The Year of the Member

by Andy Janning, NO NET Solutions

What if all of us stopped debating CU philosophy for one year and focused those conversations instead on actual members?
I say this in response to James Robert Lay’s inspired challenge in his recent “Questions and More Questions” piece on CUinsight on 11/2:
“At the end of the day it does not matter what we believe as an industry as this will only get us so far. It is by what others outside of our industry, and more importantly our own credit union, the consumer’s perception in our communities which we can not control, that truly defines us.”
There’s been an abundance of soul searching going on about the future of, and philosophy behind, credit unions. Strong voices have aligned on either side of our collective identity crisis, trying to be the best at drawing out what our big picture should be. Say we’re a “movement” and you’ll varying degrees of clicks, likes, laughs, posturing, pounding, and praise. Claim the opposite, or make a name change, and you’re sneered at, unfollowed, and tossed aside as a heretic.
Yes, discussing the philosophical underpinnings of what we do has its place. It’s good to take some time to talk about who we are and where we’re going. The time for talk, however, is over. With all the time spent defending our ideological turf, there’s precious little left to appeal to the members who own it. Keep arguing amongst ourselves about who we should be and we become less Desjardins and more Jerry Springer.  Flip too far to the other end of the scale by hyper-venerating what a financial cooperative should be and it becomes a museum piece rather than anything resembling a movement.
At the risk of earning my own fair share of criticism, our members don’t care about our well-being nearly as much as they care about their own. They don’t come to our website, branch, Facebook page, blog, or feed just to find out about us. Ultimately, they come to find out about themselves – what they will ultimately be able to do more of, less of, better, or differently because of, and through, us.
So rather than keep fueling the debate on all fronts of social media and conferences about what we really are, I respectfully request that we call a time out on ourselves and start talking about who we’re impacting. Specific stories about real people at real credit unions. Call it “The Year of the Member.”
Every credit union, league, trade association, consultant, and vendor must share stories of how their institution, product, and perspective has helped a real member. Keep these conversations positive, professional, and powerful. Replace every bit of stock photography you use with pictures of, and/or submitted by, real credit union members (an idea put forth first and best by Denise Wymore). Ask members who specifically came to the CU world as a result of Bank Transfer Day to tell us why they stuck around. Find out why some didn’t. Tell both tales. Make your Twitter feed and Facebook page a member-only zone. No marketing messages allowed. Praises, complaints, resolutions, and successes only. Give testimonials from members the front page of your website. Give them a face, a voice, and your best pixels. Speak first of the differences we’re making in the lives of members instead of worrying about exactly how we should be different. Pull the industry-wide percentages off to the side and let the people behind them shine.

Some CUs are already doing this, like Credit Union 1Vancity, and Verity. I’m positive there are others. I hope there will be more.

Do we need to know trends in membership, new technologies, reg changes and other operational transitions? Of course. But for one year, stop making them front page news. You want to discuss the trends affecting your CU? Then you’ll have to thumb and click past the stories of the members who make them possible first.

At the end of the year, pull all the stories together and let them finally and definitively decide what we are. Let their perspectives define our reality so we can go about our first and best mission: making their financial dreams come true.
Andy Janning

Andy Janning

Andy Janning is the author of the books Heroes, Villains, and Drunk Old Men and The Breast Cancer Portrait Project, an 8-time state and national award winner for overall excellence ... Web: Details