NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Before any form of innovation and collaboration can even began to take shape, there has to be the much-needed phase of critical thinking--something that is sorely lacking these days, said Tom Davis, chairman of the National Association of Credit Union Service Organizations.
To that end, the organization has set out this year to build on its cornerstones: critical thinking, collaboration, innovation, and reinvention of the credit union industry.
"There has been a deterioration of critical thinking in this country and in our education system. We have some wonderful critical thinkers in this industry but we need to broaden it to encourage [critical thinking] to be the norm," said Davis, who is also president/CEO of Davis & Company, a Highlands Ranch, Colo.-based management consulting firm specializing in member focus group research, strategic planning, change management, and board governance. For its part, NACUSO will soon roll out its National Center for Collaboration and Innovation, which recently received $50,000 in seed capital from PSCU Financial Services. At its annual conference April 30-May 3 at the Wynn Las Vegas, NACUSO will feature case studies from credit unions and CUSOs that have put collaboration and innovation in the forefront, Davis said. Two of the keynote speakers, Nicholas Carr, a business writer and speaker whose work centers on strategy, innovation, and technology, and Michael LeGault, author of Think! Why Crucial Decisions Can't Be Made in the Blink of an Eye, will focus on how critical thinking can pay off in the end. NACUSO is also planning a series of regional meetings to address what members have been seeking more information on, the renewed interest on the IRS' unrelated business income tax, for instance, Davis said. Non-interest income, the flat yield curve's impact on margins and operating expenses going onward continue to be critical industry issues, he added, while payday lending and income tax preparation have gained more of the spotlight in the movement.
This year will also see more outreach to partner with "like-minded" organizations such as Callahan & Associates, Inc. and U.S. Central, Davis said, to develop joint research projects. The association plans to link up with "reputable" universities to offer seminars on critical thinking and innovations.
In a poll conducted last year of eligible credit union members, Davis said 56% said there is no difference between a credit union and a bank and the rest said they know there are differences, but just weren't sure what they were.
"There's very minimal market differentiation, we have to ask 'how are we different,'" Davis said. "[The poll] presents some wonderful challenges for us."
To keep the flow of ideas fluid and transparent, NACUSO plans to launch its CUmatch.com Web site by the beginning of the second half of this year. The Web-based program will allow members to access others to find out what successful projects they have implemented. With just 5.7% of the industry assets, Davis said CUSOs "just don't have the scale to outmuscle the competition" and the online access may help make a competitive difference.
One area NACUSO plans to take a harder look at is membership growth, which has somewhat stalled over the past few years. With the average member's age at 46 years old, Davis said an aging member base will force credit unions and CUSOs to court young people. Based on hundreds of focus groups, the association has discovered that many young people don't consider membership at a credit union as being important, Davis said.
"If that is true, how do we help credit unions attract the younger segment. It can't be the same old," he warned. "These challenges present huge opportunities to credit unions. They're not life threatening but we need to point people in the direction of innovation."
Davis said all the discussion and thinking in the world is for naught if there is no follow-up at the end of the day.
"Implementation is so important because a lot of people will go to a conference or networking session and a lot of good ideas pop up but then it stops there," Davis said. "One of things we'll assist with is the implementation." --firstname.lastname@example.org