CUs Can Grow By Taking Small, Innovative Steps
Then the scenario changes. In your early 20s, you're out in the real world, interviewing different news sources who are again infinitely more knowledgeable about what you're trying to report on. Occasionally, they let you know it, too.
My point is when you're younger, obvious rites of passage propel you beyond your comfort zone, but as you mature you have to learn on your own to recognize the signs that the status quo has changed.
Credit unions in general have always just quietly and patiently gone about the business of serving their members without making a big splash. Credit unions most of the time don't want to toot their own horns. And many fear treading into new areas of business they are not familiar with, like business lending or, for many, it can be something as ubiquitous as credit cards. And some CUs just don't have the resources to explore new areas.
But like an adolescent, credit unions need to continue to grow. You need to try things sometimes to truly know whether you want to do them or not. I'm not suggesting willy-nilly shooting off in all directions. First and foremost, the credit union should gauge what members want in a financial institution. If it's online banking, then study the feasibility of supporting it both with manpower and financially. Would it bring cost savings and efficiencies to the credit union? What are the risks, transactional and in reputation to the institution?
Experiment with the new product or service and see where it takes you. A credit union doesn't have to dive head-first into something like business lending. Baby steps are in order. Try a loan to a small but growing landscaping company for a mower or a truck. It's not a high-dollar loan, it's collateralized, and, if the company's financials are solid, it should be a slam dunk. There's interest income opportunity in it, not to mention noninterest income. (And even if you aren't officially doing business lending, you likely are via HELOCs and personal credit cards anyway.)
Still too much for your credit union? Try business checking. Businesses, unlike consumers, expect to pay fees so there's noninterest income potential not to mention you become familiar with the company's finances and might decide they'd be a good credit risk when and if you branch into lending.
Once a program gets going, if well-researched, considered and planned, it should gain its own momentum if properly supported with staff training and marketing. One thing I've told my younger staffers is that everything is a learning experience, successful or not. Additionally, credit unions need to look outside the movement for innovations and ideas; these can come from unexpected places like the bakery down the street or even a bankers' conference. You can't truly be doing your due diligence for your members without it.
I nearly gave up journalism in my last year of school. A media ethics course of all things was what nearly sealed the deal. My professor related a story of a photojournalist who, instead of keeping a man from jumping off of a bridge in front of his hysterical wife who was trying to stop him, photographed the whole thing. This was revolting to me. I didn't want to be associated with anything like that. Fortunately, I landed my first writing gig at a small credit union newsletter where I didn't have to stick a microphone in a new widow's face. I found a way to practice what I enjoyed doing and not compromise my soul.
Similarly, those interested in the financial services sector found they could feel good about their work at a credit union. Many credit unions have been working their niche, trying to differentiate themselves from the bank down the street. The big banks in particular are having serious image problems. While some have found success, in a cooperative movement made up of relatively small fish in an enormous pond, the efforts can only reach saturation by working together under one national brand in the nonprofit, cooperative spirit that makes credit unions different.
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