Assumptions are the most powerful force in financial services. Period.
Assumptions fuel innovation, predict crises, inspire action, focus effort, and generate consistency. They also stall innovation, force miscalculations, destroy passion, divert attention, and create chaos. Assumptions in credit unions can be healthy and unhealthy-sometimes simultaneously.
Consider the assumption that "credit unions can't grow market share because we haven't done a good enough job of educating the public about the movement." This is real and bogus all at the same time. While it's true we haven't done a good enough job of educating the public about credit unions, there's a distinct possibility that some people simply don't care about our ownership structure, mission, and core principles. What if we turned this assumption upside down and said "credit unions aren't growing because we're doing too good of a job educating the public about the movement. The more the public knows, the less the idea appeals to them."
Is that healthy?
Is it true?
Let's twist that assumption a little bit more and ask "what if the more we tell people about credit unions, the less special membership feels?" When a tight-knit club loosens its eligibility requirements, do the founding, die-hard members not lose a sense of attachment to the organization?
Maybe we can't grow market share because our members don't want us to.
Maybe our members want us to grow market share but they don't know how to help.
Maybe this isn't an education issue at all. Maybe it's a demonstration issue. Maybe the assumption should be "credit unions can't grow market share because we haven't, collectively, done a good enough job of demonstrating the principles of the movement."
Maybe people just don't care.
Maybe we haven't given them a reason to care.
You can test assumptions. You can survey people and ask them why they behave in various ways. With a big enough sample size, perhaps you can even morph heuristics into proven facts...kind of like scientists do with the health benefits of alcohol. I forget, is wine healthy this month? Oh yeah, "in moderation" is the key.
Maybe credit unions are only good in moderation. Yeah, that's the ticket. We can't grow market share because we're overexposed. Like Starbucks. Or Krispy Kreme.
Maybe we're too moderate? Maybe we don't take a firm enough stand on important issues. We're intimidated by controversy. We're terrified of rocking our own boat.
Maybe we save people too much money? Maybe we've cheapened ourselves by trying to be the low cost leader.
Assumptions can help and they can harm. If that sounds contradictory, it is and it isn't. The truth is, assumptions are often wrong. They can shackle us to status quo or lead us down disasterous paths. And because we're in the risk management business (I'd argue that it's too often a risk avoidance business), we trust the assumptions of the past and dismiss new, unproven ones.
All assumptions are unproven.
Turn them upside down. Take a stance. Take action.
It's our only chance.
This guest blog was written by Matt Davis, Innovation Implementation Consultant at Filene and CUWarrior blogger.