LAS VEGAS -- The Members Value Network is looking to improve the credit union industry by tackling issues that are often considered "politically incorrect."
Founded by Ed Callahan, and four partners: Chip Filson of Callahan & Associates, CU*Answers CEO Randy Karnes, MVN Leadership Services CEO Mark Elliott, and Mitchell, Stankovic and Associates CEO Susan Mitchell, MVN seeks to inspire a higher level of performance and enhanced credit union value.
"It all started with Ed's concept of creating a forum to capture this wealth of knowledge from key leaders retiring," said Mitchell. "These are people who have spent the entire portion of their career dedicated to the credit union industry and to now give them a place where they are free to discuss and explore topics and create solutions that they might not have been able to before when they were tied to an organization."
The group currently meets on a quarterly basis and is putting a framework together to create a speakers bureau, counterpoint blogs and offering up to two conferences a year. For now new members are referred by existing members to ensure the group is a mix of the outspoken, opinionated and most of the all leaders who are passionate about moving the credit union industry forward. MVN's newest partners include CEOs: Gordon Dames (Mountain America CU), Judy McCartney (Orange County's CU), Dave Rhamy (Silver State Schools CU), Dave Doss (Arizona State CU), and Jim Warren (Tyndall CU).
"I often think about how the CU industry would talk to a graduating class of business students about why they should get into the credit union business and we just don't have a great business speech," said Karnes. "We have a philosophy, and emotions are very valuable but we also need to say this is a great place to spend your life and not be a yesterday story but an emerging story. People talk about what the innovation is going to be tomorrow but members are going places with or without credit unions. We can't stand still and expect to wave the members over to us--we have to move with members, be where they are."
The group recently hosted an invitation only Underground Conference at the Cascata Conference Center in Las Vegas.
Some 30 credit union executive activists came to the remote location prepared to contribute, be controversial and talk about real-time solutions.
"We aren't trying to do something for MVN but for the attendees by providing access to former leaders' experience to help today's leaders make better decisions. It isn't about politics, it is about business and the opportunity to participate in constructive debate to generate innovation," said Karnes. "We want to enhance our opportunities through insightful dialogue--that has no boundaries and no vested business interest."
"Paul Parrish did us a favor. It was a wake up call that should spur credit unions to enhance their value," added Filson.
Mitchell says so often out of the struggle the outcome is ultimately a better industry, which is why no topic was off limits. Regarding saving credit union charters, Mitchell and Karnes head a task force to develop a strategic business model that defines a CU holding company structure.
"Everyone seems to be taking for granted there will be fewer than 5,000 credit unions or even less. Why not invent a new structure, such as the unit banking model where a holding company provides consolidated management services from CEO leadership to shared operations," said Mitchell. "Once we lose the footprint that comes with an individual credit union charter, it will be near to impossible to start anew."
As far as community charters, McCartney and Filson will form a CU community cooperative task force to investigate best practices, grants and pilot programs.
"Community charters are supposed to help the community--not just sponsor charity events," said McCartney. "The Treasury Department expects credit unions to make a real investment in their neighborhoods--help people of modest means, student loans, health care programs, provide low-income housing and improve education. There is grant money available to foster these programs and credit unions should be out in front providing meaningful contributions to the neighborhoods they serve."
The group also cautions against fighting the GAO compensation disclosure issue.
"Do your members want the low bidder babysitting their children or managing their money," asked Doss. "Be proactive in defining the message and prepare a communication plan that includes compensation components, the value of the position and talk with your membership."
"When we focus on the members, they know it and value our leadership" added Jim Warren.
Guest speaker, Brandi Stankovic of BLS Consulting challenged the group by observing that relevancy should not be a question, it should be the foundation of the credit union's core business. Why are credit unions not attracting new members, emerging markets and young adults? What have we learned from MySpace.com? What can be learned by watching American Idol and studying their model? "Consumers will change doctors because of the $40 fee associated with moving outside their primary area, what makes us think they won't switch financial institutions," asked Elliott.
The group as whole is also working on creating a political action group that joins together to communicate constructive position statements and spark collaborative CUSOs.
According to MVN members, credit unions "are not in the business to generate votes for NCUA." However, credit unions must communicate their business models and practices to all governing and support organizations to ensure maximum cooperation. Pointing to the service CUSOs provide, the group says credit unions need to continue to enhance this model as a means of increasing cooperation and decreasing costs.
Mitchell says the conference is not just all talk; each task force has a timetable to start generating solutions within 30-60 days.
"It is said that innovation comes from launching 100-150 pilots a year--it is about creating an environment where you can start and fail that generates new ideas, direction and solutions," said Mitchell. "Right now the problem in the industry is being too tight-lipped. We're at a point where individual perspective is so tied to the organization's strategy that it is difficult to challenge process. We need that entrepreneurial spirit and plan on showing how we can make things happen and not take no for an answer."