ORLANDO, Fla. -- Dr. Kevin Freiberg challenged the credit union industry in a keynote speech here at the Florida Convention & Exposition to do something radically different to bust out of the doldrums of growth. Freiberg, author of Nuts! Southwest Airlines Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success, (co-authored with his wife, Jackie Freiberg) has a doctorate in educational leadership but is far from the musty Ivory Tower when it comes to offering advice.
He loves credit unions and what they do, he said, so it troubles him to see them not be in the forefront of the financial services industry. "Ask yourself what you would do at your credit union if you were brave? If you were unafraid of failing?" he said.
Doing things the same way and the safe way (safe beyond reasonable caution) is just a recipe to stay in the same place, he said as he moved through the auditorium at the JM Marriott Grand Lakes Orlando. His voice booming (so much so that he had to have his body mic replaced) he said, "the awareness of credit unions in the general public sucks! You guys still need to tell your story and you suck at telling your story! You need to radically change things around," Freiberg said. Wondering if credit unions played to win or played not to lose the game of growth, Freiberg showed a series of ads by Southwest Airlines that played on humor but had a distinct competitive edge.
"You have to stand out, that's what you have to do to get noticed nowadays. Herb Kelleher, CEO of Southwest got noticed by making fun a part of the flying experience and the airline is profitable. We live in a surplus society in a world of sameness. You have to be unafraid of being labeled a kook. They said Richard Branson (of Virgin Airlines) was a kook, but he's redefining how airlines treat passengers. For a fee, they will pick up your luggage, check it in for you and deliver it to your hotel room. I can get any financial institution to give me a rate quote. Am I going to go across town to get a quarter-point better rate if I'm getting good service at a credit union? No, I'm not. But if I'm a good member with a mortgage at a credit union and I ask for a home equity loan should the credit union send me a blank application?"
Members notice that sort of thing and take it very personally, he said. And that kind of behavior erodes that famous member loyalty very quickly. "Can't you get most of the necessary information and fill it in for me? You already have 90% of it; I'll be happy to update anything required. It's thinking like that that can delight members and it's not too hard to accomplish."
"You have to be willing to risk more and fail faster; experiment and be heroic. The history of the credit union movement is heroic and filled with people who strived against odds. What are you doing to keep that alive today?" Freiberg asked.