuss his late nights spent standing in the garden looking up at the sky. Les chalks this up to a case of insomnia. Later that night while the residents are still gathered, Steve tries to defuse the situation and prevent it from becoming a full blown witch-hunt. Charlie, one of the loudest and most aggressive (and perhaps intoxicated) residents, pressures Steve about his hobby building a mystic radio that no one has ever seen. Now the suspicion is on Steve when he sarcastically remarks he talks to monsters from outer space on his radio. Steve remarks to the neighbors “You’re standing out here all set to crucify someone! You’re all set to find a scapegoat! You’re all desperate to point some kind of a finger at a neighbor! Well, believe me, the only thing that will happen is we’re going to eat each other up alive!”
The panic hits an all-time high when a shadowy figure is seen walking towards them. Charlie, now disturbingly hostile (and perhaps even more intoxicated), grabs a shotgun and immediately shoots the shadow believing this to be the alleged “monster.” When the crowd reaches the victim of the lethal shot, they realize it is only their neighbor, Pete Van Horn returning from his scouting mission.
Suddenly the lights in Charlie’s house come on and he panics as the crowd begins accusing him of being both a murderer and the monster responsible for the power being out. He makes a run for his house while the other residents chase after him, throwing stones. Terrified, Charlie attempts to deflect suspicion onto Tommy, the boy who originally brought up the idea of alien infiltration. Lights begin flashing on and off in houses throughout the neighborhood; lawn mowers and cars start up for no apparent reason. The mob becomes hysterical, with terrified residents smashing windows, and taking up weapons, devolving into an all-out riot.
Immediately, the episode cuts to a nearby hilltop, where we learn the mysterious “meteor” that had flown overhead is indeed an alien spaceship. Two alien observers, are watching the riot on Maple Street while using a device to manipulate the neighborhood’s power. The aliens comment on how easy it was to create paranoia and panic, and conclude that the easiest way to conquer the Earth is to let the people of the Earth destroy themselves.
Despite this episode first airing in 1960, this is eerily reflective of the credit union industry in 2011. Large credit unions get larger by bullying smaller credit unions. Small credit unions run scared of big credit unions pointing a finger in their face for bad business practices. You and I are the neighbors on Maple Street. So, who is playing the part of the monsters as this drama in 2011 plays out? The banks. Bankers are sitting in their ivory tower watching you and I destroy each other, just waiting for their chance to celebrate a victory when credit unions are no more.
Every single conference I’ve attended over the last few years at least one speaker (and I’m guilty as charged) regurgitates the fact that credit unions have owned a mere 6% of the banking market for many years. Why doesn’t that number grow? Because we continue to think of other local credit unions as our only competition! Many times when I see credit unions researching rates, they pull rates from other local credit unions? Is there not a Bank of America, Wachovia or TD Bank in your neighborhood? There’s your competition!
Until we stop stabbing our fellow credit unions in the back and start focusing on chipping away at the other 94% of people who are using a bank as their main financial institution I fear the future looks grim for credit unions. Some may say that they have a “larger” credit union around the corner from them taking all of their members. Just remember that there is a bank (or two, or five) in your neighborhood with a few disgruntled customers who would LOVE to become your members. Craft your message, appeal to bank customers who have become surly with the bad service and abundant fees and watch the growth at your credit union!
Bo McDonald is president of Your Marketing Co, A veteran of major market media sales and programming, Bo got his start in radio working for a variety of large radio conglomerates including Clear Channel Radio and Citadel Broadcasting. After several years and requests from clients Bo went out on his own to form his own marketing firm. Today, that marketing firm has evolved into a boutique firm serving only the needs of credit unions in the form of marketing, business development, and product development. Why credit unions? Thanks to his parents who are avid credit union supporters, Bo has been a member of credit unions from a young age.