The new movie Now You See Me is about Robin Hood-inspired magicians who use their magic to steal from the rich and give the conjured money to the poor.
About 20 minutes into it, the magicians put on a huge show in Las Vegas. During the performance, they ask for a volunteer from the audience to help them perform the ultimate magic trick: rob a bank halfway around the world that’s chosen at (seemingly) random by the volunteer.
What struck me was not the trick itself but what the lead magician, played by Jesse Eisenberg, says after the French-speaking volunteer names his heavily-guarded bank in the heart of Paris: “I wish it was a mom and pop credit union with no security.”
Sitting next to me in the theater, my wife braced for an “I can’t believe he said that!” rant from her CU-loving husband. When I simply shook my head, she was taken aback.
“Did you hear what he said?” she whispered.
“Yeah,” I grunted.
“You’re not upset?” she asked.
“I’m barely surprised,” I said sadly.
I’m barely surprised because our decades-long inability and unwillingness to describe for this country what a credit union is, does, and can be – on our terms, in one loud, unmistakable, and national voice – has left the potential members we so desperately seek, and the culture in which we operate, no choice but define us on their own, and very badly.
I’m barely surprised because our default approach of defining who we are by who we are not – We’re Not a Knuckle-Dragging Money-Grubbing Seal-Clubbing Bank! – comes with an unwieldy list of qualifiers: We’re Not a Bank! But We Offer All The Stuff They Do! And We Pay All the Taxes They Do! But Not This One! We Do Business Loans…Kinda! And We’re Here to Serve You But Half Of Us Won’t Be in 20 Years! We Don’t Pay Our Board Members Because Banks Do And That’s Bad! Unless We Do! Then It’s Good!
If you got bored, tired, confused, or frustrated by that last sentence, so did every other potential member we’re looking to catch with the not-a-bank hook. That’s because running a negative campaign against anything is an incredibly risky proposition. I’d like to see ours against banks vanish.
I’m barely surprised because we’re still expecting a series of noble yet loosely organized collective awareness efforts at primarily the local and regional levels to somehow coalesce into a coherent national battle cry. That’s about as likely as putting 50,000 people in a stadium, instructing each of them to tell everyone within earshot about credit unions, then hoping all 50,000 of them starts chanting the same thing at the same time.
Approximately 7.6 million moviegoers in over 3,000 movie theaters in the US alone have heard Eisenberg’s one-sentence takedown of credit unions since the film opened on May 31. Since it was said by a celebrity on a screen, it will stick.
Rather than complain about what he said and where he said it, let’s steal the root of what he did: have A-list celebrity members of credit unions complete the following sentence “My Credit Union Is ______”. Real stars we’ve all heard of. No more generic stock photos and videos.
Sit them on a stool, shoot it in black and white, give them 15 seconds to say directly into the camera how their CU made a difference in their lives, and put those spots across the country. Make a 5-figure donation in their name to The Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive or another worthy cooperative in exchange for their time.
This is just one idea. We need more. We need to realize that, in order to convince people to change their lives, they must sometimes hear from those who are larger than life.
Now is the time for suspension of disbelief, showmanship, audacity, and creativity on the grandest scale. That’s how magic is made…and how we can keep from vanishing altogether.