Three things we can learn from Linda Bodie and Element Federal Credit Union

Way back in 2006 I wrote my first book. I was busy on the speaker circuit preaching the gospel of “brand” and I like to tell a lot of stories in the process. My audiences kept telling me to write these stories down, in other words, write a book! And so I began. Found out it was actually fun and I could write, not just speak.

I had several chapters written but was struggling with a title for the book. I batted around a few ideas that were rejected by my closest friends. It was frustrating. Then I found myself in Maui, Hawaii speaking at a credit union conference. I was well into my second margarita when I remembered seeing a tattoo parlor across the street. Now was the time…

For those of you that have never had a tattoo you need to know two things:

  1. It hurts like hell. It feels like an open flame on your flesh. Especially on the ankle bone.
  2. You do have to sign a form that says you are not drunk, but it doesn’t mean you haven’t been drinking. Does that make sense?

So as “Spike” the brilliant tattoo artist was permanently injecting ink into my tender flesh I asked him this question, “What is the most requested tattoo in your shop?” I was thinking a rose, or tribal armband, but he said “At this shop we get a lot of requests for Harley Davidson.”

And that’s when it struck me. That is the ULTIMATE proof of a successful brand. Tattooing a company logo to your body. Talk about devotion and commitment.

I walked out of there with the title of my book. Tattoos: The Ultimate Proof of a Successful Brand.

The Five Steps To Becoming Tattoo Worthy

Then I did some research on “tattoo-worthy” brands to crack the code on what they had in common that resulted in that level of loyalty. It came down to five basic things:

  1. Identify a target audience.
  2. Talk to your target audience.
  3. Know the competition FOR your target
  4. Make them irrelevant
  5. Stay loyal to your target

After that revelation I rewrote every chapter in the book with a summary at the end describing how they hit all five criteria.

Once the book was published that became a big focus of my speaking and consulting. The framework if you will. I would ask credit union audiences, “How many of your members have your credit union logo tattooed to their body?” It made for a good laugh, but also a moment of clarity. I don’t expect members of a credit union to go that far, but I do know of several credit unions that are SWAG worthy. That is to say members will proudly display coffee mugs, notepads, pens, and wear t-shirts showing their loyalty to their financial institution. That is the ultimate goal, right? When your members become human billboards.

The Three Lessons We Can Learn from Element Federal Credit Union

Last year I saw a social media post of the amazing Linda Bodie proudly displaying the merchandise that was for sale in her branches. In an industry where we are obsessed with growth, Linda continues to show the world the benefits of being a small credit union. Currently Element FCU stands at $40 million in assets.

She knows her credit union is tattoo-worthy so she got the logo tattooed to her arm to show the world how committed she is to the success of the brand. She started at the credit union in 1998 when they were just $2.3M in assets. She made history in 2009 earning the Online Banking Report: Best of the Web award by launching the first remote deposit capture application. They were $11 million in assets and had six employees at the time. Most large banks would have a project team larger than that just to do the feasibility study on mobile remote-deposit capture.

They made history again during the pandemic by beating out $2.6 trillion JP Morgan Chase by landing a big medical marijuana banking contract with the state of West Virginia.

Linda is not only pioneering the cannabis banking in West Virginia she has turned it into a brilliant campaign: #youownthejoint.

And a nod to another famous brand, Tito’s Handmade Vodka and their Vodka for Dog People.

She has t-shirts that support the effort with Banking for Dog People.

I was fortunate enough to meet Linda while I was with NACUSO. I featured her in the NACUSO Spotlight Series in 2016. We lovingly refer to Linda as the “CUSO Power User.” The list of CUSOs she partners with to gain economies of scale and provide a full suite of services to her members is long. In that interview Linda told me, “I can offer a lot more products, services and solutions even though I’m small. There’s no reason to sit back and not do something because of your size. Size doesn’t matter … not when you have the power of a cooperative system.”

Here are the three things your credit union can learn from Linda Bodie and the team at Element FCU:

  1. Bigger is NOT better. In spite of what our industry is obsessed with.
  2. Live the 6th cooperative principle: cooperation among cooperatives to gain economies of scale. There are alternatives to mergers if we just work together!
  3. Stay loyal to your brand and your target. Make your competition irrelevant by doing something that your competitors WILL NOT copy.

I think I need to revise my book to feature a chapter on Element Federal Credit Union.

Denise Wymore

Denise Wymore

Denise started her credit union career over 30 years ago as a Teller for Pacific NW Federal Credit Union in Portland, Oregon. She moved up and around the org. chart ... Web: Details