Why? Because…That’s How We’ve Always Done It

by Heather Ristow, Heritage Credit Union & The Cooperative Trust

All Credit Union professionals have seen it. Yet, we tend to underestimate its prevalence. So what is it?

Complacency – and it’s killing many credit unions’ ability to succeed and prosper.

In every industry, in every organization and in every field, the question, “Why?” may be one of the most difficult to answer. It’s an important question and should be welcomed in credit unions that are looking to grow and adapt with their members changing needs. Whether they like to admit it, many credit unions have a tendency to stifle the “why” inquiries coming from staff and members. This isn’t due to a lack of creativity or innovative ideas – but more the implementation of them.

Listening to staff, planning for the future and implementing new ideas are all necessary steps in growing a credit union, even if they are time consuming and often challenging. If your credit union skips one or all of these steps; it could diminish your organization’s future.

Why Ask Why? 
According to CU24’s Annual Credit Union Industry Survey; over 25% of CU CEO’s surveyed in 2012 indicated their biggest fear and challenge this year was adapting programs to new technologies. And over 50% of these surveyed CEO’s find that attracting new members is a CU’s greatest challenge. If we are at all apprehensive in our forecasts for growth and adding new members, clearly we need to shake things up and make some internal changes.

Although credit unions are experiencing positive growth in many overall measurements (including loans, checking accounts and return on assets), the vast majority are seeing the exact opposite – negative growth. These ratios are skewed mainly due to large credit union’s positive growth trends and significance in the industry. For instance, according to The Financial Brand*, as of September 2012, the top 100 credit unions, ranked by asset size have added 1.3 million new members, which accounts for 84.4% of all new members gained industry wide. This tells us that membership gains from those top credit unions are offset by the collective membership losses others are experiencing. This should also tell us that credit unions outside of the top 100 may need to change their approach to growing membership. Many small institutions are seeing a net decline in membership and are anxious to understand why.

Credit unions can no longer assume that doing what they’ve always done, with the same people in the same positions, will be the key to growth in the future.

Internal Talent
Make it a priority to communicate with and develop your staff. It is important to know who you employ and who may possess hidden talents that would bring potential in someday leading your institution. Understanding your staff’s daily needs, accomplishments, difficulties and member interactions can help credit union leaders make strategic and progressive decisions. Seeing, listening to and developing these individuals could ultimately secure the future of your organization. Be sure to encourage and reward your staff for asking “Why?” and suggesting a new way of thinking. These could be deserving and affordable changes that may not require much time to implement.

One of the most rewarding and eye-opening moments I experienced in my current credit union position was conducting branch visits. I was shown numerous procedures/processes and must have asked the question, “Why?” about a hundred times. Answering my many questions has been a great learning opportunity for our credit union. We are always finding efficiencies and better utilization of our time to keep our focus on our most important asset – our members.

Andrew Carnegie, a great American businessman once said, “The older I get the less I listen to what people say and the more I look at what they do.” Credit unions should prepare and follow through with strategic plans through rapid-yet-thorough execution. They can do this by establishing a team of employees. As mentioned above, developing your internal staff’s talents can be an effective way to materialize ideas.

With the many changes that have swept through credit unions in the areas of technology and compliance, it has become a struggle for credit union leaders to keep up with the innovations they used to thrive upon. This leads to a lack of implementation, which can lead to complacency, which can ultimately lead to the death of an organization. Implementation is difficult, but more necessary than ever. Credit unions need to think and plan differently and never forget to ask “Why?” Then, when you uncover the answer, run with the new ideas it generates…and run quickly.


Heather Ristow

Heather Ristow

Currently, Operations Director at Heritage Credit Union in Madison, WI, responsible for overseeing the supervision and direction of all 9 branches and lead our Innovation Team, to identify and develop ... Details