It’s time for a new outlook on cooperative community

For industry traditionalists, 2017 is the year to make way for a new outlook on cooperative communities. Credit union leaders are being fiercely challenged to preserve the cooperative values that are foundational to credit unions while innovating to create communities beyond traditional geographies. In 1864, the first rural cooperative lending institution, credited to Friedrich Raiffeisen in southern Germany, applied cooperative principles to develop communities that provided financial services and promote fiscal self-reliance to members of the community, encouraging them to improve their lives. (My Credit Union, 2017) At that time, these credit union’s cooperative community were local towns, residents and employers. Traditional geography broadened and evolved over the years and now mobile economies are redefining our cooperative communities.

Looking through the lenses of cooperative principles, serving and working for the greater good of the member and the community is still the wellspring of credit unions today. However, a new cooperative community has emerged and its members have a new standard and expectation for service. The mobile revolution has changed the emotional outlook of consumers and disrupted the traditional behavior once prevalent in financial services. The result is what may be called, the fixated mobile member. Can credit union leaders preserve the heritage and value of the cooperative community as it evolves into a new mobile cooperative community? I believe the answer is unequivocally, yes!

Insightful, even daring, credit union leaders are growing their mobile cooperative community by investing in mobile technology solutions that extend services to members beyond traditional geographical boundaries. Callahan’s Liz Furman reported in her article, “Does Technology Matter To Small Credit Unions?” that credit unions under $100M in assets are expanding their cooperative communities by 3.7% year-over-year. Furman highlights that new virtual communities with global boundaries are being successfully developed and serviced through innovations for mobile devices. (Furman, 2016)

Driving Growth in Mobile Communities

In a recent discussion with a credit union CEO, I asked him about growing his mobile (virtual) membership community. He indicated that mobile technology conveniences were not offered to his membership. Incredulously, I invited him to consider the facts of contemporary consumer behavior, something every credit union leader now needs to consider if they haven’t already. Consumer behavior has changed considerably since the introduction of mobile devices.

In its 2016 Annual Consumers and Mobile Financial Services report, the Federal Reserve Bank (FRB) reported that as of November 2015, 87% of U.S. population over the age of 18 owned, or had access to, a mobile phone. Of that 87% of U.S. adults, 77% of those phones were smart phones. If that isn’t enough to get your attention, more startling is that 91% of adults 18 – 44, those in their peak financial service and lending years, owned mobile phones. Of those adults surveyed, 42% had already, or would “definitely” or “probably” adopt mobile banking. (FRB, 2016 pg. 17)

Expanding the cooperative community through mobile services, including; mobile banking, remote deposit capture, electronic signature authentication, electronic bill pay, electronic member application, electronic loan application, and electronic account opening capabilities enables credit unions to extend the value of the credit union’s cooperative charter to a new generation of members. This type of change is not simple or easy, and it requires dedicated and even doggedly persistent efforts to accomplish, but it is possible. “Credit unions that offer a variety of technology options … not only [exceeded] standard growth and penetration rates but also [have above] average member relationship and member growth.” (Furman, 2016)

Keeping Integrity to Cooperative Principles

Leaders who seek to understand consumer behavior are evolving and changing their cooperatives to now serve a mobile cooperative community. These leaders are preserving and enhancing the cooperative principles of the credit union and impacting the lives of their mobile members in positive ways. Having integrity to the cooperative principles of credit unions can include preserving the best of yesterday while innovating for the opportunities of tomorrow.

Acadia Federal Credit Union idealizes this standard by recognizing their members’ need for both traditional branches and mobile conveniences. While keeping branch access available, Acadia also has an active mobile strategy to grow membership through mobile apps and Internet offerings. “Absolutely it’s expensive to keep those branches open, but we are member-owned and here for the service of those members,” David Desjardins, CEO of Acadia states. (MaineBiz, 2013) The result of member trust can be measured in Acadia’s share and loan growth.

Statistics are telling industry leaders that overall member preference towards performing financial services on mobile devices continues to grow. To be successful in our mobile economy, leaders must learn new skills to “systematically identify important usage situations, [so they] can tailor market segmentation strategies to ensure that offerings meet the specific needs [of the member].” (Solomon, 2015 pg. 353) Skeptics can argue that cybersecurity and technology costs don’t justify providing mobile services to members, but the evidence does not support the arguments.

Mobile-Minded Leaders Build for Success

Credit union leaders are leveraging technology and service CUSOs that, through scale and cooperative ownership, drive the cost of technology, compliance and services down for their owner customers and collaboratively build solutions that expand traditional and mobile cooperative communities.

By leveraging their CUSO network, South Bay Credit Union, a 7,400-member credit union based in Redondo Beach, CA, developed a mobile strategy that preserved traditional services prominent in their member service delivery. Jennifer Oliver, CEO reported, “We embark[ed] on an unprecedented strategic technological transformation forging a path to mobility. With this transformation, we will truly become a networked credit union with mobile staff and the ability to serve members in varying ways.” (eDOC, 2016)

Resources are available today that can rapidly teach a motivated leader how to build culture and tactics that respect and leverage the value of the cooperative credit union charter while addressing the requirements of new mobile communities. One thing is certain, it isn’t a ‘one and done’ event. It is a cycle of innovation that includes planned abandonment for products and services. Michigan State University Federal Credit Union is driving account openings by applying this theory. “We look at the point of abandonment to see if we can structure the application differently so that doesn’t happen,” stated April Clobes, President & CEO. “We try to make it more current and add more products to the shopping cart — things that will help decrease abandonment.” From Jan. 1 to May 30 of 2016, MSUFCU opened 962 accounts online, representing nearly one-third of all new accounts.

Some industry leaders may say it’s too hard, it’s too costly for my credit union or that preserving cooperative principles in an age of mobile innovation isn’t possible. I believe that it is possible. I see credit union leaders growing their credit unions because they understand the value of the cooperative principles, are applying them to contemporary mobile economies and communities, and are reaching out for support to help them get there. For these leaders, they are succeeding in developing new mobile cooperative communities that reflect the shape of traditional and mobile community design. This is exactly what we need from all our credit union leaders. Mirroring the very essence of cooperative principles that are foundational, having a willingness to listen and learn, and a readiness to go to work on building the value of the cooperative charter will foster diverse traditional and mobile cooperative communities that are the future of our industry.



Coultas, C., (2013), ‘CEO David Desjardins leads Acadia FCU to prosperity’, MaineBiz, [Online], Available at:, (Accessed: 4 January 2017)., (2017), ‘Rochdale Principles’,, [Online], Available at:, (Accessed 27 January 2017).

eDOC Innovations, (2016), ‘South Bay Credit Union Transforms Member Services’, eDOC Innovations, [Online], Available at:, (Accessed: 4 January 2017).

Federal Reserve Bank, (2016), ‘Consumer and Mobile Financial Services 2016’, Federal Reserve Bank, [Online], Available at:, (Accessed: 12 December 2016).

Furman, L., (2016), ‘Does Technology Matter To Small Credit Union?’, Callahan & Associates, [Online], Available at:, (Accessed: 4 January 2017).

My Credit Union, (2017), ‘Historical Timeline of Credit Unions’,, [Online], Available at:, (Accessed: 4 January 2017).

Rapport, M., (2016), ‘Don’t Just Onboard, E-Board’, Callahan & Associates, [Online], Available at:, (Accessed: 4 January 2017).

Solomon, M.R., (2015) Consumer behavior: buying, having, and being. 11th ed. Upper Saddle River, pp. 1-7, NJ: Pearson, VitalBook, (Accessed: 20 March 2015).


Bret Weekes

Bret Weekes

Bret Weekes is the President and CEO of eDOC Innovations, a multi-owned CUSO that specializes in image capture, automation, item processing, and management solutions that seamlessly integrate with the diverse ... Web: Details