Lee was kind enough to sit down with us and answer a few of the questions regarding his unconventional plans for this conference’s opening session.
You’ll be presenting on the lifestyle of rock stars and applying that lifestyle to credit union lending practices. Can you fill us in on the connection there?
You’d be surprised what you can learn from rock stars. Really. Okay, there is the “what NOT to do stuff” (bad habits) to not emulate, but there are some valuable lessons we can use in our daily lives to be better at what we do at home and on the job. Let me give you one example off the top of my head. Credit unions would not exist without their members, which are a lot like fans of a band. Those of us who have been members of a credit union for a long time (I’ve been a member since 1985) are passionate, devoted, and excited to be a part of something special. Banks are huge (like a super group) and almost everyone has heard of them, but credit unions are more like that band that is popular, but a little less mainstream–which is cool because not everyone is into them and that makes us feel a little smarter for being a fan. Maybe we can connect a little better because the band isn’t as popular and answers their own fan mail or plays smaller venues so we can get up close and personal. Our small, but awesome band (Read: credit union) hasn’t sold out, is in it for the long haul, and does it right–and does right by us. We’re loyal and love them for what they do . . . and do for us. See, the analogy works. We become “Dead Heads” (Grateful Dead followers) or “Parrot Heads” (fans of Jimmy Buffett) because we identify with what these acts stand for. Those of us who have a special place in our hearts for credit unions are “Member Heads” for a good reason; the people at our branch are like rocks stars to us when we make an important financial transaction.
In your opinion, what is the most valuable mindset to embrace when approaching a conference designed to open up new perspectives for attendees, like this year’s school?
I could try and equate the conference with a rock concert, but that would be a stretch. That’s not to say it won’t be awesome in its own way, but you won’t need to hold your lighter up to get a speaker to do an encore–but if you want to do that for me when I speak, I would be stoked. Okay, back to the question. In the music business there are several conferences (NAMM and South by Southwest to name two) where musicians meet to connect, learn, and find out what’s what in the industry. If there is any business model that has been turned upside down, it’s the music business. Everything from the way music is made and recorded (analog to digital) to how it is sold (albums in music stores to digital downloads on iTunes) and enjoyed (from cassettes played in cars to satellite radio and smart phones) has changed and the smart people are willing and able to change with it–and get ahead. If we look at the school as a chance to see what’s happening and how it can help us do what we do better, we will be much more engaged in what we will learn. There are plenty of parameters that control what can be done in the music business just like there are when writing loans, and music executives know they must find creative and innovative ways to work within the rules (if you are thinking about the payola scandal of the past and other record label tricks, it’s much less prevalent today) and adapt in order to get the music into the hands of those who want and need it. Sound familiar?
Followers and loyalty: definitely as important in credit unions as in the rock world. What advantages do you see in a credit union striving to build fandom rather than indifferent memberships?
A large and loyal following is the key to longevity in the music business. There are many bands that alienated their core fan base by trying to please the masses when their “members” were happy with what they had been doing previous to their attempts to be something they were not just because it was trending–and tempting. They lose the true fans of the band and after (maybe) a short bump in sales and popularity are dismayed when the fickle fans leave for the next big thing.
Fans for life are what credit unions want. A good example is a band like the Eagles where you will have three and four generations at a concert all singing along to the old songs. If we can create the kind of loyalty where credit union membership passes from generation to generation, we have the same kind of “sales” for our greatest hits album that bands do with theirs. Today, music is promoted primarily using social media which is, in essence, word-of-mouth marketing. When we do our jobs right and make sure our members’ expectations are exceeded, they will do the rest for us by posting positive comments on Facebook, in person and in passing, to other people.
Some might argue that rock stars live irresponsibly. Do you think there’s something to be said for calculated irresponsibility that a lending professional could embrace?
If rock stars were perfect, they would be far less interesting. Yes, it’s about the music, but we also like to see something and someone special out there doing things we can’t (or won’t because we’ll be arrested . . . or worse) so we live vicariously through our flawed heroes. At this point you are probably thinking, ‘There is no way he can tie this in to this conference and credit unions’–and you would be right . . . and wrong. We need to be shining examples of fiscal responsibility, be trustworthy, and know what we are talking about. Aha, here is the part you didn’t see coming. Nobody likes a know it all. Nobody is expecting a robot to help them with their loan. Nobody wants to be judged. If we can be empathetic, understanding, and non-judgmental by sharing our own personal experiences (good or bad) to help a member make the right decision, we should. If we leased when we should have bought a car and learned a valuable lesson from it, why not share it? If we bought a boat and realized “b-o-a-t” stands for “bring on another thousand” and maybe encouraged a member to make sure the boat is checked and double checked before buying it, what’s wrong with that? Be real so that members know you know what you are talking about because you have been in their shoes.
LEE SILBER is the best selling author of 19 books including “Rock To Riches”. He will be presenting the opening keynote about the connection between credit unions and rocks stars. www.leesilber.com