Growing your credit union through lateral thinking

I talk a lot about the idea of lateral thinking – the art of approaching problems from new or non-obvious directions. It’s like thinking outside of the box – but a better way to imagine it involves a chocolate cake. Imagine you’re hosting seven friends and you need to split a round cake eight ways. But there’s a catch: you can only cut the cake three times. What do you do?

If you answered “Turn the cake on its side, cut through the middle, and then two more slices across the top make eight pieces” … then you know what I’m talking about.

There are a host of problems and challenges facing credit unions today that could benefit from that kind of lateral thinking. One of the challenges is that the times are changing, and a new generation is requiring your services: millennials.

I’m often asked what makes millennials – my generation – different. The main things are: they’re younger, and they grew up with more technology. In many ways, millennials are not very different from other generations. We all grow up and get old and have remarkably similar life challenges and phases. But because of technology, we communicate differently, and we’re used to having more say in who we interact with, do business with, buy from and buy into. We also do more research and make use of platforms for finding information on demand – rather than relying on the crutch of memorization.

As corny as it sounds, credit union leaders need to remember that they were young once, too, and of course they were smart and discerning back then too. There’s a temptation to pigeonhole millennials as bratty or dumb – but kids are smart. Our grandparents thought our parents were bratty when they were in their teens and 20s, too.

With that said, the most important thing to remember when attracting and retaining digital-savvy members is that consumers have a lot more power than before, and information asymmetry is now on their side. They can – and will – do a lot of research before making a decision. And because they have more options, they’re going to buy from companies they can buy into. This means that authenticity, congruence (being who you say you are), values and a good story are more important than ever before. Marketing today is more about storytelling and relationship-building than it is about salesmanship.

But what do millennials want? What are the lending opportunities there?

The obvious answer is there are a whole lot of millennials who are about to start buying houses and having kids and becoming leaders in companies – and making more income. The opportunity, as I see it, is to show them that credit unions are more than just another banking option: they’re a smarter option, and the more do-gooder option (for lack of a better term) – which is a highly valuable trait for businesses in a social media world.

My advice for credit unions is the same advice I give to all businesses: Tell great stories. Great stories build relationships and make people care. Tell the stories of the people in your communities that you care about, and tell the stories of the community itself. There’s no reason a credit union in Idaho Falls, Idaho, can’t become a regular and appreciated presence on community members’ Instagram feeds – telling the stories of the members they serve.

I’ll be talking more about telling stories and lateral thinking – as well as my thoughts on how credit unions can be innovators – at NAFCU’s Strategic Growth Conference from March 8-10 in San Diego. I hope to see you there so we can map out the next steps for your credit union and community!

Shane Snow

Shane Snow

Shane Snow is an award-winning journalist and entrepreneur, and the bestselling author of Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success. He is the Chief Creative Officer of Contently, which ... Web: Details