The power of simplicity in planning

Former Apple executive and now author/speaker Ken Segall says that Steve Jobs’ legacy comes down to simplicity – a quality that stands out in an overly complex world.

For instance, the groundbreaking iPod’s marketing slogan was simple, “A thousand songs in your pocket.”

Apple’s product focus and branding simplicity have been legendary with products like the iPod, iPad, iPhone and iTunes.

When it comes to credit union strategic planning, I find myself wondering how we can apply that power of simplicity and find the few things that matter most in today’s complex and competitive environment.

Simplicity in planning helps focus team members, and it can convey a powerful message to current and potential members.

A few years ago at CU Solutions Group, we decided our large array of products were confusing to the credit union marketplace that we serve. So, we adopted three brand promise slogans:

  1. Rethink Technology – We offer secure and reliable design, hosting and mobile solutions for remote service delivery.
  2. Reimagine Marketing – We offer marketing solutions that help grow membership, increase service usage and build loyalty.
  3. Reinvent Performance – We offer performance, compensation, planning, governance and advisory services that enhance engagement and productivity.

Our core solutions in each of those categories are the things we then focus on relentlessly in a process of reinvention, marketing and delivery to our customers.

For credit unions and credit union organizations, the one simple planning theme that matters most is delivering on brand promises to members.

It seems four things drive success toward that deliverable: management of risk, people, technology and service.

Ultimately, they all lead to delivering on credit union brand promises, such as delivering a great member experience, convenience and speed, great value with preferred rates and fees and trusted, secure transactions.

The CUNA E-Scan and other publications seem to point to a short list of planning issues that focus on those four themes.

What do they encompass?

  1. Improve the Member Experience with all products and channels.
  2. Strengthen People strategies with an emphasis on leadership development, diversity, inclusion and equity to foster an environment for improved innovation.
  3. Manage Risks, especially related to fraud, cybersecurity and interest rate risk.
  4. Make Technology Investments in an omni-channel service delivery framework that includes the best possible mobile, branch, web and call center strategies.

As I think about the “why” behind the themes, it comes back to the power of brand and how that brand is perceived by current and future members and how credit unions deliver on the brand promise, in the most simple and compelling way.

Chicago-based Alliant Credit Union uses brand promise slogans on its website that align with their financial services and delivery channels. They also mirror past and present research findings on what consumers want from their financial institution.

For Alliant, these slogans include:

“We exist to serve our members, not stockholders.” (Trusted Service)

“Better than bank rates.” (Value)

“Don’t waste time in lines, use our online, mobile and phone support services.” (Technology-enabled Member Experience)

“More ATMs than Chase and Bank of America Combined.” (Convenience)

“State-of-the-Art Security.” (Safety & Security)

Lake Michigan Credit Union has a similar approach on their website. Their brand promises include:

“You’re really going to like it here.” (A great member journey)

“We’re all in this together.” (Structure & Mission-driven service)

“Get what’s yours. And then some.” (Value)

“LMCU is for everyone.” (Eligibility Inclusion)

“There’s real strength in our numbers.” (Value and service breadth)

These brand promises are directly addressing the reasons consumers join a credit union and then stick with them.

Credit unions, especially smaller ones, can generally only focus on improving a small number of priority areas each year in their planning. While many products and processes are subsets of the focus areas, prioritizing in the context of branding may prove valuable.

At the base, if a credit union doesn’t feel like it has a handle on risk management, nothing can damage a brand more, sometimes even permanently, than a big fraud loss or embezzlement or data breach that impacts members adversely. Desires for safety and security are a base expectation of members.

These four planning themes are a little like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Risk management and people strategies are at the base and are foundations for the technology and service themes that drive value, convenience and speed in member service.

In the People category, for boards, nothing is as important as attracting and retaining an excellent CEO. And likewise, for CEOs and senior management, it is critical to attract, develop and retain a strong team. This flows through the credit union as culture enhancements are made and member service is directly impacted by the caliber of talent.

Programs that encourage diversity, inclusion and pay equity are likewise critical for attracting and retaining good talent in a now very competitive labor market.

Moving up the hierarchy of plan priorities, technology, especially mobile technology, enables cost-effective, omni-channel service delivery and sets the stage for improving the member experience.

Once the first three priorities of risk management, investment in people and culture, and judicious management of technology are addressed, a credit union can focus on the “Holy Grail” of improving and perfecting the member experience or member journey. In this category, all decisions related to product suite, pricing and omni-channel service can be addressed.

Regardless of asset size, credit unions should develop a formal “member experience” program that identifies product-by-product and channel-by-channel where the pain points and moments of truth are for members. The reward for making these improvements is the loyalty and word-of-mouth advertising that drives growth and member satisfaction.

As CUNA and state leagues and individual credit unions approach brand promotion through consumer awareness campaigns, some lessons can be learned from sites like NerdWallet, which is a consumer financial education website that targets millennials.

NerdWallet recently suggested four reasons why millennials should consider a credit union. There are no surprises here. They align with past and current research findings: (My emphasis is added in parentheses.)

  1. Credit unions are not just (small) nonprofits. (They are generally full-service and sophisticated.)
  2. They offer more favorable rates and fees than banks. (Value is a differentiator.)
  3. Community and local service are a priority. (They stay around when times get tough.)
  4. They may not (always) be cutting edge, but they’re still very convenient. (They don’t need to do everything, just the things that matter most.)

Research has consistently found that people join credit unions mainly for the better rates and fees, higher levels of trust and service and convenience. But lack of convenience is also a major reason members go elsewhere. In many markets, credit unions also suffer from negative perceptions regarding membership eligibility and a lack of product breadth and technology sophistication.

As credit unions fine-tune their plans for the coming year, applying the power of simplicity in planning and brand promises will make plans more effective and compelling both internally and externally with members.

Many credit unions use variants of Alliant’s and Lake Michigan Credit Union’s brand promise slogans. Effective planning activities should fine-tune those promises and prioritize the activities necessary for delivering on them.

As we refine strategic and operational plans here at CU Solutions Group, we will look to see how we can emphasize the solutions that help credit unions in these four critical areas with great products like website design and hosting, mobile apps, Sprint and TurboTax member discount programs, unique advertising programs like GSTV, and performance solutions like Performance Pro, Compease, Planning Pro and Governease.  We also intend to provide strategic advisory services that help credit unions develop and execute on great plans.

Just like credit unions, CUSG’s search for simplicity is driven by our corporate brand promise to “help credit unions serve, grow and remain strong so that together, we can have an impact on people’s lives.”

Dave Adams

Dave Adams

Dave Adams is  President / Chief Executive Officer of CU Solutions Group. The  CUSG office is located in Livonia, Michigan. Mr. Adams joined the Michigan Credit Union League in August of ... Web: Details