Whether it's retail delivery or marketing or new products and services, credit unions need to be constantly wetting a finger to see which way the winds are blowing today. Not that credit unions should jump on every trend that blows into town, but you have to tiptoe out on a limb to reach the best fruits. Look for something that has some small, promising track record and make it your own. Watch overseas where consumers are a bit more progressive for what could be the next must-have service on your members' list.
Technology is an obvious place to look for new methods of delivering your financial services or inexpensive yet measurable marketing. Or credit unions can make the service about the technology, whether its mobile banking or financial planning tools on your Web site. Considering the travel schedules of today's professionals, mobile banking will be a must in the not-so-distant future.
I'm also enamored with the concept of financial institutions and credit card companies providing customers with pie charts and other tools to help them better understand where they spend their money. This is exactly the type of service credit unions should be offering, particularly now, to get their members in the budgeting mindset. You may not think going out to dinner once a week with the family is a big deal, but when members see it ads up to 10% of the monthly income, that can turn a few heads.
In addition to helping out members, credit unions also should learn to look out for themselves. In part, they should get more aggressive with collections.
Everyone wants to be loved by everyone, and the credit union psyche is no different, but this goal is unobtainable. Credit unions want to be viewed as the nice financial services providers that aren't out to make a profit on the backs of their members. The trouble with that theory is that the only way credit unions can be self-sustaining is to earn money.
Don't get me wrong-credit unions should not be taking advantage of their members. They should be working with their members who have lost jobs or had unforeseen medical emergencies. And those who have royally messed up their finances do deserve a second chance, but be sure that members don't sip from your fountain of forgiveness to often.
The earlier and more persistent (without hounding) credit unions are in contacting members who are late on their payments, the sooner the credit union can get an understanding of what's going on in the member's life that might be causing the default and a workout can be arranged.
Members signed a contract that they would pay the credit union for a service it is providing; without collecting on that contract, the credit union deems its own services worthless. Collections don't have to be mean, but they are a necessary part of prudently running a lending operation. Of course during a tough economic recession, credit unions may have more collections than they can handle and no credit union wants their credit union headquarters to look like a used car lot.
The overarching lesson in trying something new is that everything you try will not always go as planned. On the other hand, you also will not know success if you never try. It's always easier to remain comfortable in your wingtips, but in fast-paced, modern life, you have to break down and get a new pair of Jimmy Choos.
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