What’s killing your credit union? You are.

During strategic planning, we often ask ourselves “Who is our competition?” Most of the time we come away with a list of other financial institutions—maybe even some fintech players. “They’re bigger… they have better technology…. they have more branches… they have a better online presence…” Do any of these excuses sound familiar?

It’s time to change how we ask the question about our competition. Instead of “who,” it’s more helpful to ask “what.” According to the former CMO of MyFitnessPal, Dave Wheeler, the answer to that question is easy: “Your competition is any and every obstacle your customers encounter along their journeys to solving the human, high-level problems your company exists to solve.”

Can a fitness company improve the health of your credit union?

As a credit union, we seek to solve people’s financial problems. Our solutions can be as simple as giving someone a place to keep their money safe, or as complex as helping them purchase a new home or navigate a financial crisis. While our products and services are clearly different from those of a company like MyFitnessPal, Wheeler’s advice has powerful applications for any industry. “We were on a mission to make it easier to live a healthy life than an unhealthy one. So, our chief competition was anything that makes it harder to live a healthy life,” he said in a recent article in Harvard Business Review. Applying this perspective to the financial world suggests your chief competition is likely more than just the other branches within a certain radius.

“If we had viewed Weight Watchers as our competition, we probably would have spent a lot of time trying to do what it does, just a little better,” Wheeler continued. Think about that. Are you simply trying to be a better credit union than the one up the street? Are you trying to be a better “bank” than Wells Fargo? (To be fair, that’s really not hard to do.) Take some time to identify what could keep someone from becoming one of your members.

Change the game by redefining your competition.

By no means am I suggesting you ignore your competition. But, instead of investing so much energy into trying to be a better version of what’s already out there, dedicate your time and resources to solving the real-world problems your members are struggling with. Drop the “me too” marketing and development strategy. Be unique. “The brands that remove obstacles and encourage progress along their customers’ journeys,” Wheeler says, “are the ones that win repeat visits, repeat purchases, and word-of-mouth referrals.”

Once you’ve redefined your competition from outside competitors to the obstacles your members and potential members are facing, redirect your team’s time and creativity into finding solutions for those problems. Here are three steps you can follow to successfully plan the growth of your credit union:

  1. Re-think what you sell: Whether it’s loans or deposit products and services, most credit unions think of money as their product. Instead, focus on selling the transformation that’s possible from using your product (loan, savings, etc.).
  2. Re-think your members: Your members are not just the numbers you report to NCUA every quarter, nor are they the people in your branch or following you on Facebook. Your members can be anyone struggling with the problems your credit union exists to solve.
  3. Re-focus on their problems. Do some research—both online and in branch—to understand and document your member experience. This goes beyond a member’s life cycle with your credit union. Map out your (redefined) member journey, starting with the problem you exist to solve and continuing all the way to the solution of that problem. That may be the journey from being completely broke to becoming a good steward of their finances.

As you work to retrain yourself and your team to think strategically, consider using the same thought process employed by Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos: “If we can keep our competitors focused on us while we stay focused on the customer, ultimately we’ll turn out all right.”

Bo McDonald

Bo McDonald

Bo McDonald is president of Your Marketing Co. A marketing firm that started serving credit unions nearly a decade ago, offering a wide range of services including web design, branding, ... Web: yourmarketing.co Details