If I was running a credit union: The insider/outsider perspective

Do you ever have members who apply for loans that aren’t right for them, or who make financial mistakes that you has a banker would easily avoid?  Or maybe you have a friend who repeats the same self-destructive behavior over and over again, and the problem is obvious to everyone else but them?  I can’t speak to you all directly, so I’m using this forum to reach as many of you as possible to address some of the issues credit unions face that you may not recognize in your own organizations.

Let me make this clear…I love our credit union space, our unique position in the financial industry and all the benefits that we bring to our members. Over the past twenty years, I have worked at two credit unions and with several hundred. It shouldn’t surprise you that credit unions share many similar attributes, both good and bad. Those that are most prominent: 

  • Incredible desire to do what is right to protect and benefit their members
  • Struggle to align board members and management on mission and purpose
  • Over stretched resources trying to do too many things. (If you have more than 3 or 4 strategic initiatives – this is probably you!)
  • Belief that they have addressed their culture
  • Overreliance on generalists for specialty skills

 As a CUSO president, I spend my life in this weird insider/outsider role. I am not a vendor, but I am also not part of the credit union. I love this role, and I find my best insights and ideas come from being able to straddle the fence and see common patterns that are, understandably, hard to see from the inside. I do believe this unique perspective has provided me clarity to prioritize for success. Simply stated, if were running a credit union, my top four points of focus would be:

  1. Digital Branding
  2. Cyber Security
  3. Creating a Corporate Culture

“What about growing membership and assets??” It’s true. That is the ultimate goal. –And I strongly believe a credit union will achieve superior (almost effortless) growth as a result of focus on the above priorities!

For starters, all credit unions need to understand and embrace the following key data points:             

  • Credit union members are cheating on them with fintechs. It is slowly eroding margins, and they have NO idea it is going on. For example, one credit union we looked at had more PayPal transactions in their checking accounts than the top 5 big banks COMBINED!
  • 40% of members close their new accounts in the first 100 days. What is going on there and how can we fix it?
  • Credit unions are failing miserably at creating digital communities and engagement with their members –And this isn’t about online & mobile banking. It’s about digital branding, building an online community and the user experience so that your members rely on you, even crave you.
  • Most credit unions cannot articulate the basic member experience for an upsold loan

 Let’s talk Cyber Security. Typically, 85-90% of a credit union IT department’s time is being spent on compliance, while at the same time, most credit unions are actually woefully behind in their cyber security efforts. Imagine if you went to an ER with cancer, Alzheimer’s and a gunshot wound, (sorry, crude, I know).  While triage is important – you have some bigger issues that will probably require the ER to bring in some specialists. To compare, over the past two decades, our industry has done the bare minimum each year to improve our cyber posture without realizing that our architectures, resources, and strategies are simply not keeping up. At the same time – the game is constantly being redefined with more and more bad actors doing everything in their power to race ahead. They are already infinitely more capable and well-funded, and they are growing increasingly malicious.

 Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, our credit union corporate cultures very often reinforce maintaining the status quo and an air of complacency, or even worse, not acknowledging the very real challenges we face. Somehow we need to keep all the good member facing “Mom and Pop” characteristics of our credit unions –Being a warm, helpful, friendly, and neighborly, while taking our internal professionalism and competence to new levels. If I were a credit union CEO, and I saw some of the smoke that is related to fintech and cyber, I would be extremely concerned about the future viability of my credit union. I would endeavor to bring in the right resources to identify our areas of risk, while aligning our values and vision with a clear mission and purpose that prevails throughout our workforce, so every piece of the organization is unified and ready to effectively wage the battle that that is already underway.  

Despite what many believe, corporate culture isn’t something that you can easily change. It is a sum of our people, our teams, and the way we collectively govern. If our culture is producing the same result over and over, we have to work backward to get to the root of the cause and make purposeful adjustments in the right places to alter the outcome. The reality is that culture can eat strategy for lunch all day long – for better or worse. If you have a team that executes well, trusts each other, knows their roles, and has common goals – it means all of the little things work in harmony without friction.

So, if you are reading this thinking you have everything covered – I urge you take a closer look.  Don’t just ask your team to borrow a phrase and go about your day. It is easy to put lipstick on this pig, and it is much harder to dig deep and look outside of our industry, our own company.  When you do, you might notice that the rest of the world is breathing down our backs and there is lots of smoke that indicate big changes are coming that require our cultures to be more agile, faster paced, more aligned and more realistic about leveraging data.  

Kirk Drake

Kirk Drake

Kirk Drake is founder and CEO of Ongoing Operations, LLC, a rapidly growing CUSO that provides complete business continuity and technology solutions. With its recent acquisition of Cloudworks, Ongoing Operations ... Web: www.ongoingoperations.com Details