Killing credit unions, part 2: The ghost of past success

Several weeks ago, I attended a credit union strategic planning session as a participant, something I rarely get to do. The board was focused on answering the question, “Who are we?” They had recently undergone a name change and brand refresh, but there were still some unanswered questions about their identity. While some board members were ready for what’s next, others were still struggling to hold onto what used to be. This is a common dilemma for credit unions, but I got to see it from a different vantage point as an attendee instead of my normal role as a facilitator.

“No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

The board chair opened the meeting with this Heraclitus quote, and just like a river is never the same because it’s alive and moving, your credit union is different today than it was in the past. The ability to adapt is essential because we are living in a dynamic environment that changes at the speed of light. To succeed, you need to embrace that change.

As seasoned credit union leaders plan for the future, many return to the river hoping to find a familiar place, only to be left with wet socks and gravel in their shoes. Most of them mean well. They want to respect their heritage and remember the times the credit union has helped them throughout their lives. But clinging to what was and ignoring the reality of what is leaves many credit unions scrambling to replicate the success of years past instead of looking for ways to move forward.

When we focus solely on how our credit union helped us in the past, we miss the opportunity to serve the next generation—one that needs their credit union just as badly as we needed ours when we were their age. Holding a good thing too closely, out of the reach of today’s generation, may not be intentional, but it’s happening. This may be a strong statement, but I’ll go out on a limb and say this tendency is rooted in pure selfishness.

Today, credit unions operate in an ever-changing world that calls for industry leaders to ask themselves some tough questions. If it’s true that we can’t step into the same river twice, how do we find effective growth strategies to make our credit unions more relevant? What is required to gain a fresh perspective on each challenge? How can we elevate ourselves and our fellow leaders to view the problem differently?

Credit Union great Louise Herring said it best: “We must remember what we started out to do and then find ways to do it with the modern techniques available.”

Bo McDonald

Bo McDonald

Bo McDonald is president of Your Marketing Co. A marketing firm that started serving credit unions nearly a decade ago, offering a wide range of services including web design, branding, ... Web: yourmarketing.co Details

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