Let’s springboard so you don’t shoot your eye out

As we relish this season, I’m reminded of an incredibly popular holiday movie: A Christmas Story. In the movie, the main protagonist, Ralphie Parke, an adorable 9-year-old, desperately wants a “Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle” for Christmas. Community Financial Credit Union, the organization I have the honor of leading today, is connected to this holiday classic as our original employer sponsor, Daisy Air Rifle Company, manufactures the Red Ryder to this very day. This connection got me thinking about the bridge we might build between the past and the future.

Since Community Financial Credit Union’s founding in 1951, we’ve experienced marked changes, including the move of Daisy Air Rifle Company to another state just seven years after our founding. This move meant our credit union “went community” earlier than most in our industry, a real innovation at the time. Other significant changes over the years include a merger that expanded our geographic footprint to the northern part of Michigan, the development of over 50 student-run credit unions across the state, periodic shifts in our strategic priorities, and, most recently, the modernization of our delivery channels and brand image. As those changes culminate today, Community Financial Credit Union serves the financial needs of over 80,000 members, representing over $1.6B in assets.

Our founders from the early 1950s would likely not recognize our credit union today. What would they make of the creativity of FinTechs, the reach and scale of large national banks, the demands of today’s consumers, and the increasing complexity of our regulatory framework? I believe our founders would channel credit union pioneer Edward Filene’s words, “Progress is the constant replacing of the best there is with something better still.”

The tension from this sage advice comes in differing perceptions about what to “replace” and what’s “better.” I’ve learned there is a place for honoring our history and heritage while keeping up with our modern challenges. I believe our history shines more brightly as our future successes grow. The bridge we build from the past to the future allows us to face changes with experience and use what we’ve learned to activate even stronger approaches.

And activate we must. Over the past few years, our industry has been thrown more than a few challenges, with more than a few leading to true inflection points:

  • A worldwide pandemic elevating the need to reimagine how we serve members and interact with employees;
  • The continued consolidation of credit unions and banks resulting in an increasingly small set of very large surviving financial institutions;
  • The retirement of baby boomers leading to an entirely new cultural dynamic between employers and employees; and
  • The emergence of artificial intelligence through the introduction of large language models with uncertain outcomes at this juncture of its development.

The answer to this age-old question of “old” vs. “new” thinking is balance and perspective. Here are a few examples of how we address this at Community Financial Credit Union:

We embrace our rich history by…

  • Magnifying our commitment to Plymouth, the city where it started. Our headquarters and a branch stand tall as we deepen our ties by dreaming with the schools about the student-run branch of the future, form partnerships with local artist Tony Roko, invest in placemaking through the second phase of the Plymouth ArtWalk, and support the reinvigoration of a historic area known as “Old Village.”
  • Listening closely to our members and amplifying their voices. We create even more value for every member who helped get us here by listening, responding to what we hear, and improving our financial cooperative.
  • Connecting our past with our future. Our new brand features an origami bear whose whole is formed from diverse folds and symbolizes the many facets that create a community. Her nose guides the way forward toward impossible dreams coming to life. Her name? Daisy. She represents the richness of our past as we shape tomorrow with our members.

Our future brings impossible dreams to life by…

  • Elevating partnerships with new friends, including Keith Bynum and Evan Thomas from NINE Designs + Homes and the HGTV hit, “Bargain Block,” to expand our impact into the city of Detroit and invest in affordable housing, one of the most significant challenges facing our state.
  • Investing in new technology based on our super-power of listening. In the past 60 days, we’ve gone from taking an hour to open a new membership to just three minutes, or 95% faster! We’re earning the trust and business of business banking members who were not ready to use us until our online and mobile banking improved.
  • Walking with members through their darkest moments. In 2023, we tested new programs to address the needs of those impacted by death, domestic violence, and cancer. In the times when a member might have everyone else walk away, Community Financial walks toward them.

In A Christmas Story, our protagonist Ralphie is warned that if he gets his prized Red Ryder air rifle, he might shoot his eye out. Since millions of us have seen this movie, I hope it is not a spoiler to share that Ralphie gets the Red Ryder and nearly shoots his eye out. Ralphie wanted something new, and he kept getting pushback from those who “knew better,” had more experience, were cynical, or a combination of all three. Novel ideas and approaches do elevate risk. They also can create unimagined outcomes and powerful impact. Two things can be true at once. We can celebrate all that brought us here and use the magnificence of that history to propel us into a bright future. Our credit union’s rich history springboards us into our bright future where the impossible becomes reality.

Tansley Stearns

Tansley Stearns

Tansley Stearns is the president & ceo at Community Financial Credit Union. “No” is not a word in Tansley’s vocabulary. If there is an opportunity to bolster Community Financial Credit ... Web: https://www.cfcu.org Details