Five Strategic Lessons Credit Unions Can Learn From Watching The Avengers

Mark Arnold, CCUE, On the Mark Strategies

You’d almost have to live under a rock to have missed the buzz surrounding this summer’s earliest Hollywood blockbuster, The Avengers. The epic film featuring a motley assortment of superheroes gathered to fight the forces of evil has already set several box office records, including biggest ever opening weekend and a tie for fastest film to $1 billion in ticket sales.

There’s a lot organizations in general and credit unions in particular can learn from the movie’s unique characters. And while it may seem a bit of a stretch to compare gamma radiation-fueled behemoths and Norse gods to your tellers and loan officers, if anything The Avengers teaches us that deep down inside, we’re all human—and we’re all heroes/heroines.

Let’s take a quick peak at the principle players. The Avengers are Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow and Hawkeye. Iron Man is powered by a high-tech suit of armor, The Hulk brings superhuman strength from radiation exposure, Captain America is a WWII era super-soldier, Thor is the Norse god of thunder, Black Widow is a super-spy and Hawkeye is an expert swordsman and marksman.  All (except Thor) have human alter-egos and all bring as many weaknesses as super-powers to the table. Sounding a little more like your fellow credit union workers?

Despite their many differences and conflicts, The Avengers manage to come together for the greater good and save humanity from certain doom. While a rescue on this scale may seem to dwarf your credit union’s goals of new accounts and more loans, teamwork is required for both. By taking a look at five strategies evidenced in The Avengers, we may learn how to apply similar ideas in our credit union workplaces.

These five principles are:

  • Respecting generational differences
  • Avoiding working in silos
  • Using a strategic plan to beat the bad guy
  • Embracing diversity
  • Branding your message

Respecting generational differences

Most workplaces feature a wide variety of age groups amongst employees. Your credit union and The Avengers are no different. You probably have upper management in their 50s and 60s, department heads in their 30s and 40s and tellers in their 20s. The Avengers sport a wide range of ages, too. The Hulk and Iron Man are both in the 30-45 age range, Captain America is (despite being cryogenically frozen) 92 and Thor is around 3,000.

Generational differences can be tough to tackle. Each generation was raised differently and forges in the fires of different experiences. Baby Boomers, for example, have vivid memories of the post-WWII era. This is in contrast to Generation X, often thought of as jaded and cynical and the even younger Generation Y, with its affinity for high-tech and cultural diversity. The Avengers face similar challenges, with members as young as Baby Boomers and as old as ancient history. The key here is learning not only to respect generational differences, but to also look to each for the best qualities offered. The wisdom and pragmatism of older employees, when complemented with the vigor and idealism of younger, can reap great rewards for your credit union.

Avoiding working in silos

That’s not my job. That’s not my department. That’s not my responsibility. We’ve all heard these phrases in our credit unions and most of us are guilty of having said them ourselves. We can all easily fall into the trap of working in our own silos, peeping up only occasionally from the cubicle for air, gossip and a quick glimpse of the clock. While having a specialty is certainly important and we are hired and paid primarily for doing one thing well, the willingness to break out of our comfort zone, learn and help our fellow employees is critical.

The Avengers learned this lesson the hard way. Each fueled by their own agendas and egos, they initially had a very rough go at teamwork. Hawkeye likes his bow and arrows, Black Widow has cool Soviet spy gadgets and The Hulk likes to break things.  Each, however, had to embrace camaraderie and learn to embrace the other team members’ abilities. Your credit union staff is the same. Your marketing person’s coolest promotions won’t score dollar one without buy-in from the front line staff. Lending drives your financial numbers. Your CEO might be lost without their executive assistant. It’s only the willingness to work outside our comfort zones and sharpen our skills with the talents of others that we succeed as a group.

Using a strategic plan to beat the bad guy

Football coaches carry books full of game plans. Admirals and generals run battle drills. Strategic planning is critical to the success of your credit union and, as it turns out, if you’re trying to turn back the minions of evil unleashed on earth by a nasty Norse god with younger brother syndrome.

Strategic plans help credit unions answer a number of pressing questions, including:

  • Who are we?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • How do we get there?
  • What do we have to work with?

These questions help steer the direction of strategic planning sessions and subsequent strategic plans themselves. A credit union without a strategic plan is like a ship without a rudder or a treasure map without the iconic “X” marking the spot.

The Avengers needed a strategic plan, as well. They initially fight amongst themselves, giving an advantage to the enemy. Soon, however, they come together, employing a strategic plan to achieve victory. The Hulk beats things up, Black Widow discovers an important secret and Iron Man figures out a way to stop the invading enemy threat. None of this was possible without a plan. Whether it’s superheroes defending the earth or your credit union staff pulling together for a banner year on loans, the premise is the same: the plan helps you achieve the goal.

Embracing diversity

In a society marked by rapid changes in societal demographics, embracing diversity is no longer an option. It’s an imperative for success. Your credit union probably employs personnel and serves members from across a wide spectrum of races and nationalities. Finding ways to embrace these differences and using them as springboards to better serve your membership as a whole is crucial.

The Avengers are a superhero smorgasbord of diversity.  And it’s not just skin color (with apologies to The Hulk). Black Widow is female and Russian. Captain America is close to 100-years-old. The Hulk has a PhD and Thor is a muscular Scandinavian with an affinity for 80s glam rock hair. Yet somehow they manage to work their way through these differences to achieve a greater good.

Credit unions can model this behavior. Odds are you’ve got a wondrous variety of people working at your shop. Skin color, nationality, gender and native language are to be celebrated, as long as they all work towards the unifying goal of serving your members.

Branding is your message

Branding is a popular buzzword in the current credit union environment. Your credit union’s brand is more than just a few postcards, billboards and promotions. The brand, rather is an all-encompassing view of who you are and what you do as a credit union. Branding is who you are as a credit union, who you are as a board, who you are as a management team, who you are as staff and who you are as members. As author Marty Neumeir said in his book The Brand Gap, “The secret of a living brand is that is lives throughout the company, not just in the marketing department.”

If we view The Avengers as a company, with different departments, a secret to their success is also seen in the concept of branding. The public at large knows who The Avengers are and what they are about. Sure, they have different super-powers and skills, but they all exist as a group to serve and protect humanity. When the bad guys come knocking, people know they can count on the Avengers to reply with a serious beat-down featuring the brute strength of The Hulk, the repulsor rays of Iron Man and Captain America’s indestructible vibranium shield.

Your credit union’s brand helps members, potential members and the public know more about who you are and how you can help meet their financial needs. The Avengers brand makes sure the bad guys know what’s coming if they cross the line. Either way, the principle is the same. The brand not only carries the message; the brand is the message.

We can learn a lot about how to make our credit unions a better place by following a few simple strategic lessons offered by the ragtag group of superheroes united to save the planet. If the Avengers can get over The Hulk’s slight anger management problem or Iron Man’s solar-flare narcissism, surely we can work diligently to take these lessons from the silver screen to our credit unions.

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