Message for credit unions: “Don’t be tired”

Last week I was in Gdansk, Poland, for the World Credit Union Conference and I learned a new expression from Afghanistan. “Don’t be tired” is a welcoming expression that, apart from the literal meaning, is used to convey to others that a warm welcoming spirit will diminish any fatigue one might be feeling.

I have always been proud of and passionate about the work that credit unions do, but like many colleagues, I can get bogged down in daily stuff that drains my energy and distracts me from the purposeful part of my work. On these days, it can be hard to articulate what my community would lose if my credit union were gone. It can feel like we are commoditized to the extent that in our absence our members would just move on to a bank down the street and continue to have their needs met.

I don’t like those days. They make me tired.

Spending a week with credit union leaders throughout the world is an excellent way to diminish that fatigue, though and to refocus on why I love my role in a credit union. Worldwide, we are here to improve the quality of members’ lives. That is no small thing. Last week, I heard this sentiment from credit union executives from Australia and San Francisco, from leaders of SACCOs throughout Africa, from volunteers in Ireland and others throughout the world.

Early in the week, WOCCU CEO Brian Branch shared three reasons that credit union members throughout the world are loyal to credit unions. These are also the reasons a community would feel a deep loss if a credit union stopped existing. Loyal credit union members remember when the credit union improved their lives, when the credit union was the only one to provide support, or how the credit union gives the best alternative for the member, rather than what is most profitable for the credit union.

Without doubt, credit union professionals in any system- developing or developed- can think of cases where they have stepped up to be the hope a member needs during a dark time, or can recall a time when the most profitable solution was ignored in favor of a solution that was more beneficial to the member.

In conversations and sessions throughout the week, this focus on credit unions filling unique and specific niches in their communities continued. Grzegorz Buczkowski, the President of Cooperatives Savings and Credit Union Mutual Insurance Society in Poland shared lessons from the Polish credit union system, with a key takeaway being that credit unions will succeed by staying close to the people. Poland’s current credit union system is relatively young- they are just celebrating 20 years of success- but thriving. The system has grown to nearly 2000 institutions and has earned a 91% trust rating from its 2.3 million members. Buczkowski indicated this success is a result of making decisions that are in the best interest of the community. This differentiates credit unions from global organizations and this connection to community should never be sacrificed in an effort to make short-term gains.

From outside the credit union system, Youngme Moon shared lessons from her book, “Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd.” One directive she issued that particularly resonated with me was to avoid competitive hyper-vigilance. Too often credit unions get caught up in trying to match what competitors are doing. While this might be enough to keep us in business, it is not enough to set us apart and will not allow us to impact the lives of our members and our communities. By not paying too much attention to what competitors are doing and instead remaining focused on our passion, credit unions will stand out. I am thrilled to have permission from a Harvard Business School professor to focus on my energy-producing passion as a way to differentiate my credit union.

Fresh off my return from the World Credit Union Conference, my energy is high. I hope it is also sustainable. I carry my newly-learned expression with me as a sort of talisman going forward, hoping it will serve reenergize my spirit when work begins to feel more like work. It is also something I carry with me as a reminder of the others throughout the world who have helped refuel my fire and who remain constantly committed to their purpose of improving members’ lives.

Don’t be tired.

Jill Nowacki

Jill Nowacki

Jill Nowacki started her career with credit unions in 2001. She has taken on leadership roles at credit unions and state and national trade associations. Now, she uses her experience ... Web: Details