Posts Tagged the credit union difference

A Smarter Choice (.org) for Your Finances

Posted by on Thursday, 17 February, 2011

A common question in the Credit Union industry is “how do we change credit unions from being ‘the best-kept secret in financial institutions’ to ‘It’s no secret: Credit unions are consumers best option for financial services.’”

Insiders may get it, but to everybody else – well, it’s still a secret.

A new website, going on-line Feb. 28, aims to start changing that.

ASmarterChoice.org will debut at CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) on February 28. The site is aimed at telling the credit union story to consumers-at-large and the press. Above that purpose it will also work at convincing more of those potential members to consider and then join a credit union.

The new website is being developed through a partnership between CUNA and State Leagues- Its development costs were borne entirely by the state associations; the website’s services are free to all visitors.

A key component of aSmarterChoice.org is the first, consolidated and comprehensive “credit union locator” which will direct consumers to a CU they can join with minimal hassle and no confusion. The CU locator will include all credit unions – regardless of their charter, affiliation, size, or business models.

The website name, aSmarterChoice.org, emphasizes the exceptional value and service credit unions provide to more than 92 million consumers today.  As not-for-profit cooperatives, credit unions return earnings back to their members in the form of better rates and lower fees.  Independent surveys consistently rank credit unions above banks and thrifts as the institution consumers trust to look out for their best interests.

The stimulus for the project came from a task force assembled by the American Association of Credit Union Leagues (AACUL), made up of chief executives of several state associations. In their deliberations, the task force identified a key goal for the new web tool: Helping credit unions build membership.

In addition to the tools provided by aSmarterChoice.org the site will also spread the latest good word of credit unions appearing in the national, regional and local news media and much more.

aSmarterChoice.org has the potential of spreading the CU difference like never before, allowing us, passionate credit union professionals and enthusiasts to add another tool to our “share the CU spirit” arsenal. What ways do you think this can revolutionize our industry?  Post your ideas and comments below!


United Nations’ International Year of Cooperatives: Why Embrace this Opportunity? Part 2

Posted by on Tuesday, 8 February, 2011

In this, the second part of a two-part series, Sarah Arthurs’ outlines her ideas for how the credit unions and cooperatives can make the most of the United Nations’ declaration of 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives. Please read the first post describing her thoughts on the opportunity presented in 2012.

To support this process I would like to offer some ideas for the consideration of the cooperative and credit union community.

Under 40 Friendly

Whatever we do, we need to make it under-forty friendly (at least! Probably under-twenty would be better!)  Our initiatives need to be in the social currency of the next generation.

  • We need to use social media such as FacebookTwitter and other digital media I don’t even know about because I am over 40.
  • We need to use the reality show model (e.g., Dragon’s Den) to engage new members, to encourage new cooperative ventures and tell our story. Of course this would need to be done with a cooperative twist where everyone is treated with respect and all participants get value from their participation.
  • Our initiatives need to be inclusive and participatory… perhaps with voting opportunities for the public.
  • We need celebrity participation.  We live in a culture where celebrities often lend credibility to and fuel social change initiatives. For Canadians how about Rick Mercer as a spokesman for our year? He did a great job with the One Ton Challenge.
  • It needs to be fun.  This is often accomplished by linking social change initiatives with sports, music or the arts.  We could have a bike tour across the U.S. or Canada with participation by co-op and credit union members.  We could have “Coopapaloooza’s” – music festivals with a message.

Legacy projects

As we think about “legacy projects” let’s broaden our thinking beyond books and investment funds . . . of course intellectual and financial capital of all kinds is important.  Equally important and a strength of the cooperative movement is our ability to create and leverage social capital—the relationships between people and the connections across organizations.

A bias toward mutually-supportive interactions is built into the structure of our organizations with the democratic model of member-owned credit unions, worker-owned cooperatives and social co-ops.  The events and initiatives of the International Year of Cooperatives need to create opportunities for the further development of social capital.

The legacy of 2012 can be new collaborative relationships between organizations fueled by trust, similar values, shared accomplishments and mutual appreciation.  In other words let’s do innovative projects with new partners so part of the legacy of 2012 is increased social capital within the cooperative community.

Local Autonomy

One of the guiding principles of the cooperative movement is local autonomy.  Our uniqueness is rooted to some degree in a structure which has tried to keep decision-making power and responsibility within its geographic location and as close to its member-owners as possible.

Co-ops and credit unions have often grown out of a group of neighbors who recognize a common challenge or opportunity.  These neighbors gather and generate a synergistic response using the cooperative structures.  The cooperative structure lends itself to bottom-up rather than top-down leadership.

The co-op movement is filled with engaged participants including directors, member-owners, CEOs and employees with a sense of ownership for their organization and the capacity to be leaders.  This leadership capacity has often been developed through their training and experience in the cooperative world.

In taking advantage of the United Nations 2012 International Year of Cooperatives it would be a huge loss not to use processes which give lots of freedom, permission, and support and indeed are dependant on as much local grassroots involvement as possible.

What if each city or rural area had a steering group of representatives from local co-ops, credit unions or utility coops  brainstorming how they can use this opportunity?

In Canada there could also be a steering committee with representation from provincial organizations.  In Alberta this could include Alberta Central and SACHA, among others.  And at the national level, The Canadian Cooperative Association has a committee with representatives from Cooperative organizations like The Cooperators and Mountain Equipment Co-op.

If credit unions and cooperatives are in a passive mode waiting for others to act, their leadership will not be awake to considering the opportunities afforded by the International Year of Cooperatives.

Those organizations and leaders will be given the space to own this opportunity creatively, releasing the energy and possibility inherent in the International Year of Cooperatives if they are challenged with questions such as:

  • How can the United Nations International Year of Cooperatives help your organization meet its strategic goals?
  • How would you like to take advantage of this opportunity?
  • Who would you like to work with?
  • What are your first steps?

It is time to change our BKS rating! We have a story to share. The story of a model which is democratic, local and sustainable . . . a story which the world needs to hear now!

Sarah Arthurs M.Ed., C.Psych. is Director, First Calgary Savings; Director, Credit Union Central of Alberta; and a member of the Prairie Sky Co-housing Co-op.  Send Sarah an e-mail at sarah.arthurs[at]prairiesky.ab.ca


United Nations’ International Year of Cooperatives: Why embrace this opportunity? Part 1

Posted by on Tuesday, 11 January, 2011

The United Nations has declared 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives

The United Nations has declared 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives

This is the first in a two-part series from Sarah Arthurs, Canadian credit union and cooperative professional. Look for her second post in the coming days which outlines Sarah’s ideas on how the credit union and cooperative community can make the most of the International Year of Cooperatives.

Over the past two years I have had the huge privilege of attending a number of credit union and cooperative conferences where we received the wisdom of world renowned leaders from outside of the cooperative world.  The recurring themes from these leaders were:

Where have you been all my life? Why haven’t I heard of you before?

As part of their preparation to address the Canadian Cooperative Congress or the World Credit Union Conference they had researched co-ops and credit unions and were blown away by the history, integrity and capacity of the cooperative model.  They say:

This is good news! Why is it not out there?

Well, as a psychologist, I have indulged myself in the consideration of this question.  I have frequently posed it to my credit union colleagues in formal and informal groups. Why aren’t we more out there?  Some suggested explanations include:

  • We are ambivalent about our cooperative identity.  We are afraid it might make us look “Mickey Mouse”, not in the same league as other financial institutions. We are concerned that folk will be turned off by non-mainstream elements.
  • We don’t have the shareholder imperative to maximize the bottom line through rigorously promoting our brand or products.
  • By virtue of the nature of cooperative ventures, we attract people who are team players and not self-promoters, so we are less likely to blow our own horn.
  • Our energy is going into doing the work, not talking about it; so we continue to operate under the radar.

Whatever the cause we continue with our BKS rating—Best Kept Secret!

But now, with the United Nations declaring 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives, we have been given permission—indeed we are encouraged—to blow our horn and tell our story.  We are challenged to share the scope and potential of the cooperative model with our neighbors, colleagues as well as with other businesses and institutions.

This is a unique and time-limited opportunity which would assist cooperatives of all kinds in Canada, the United States and throughout the world to advance their cause.  It would allow us:

  • to reach out to a younger demographic;
  • to create legacy projects of all kinds;
  • to raise our profile locally, nationally and internationally;
  • to empower local partnerships and inspire new collaborations.

More to come in Sarah’s next post, including several ideas for how the cooperative and credit union community can share their story with the world.

Sarah Arthurs M.Ed., C.Psych. is Director, First Calgary Savings; Director, Credit Union Central of Alberta; and a member of the Prairie Sky Co-housing Co-op.  Send Sarah an e-mail at sarah.arthurs[at]prairiesky.ab.ca


Zappos, Old Spice Guy, Red Bull, Under Armour… and Credit Unions?

Posted by on Thursday, 2 December, 2010

Credit unions can learn from oodles of business practices outside of the credit union world. A perfect example is the discussion surrounding the recent Old Spice ads and the efforts of Zappos.com–this blog post and this blog post make excellent points relevant to credit unions.

There are even more if we hop into the Delorean and look at examples over the years.

One I’m particularly fond of is the comparison between credit unions and other financial institutions with that of small innovative companies and their larger competitors. In fact I even wrote about it on the YES Credit Union Blog back in 2006 using Red Bull and Under Armour as examples.

Both have evolved since the original post–Red Bull has increased their product line and now competes to retain its market share in the functional beverage market while Under Armour has entered new sports apparel niches–but I think you’ll still find the examples relevant.

What do you think… does the post hold up in today’s world? Is this even a valuable comparison? Here is the original post:

Wednesday November 29, 2006 – Dominate with Difference
I like to compare the credit union/bank situation to that of smaller competitors/larger competitors in other industries. The credit union movement can learn a thing or two.

For example, Red Bull Energy Drink was a no-name product a few years ago, but has now become a popular product with the 18-to-30 demographic. They may not come close to Coca-Cola or Pepsi in relation to the overall amount of product sold just as credit unions can’t compete with certain aspects of larger financial institutions. However, Red Bull has positioned itself as the leader in the niche market of energy soft drinks and a hip alternative to major soft drink labels. As a result, Red Bull continues to out sell energy soft drink products from these larger competitors by a very wide margin.

The same is true with other industries such as sports apparel. Under Armour–another popular brand with young adults–was recently established by a Senior in college. In just a few years Under Armour made a name for itself with their line of sports apparel rivaling industry giants. Just like Red Bull Energy Drink, Under Armour positioned itself as an alternative to established sports apparell juggernauts such as Nike, Reebok, and others.

How did they do this? In my opinion, they did something well and stuck with it. Red Bull and Under Armour found a niche, specialized their product, and didn’t get carried away with additional product offerings. For example, Red Bull only sells two products, a regular and sugar free version. Under Armour is known for light, fast drying sports apparel providing an “edge” to athletes. Additionally, these two companies marketed their products as something different, as a “cool” alternative, as a counter culture to the “establishment”.

Of course, there are a number of variables that brought success to these examples. And while Red Bull has continued to offer the same two products, Under Armour has expanded their product line. However the underlying principles have remained the same… capitalizing on what made their products different from the status quo, and not trying to be all things to all people.

What does this mean for credit unions that want to better serve the 18-to-30 demographic? The way I see it, credit unions are in a unique position to be the Red Bull or the Under Armor for the financial services industry in the eyes of young adults.

Credit unions are intrinsically different than any other financial institution. We can dominate with that difference to become a true alternative for this demographic to big banks. We can offer superior service, unique products that meet the needs of 18-to-30s, and most importantly communicate the credit union philosophy to separate ourselves from the crowd. Doing so develops our own niche with a generation of young adults who crave something different.

What do you think? Is this a fair comparison? Are credit unions really positioned to move in this direction? If credit unions move in this direction, will we alienate other members? Click on the comment link below to share your thoughts.

(This is a good moment to mention CUNAverse will be adding many of the original posts from the fledgling YES Credit Union Blog, CUNA’s first foray into the blogosphere… the blog has a lot of excellent content from the 2006, 2007 and 2008 YES Summits, the 2009 Community Credit Union and Growth Conference, including posts from Christopher Morris, Ramit Sethi and others. More on this in the near future.)


The Thrill of the Chase: Deal of the day sites

Posted by on Friday, 19 November, 2010

I have to confess: I’m a discount junkie. I and perhaps some of you as well, have a certain love for discounted shopping. We go by many names – coupon queens (and kings!), discount divas (divos?),  frugalistas… the list goes on -just don’t call us cheap ;) .  I simply love a good deal.  If someone were to compliment on anything I own, rather than dishing on the details of the object, I relish in what a bargain it was. It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Whew, I’m glad I got that out in the open!  I get the impression that I’m not alone in my conquest for coupons.

Thanks to Groupon I can affordably solve a mystery while eating a 3-course dinner.

There are many emerging websites solely dedicated to bringing deep discounts to the masses. Groupon.com  is a website launched in 2008 that showcases ‘deal-of-the-day’ offers from businesses in and near the city you live in. Starting with the Chicagoland area, the site now has offers from over 150 US cities, around 100 international markets, and is reportedly worth over $1 billion dollars. LivingSocial launched a similar daily deals program in 2009, which has, to date, been their most successful venture. One thing I particularly like about LivingSocial is their ‘escapes’ off-shoot which features discounted vacation stays/packages. If I can save hundreds on my planned trip to San Francisco with minimal effort, you better believe I’ll take that offer! PS, signing up for deal alerts for vacation destinations is a great way to pick up dining discounts during your vacation (I picked up a San Fran one this week!).

How can credit unions capitalize on the discounts bandwagon??  Take part! Yesterday I read this blog post from Matt Davis of the Filene Research Institute on how credit unions can help to give the gift of membership to their loved ones over the holidays. I thought it was a great correlation of modeling some CU offers and behaviors off of what other cooperatives are providing their members. Is your credit union currently using something similar to attract new and potential members?  If so, we’d love to hear from you – post in our comment section below

As you approach the best way to showcase your CU in the social media realm, please consider new venues to spread the word other than the standbys of Facebook and Twitter. It’s refreshing to see new options for social media and the possibility it holds for credit unions to bring awareness, education, and our philosophy to the masses. Perhaps you showcase your own daily deal, or maybe you can sponsor the deal of the day to get out the good word.

If anyone has been experimenting with discounted deals for your CU, or plans to do so in the future CUNAverse would love to know, we love to see you trying new fun innovative ways of bringing awareness to social media capabilities.

Discount Divas everywhere will be singing your praises ;) Live, save and prosper!


Is Your Credit Union Offering Financial Vitamins…or Aspirin?

Posted by on Friday, 12 November, 2010

From Christopher Morris:

Warning: This post has more metaphors than a middle school poetry contest.

Are your credit union’s product offerings just another “great” financial rate or product in a sea of many? Or are you stopping your member’s financial pain?

In the latest Fast Company magazine, Chip and Dean Heath (authors of the must-reads Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard and Made to Stick) talk eloquently about the difference between “vitamin-quality” and “aspirin-quality” products and services.  In the piece, they note that “vitamins are nice; they’re healthy. But aspirin cures your pain; it’s not a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.” Consider the difference between a book on pregnancy for husbands (useful information, but a vitamin) and the mega best-selling book on pregnancy for women, What to Expect When You’re Expecting (definitely an aspirin).

Credit unions across the country offer a mix of financial vitamins and aspirin. In my new role at the National Credit Union Foundation, I’ve been in awe of credit unions participating in the Foundation’s REAL Solutions program. Some examples of these REAL Solutions’ aspirin-quality products or services (with links for more information):

“I was about to lose everything– totally everything. A lot of institutions turned me away. I feel like my credit union rescued me.”

-  Ora Houston, member of Wright-Patt Credit Union in Ohio

Now that’s aspirin. Credit unions like Wright-Patt are meeting the financial needs of their members in a mutually beneficial way. Are you?

Most likely, you are. But maybe you could do a better job of letting your members know that they need your “financial aspirin.” If you look at most credit union advertisements, you’ll see lots of “come check out our great rate” or “free” this or that. Financial vitamins – useful, but you need stronger medicine to survive.

For example, are you offering financial education? Market it like aspirin – most people think they know a lot about personal finance (even though they don’t). Help them realize they need to know it. Will your product save a significant amount of money compared to competitors? Tell them. How will the product ease their financial pain?

“You’ve heard the old saying ‘If you invent a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.’ Don’t bet on it. The world’s felt need isn’t for a better mousetrap. It’s for a dead mouse.”

-  Chip and Dan Heath

At a conference I was at a few weeks ago, someone said, “Don’t try to outbank the banks.”

So be a credit union. A good one. Offer financial aspirin and spread that message.

Credit unions were founded for this very purpose.

Christopher Morris is the Director of Communications for the National Credit Union Foundation.  He used to work at the CUNA Councils and was on the original CUNAverse team. You can read his previous CUNAVerse posts here.


Take A Chance

Posted by on Tuesday, 7 September, 2010

When’s the last time you took a chance?  Bought a lottery ticket? Went skydiving? Went on a blind date?! Many of us take chances throughout the day and don’t even know it “eh, not too sure about the meatloaf at the cafeteria, but I’ll give it a go,” or “I think I could pull off skinny jeans.” Even if they’re not the best ideas you’ve ever had, you’re willing to give them a try. Ah, such is life.

Now, think about the last time you took a chance for your credit union??  Launching an expansive Facebook campaign?  (Too time-consuming). Hiring a Social Media Manager? (No, I don’t even know what that is!) Starting a blog? (Too much pressure.)

Why are we so resistant to change when it comes to innovation within the industry, but so open to it in other aspects of life? Think about that very first credit union to develop a website. What if that was considered ‘too risky’?  Where would we be if a few more didn’t join the internet bandwagon?  Where will your credit union get more membership inquiries from a website or a phonebook? The Internet has revolutionized all business’ relevancy. If you are not online in 2010 I will bet your membership numbers are declining rapidly (and I personally will never find you).

The credit union movement was created by taking a chance, by offering an alternative to other financial institutions.

Why not take a chance? All ideas may not be million-dollar ones (or I would be writing this from my second yacht in the French Riviera, in my awesome skinny jeans) but you’ll never know unless you try it!

When was the last time your credit union took a chance?


What’s a Credit Union?

Posted by on Tuesday, 24 August, 2010

Steve Rodgers

From Steve Rodgers:

One of the primary challenges credit union marketers are currently faced with is finding ways to promote the benefits and services of their credit union to increase membership and awareness of credit unions, with a drastically decreased budget.  The Marketing Chapter of the 2010 E-Scan Report focuses on strategies for tackling this challenge; however, this endeavor may be even more of a struggle than many even know.  Here’s why I say this:

Each summer, I present the findings of CUNA’s Environmental Scan (E-Scan) to third-year students at CUNA Management School, which is a three-year school held on the campus of the University of Wisconsin in Madison for two weeks every July.

I give the students a one-hour PowerPoint presentation and then my co-presenter and CUNA colleague—Kristina Grebener—gives them a little field work for the rest of the afternoon.

Kristina divides the class into five teams of about a dozen students each and gives each team a Flip video camera. Their job is to roam around the campus and interview people. The teams ask questions like, “Do you know what a credit union is?” The goal of the exercise is to gauge consumer awareness of credit unions.

The teams return after an hour and share their videos with the rest of the class. To people like me who have spent their entire professional careers trying to communicate the benefits of credit union membership, the videos trigger thoughts of a career change. They evoke the emotions of depression, laughter, panic, amazement, and back to depression.

The most common response is, “I have no idea what a credit union is.” After that, you hear a lot of, “I bank at a bank because that’s where my parents signed me up.”

Other responses include:

“I think a credit union is one of those companies that monitors your credit report and tells you when something goes wrong.”

“A credit union is where you pay your taxes.”

“Credit unions are like labor unions—you pay membership fees to belong.”

One of the teams finally came across a guy who knew quite a bit about credit unions, although he did all his business with a bank. He knew credit unions are financial cooperatives and return profits to members. He knew credit unions exist to maximize service to members, and banks exist to maximize profits to shareholders.

“Why,” the team asked, “if you know about all these credit union benefits, do you still do business with a bank.”

“I’m one of those bank shareholders,” he replied.

Suffice it to say, credit unions have a tremendous amount of work to do to move the needle on consumer awareness.

Do these responses surprise you? What is your credit union doing to promote what credit unions are and how consumers can move their money to benefit from membership (no fees attached)?

Steve Rodgers is the Editor-in-Chief  for Business to Business Publishing at the Credit Union National Association.


What I’ve Learned as an Intern at CUNA

Posted by on Monday, 26 July, 2010

Kate Neuens

From Kate Neuens:

When I walked in for my first interview for an editorial internship at CUNA I was asked what I knew about credit unions.

I sat, completely unsure of what to say. I managed to offer, “Well, I belong to a credit union.” I had no idea that credit unions are not-for-profit, cooperatives, and have a D.C. location where they work hard to protect credit union members. I also didn’t realize I had not answered the question that well (it was my first professional interview, so cut me some slack!).

I did not receive the internship at CUNA, but then I received a call a few months later that another internship was open and that I was welcome to interview. Alas, I did not receive that internship as well. I had lost all hope of working at CUNA when I got a call on my first day back to class during my junior year at UW-Madison. I was offered an internship in the Center for Personal Finance working with Googolplex and I’ve been here ever since!

When I started this internship I figured I would just read and edit stories, do my job well, but not become engrossed in the CUNA and credit union system. Well, that didn’t happen. It’s impossible to work here and not get caught up in our mission! I love that credit unions are not profit driven and are run by local communities, focusing on helping consumers. Sometimes it feels like everything is run by “too big to fail” corporations,, but all you have to do is look down Main Street in any town and know that’s not true when you see the credit union. Members aren’t nickel-and-dimed, and credit unions want to help them achieve the best financial success they can. I opened my first account at a credit union, and joined a credit union when I moved to Madison, but I had no idea about the whole amazing system behind the organizations.

Once I learned all that credit unions do to help their members, I found a new appreciation for the work I do here. I think Googolplex is a really important part of our mission here at CUNA and for credit unions. One of our main priorities is protecting consumers, and that means preparing everyone, especially kids and teenagers, for tough decisions about money. We teach youth about the importance of credit, protecting their identity, setting goals for their savings, and how a credit union is the opportune place to get help for anything financial. I’ve always been relatively smart about finding a balance between saving and spending, but I know plenty of people my age who don’t have a clue. I get some pleasure from knowing we may be stopping some kids from making big mistakes with their cash or credit.

So, I came into CUNA knowing nothing, and I mean nothing, about credit unions, and now I know a little something about these fantastic organizations. I’ve learned a lot working here, and I’ve also been taught a slew of valuable lessons and skills, like proper copy-editing, team work in the office, and a whole different type of writing style. I see credit unions as always being a part of my future, because there’s no way I’m moving my account to a bank after all I have learned here!

Kate Neuens is an editorial intern in the Center for Personal Finance. She is set to graduate from UW-Madison in May ’11 with a degree in Communication Arts and English.


Is the Credit Union Difference Reaching Consumers?

Posted by on Wednesday, 21 July, 2010

I’m grateful for the amount of positive coverage credit unions have received as consumers search for alternative banking solutions.  It’s raised public awareness about credit unions as safe financial institutions with excellent benefits for members.

In my opinion, however, the coverage falls short in delivering the full story on why credit unions are a better option for consumers. I worry that the credit union difference—our voluntary community involvement, commitment to financial education,  service to the under-served, and so on—is becoming lost in the shuffle.

The articles I’ve read tout credit unions’ better interest rates and lower fees. Yes, these are important selling points, but they’re not the only ones that motivate people to move their money or remain loyal. We can’t lose sight of our philosophical differences—either communicating them or operating by them—even though credit unions are enjoying large scale, positive exposure.

Going beyond rates and fees is what truly separates credit unions from other financial institutions.  Sure, lower fees and better interest rates are important. They motivate a certain population. It seems to me, however, that the most loyal members are those who also identify with—and are impacted by—our credit union philosophy.

So here’s my call to action….

We need to pull at the heart strings, not just the purse strings. And we can’t rely on others to do this.

Communicate how your credit union is helping the community through press releases and letters to the editor of your local paper. Reach out to your members by participating in the community and let them know about your efforts. Share member stories and promote your financial education resources like Seminars in a Box. Make a concerted effort to enhance the member ownership experience.

These characteristics are just as important to share with the world. While positive coverage focuses on credit unions as safe alternative banking solutions with great rates and lower fees, it’s our duty to trumpet the credit union difference.