Have a delicate question you've been dying to get an honest, informed answer but didn't want to be known for asking it?
Whether it's about imposing board term limits or what to look out for if placing a disgruntled employee on probation, for a little over a year those looking for advice on credit union questions big and small have sought CURE, the Credit Union Retired Executives.
With so many credit union leaders retiring, Executive Director Holly Herman and Chairman/Adviser Juri Valdov recognized the need to somehow harness their collective experience to continue to benefit the credit union industry.
"Juri and I were having lunch talking about all the wonderful folks we knew who were retiring or retired, and he said there's a lot of valuable information that is going out the door with them that the industry can't afford to lose," said Herman. "So we thought how about a Q&A website. There are a lot of listservs that are wonderful resources, but sometimes there are questions you need answers to but you don't necessarily want your name associated with. So we thought this website could be where people post confidential questions to one or several advisers at the same time and get their answers."
That lunch took place in October 2008 and by February 2009 www.curetiredexecs.com was launched with an initial 13 advisers who were recruited by Herman and Valdov. Dubbed CURE, the secure virtual network connects experienced retired credit union executives who volunteer their time and expertise to those working in the frontlines of the credit union industry free of charge.
"As more people found out about us they contacted us about wanting to be advisers so we've ended up adding another 13," said Herman. "I think the appeal is that it's a great way to stay engaged and for our advisers it's not a huge time commitment."
Credit union professionals register online then can submit their questions to one or multiple specific advisers or even all 26. Herman monitors the questions to help ensure they are appropriate and not, for example, vendor sales pitches. Detailed answers are generally posted to the inquirer's inbox within three business days. Registrants can also search the site by subject area to find adviser responses to questions posed by others. The confidentiality goes both ways and advisers don't have to worry that their advice will later be used as a quote.
"Our advisers provide in-depth, customized, targeted advice that addresses real-world concerns and opinions may differ on any given subject so maintaining confidentiality is important," said Herman. "The executives who volunteer their services are enthusiastic and happy to be able to help, and we're so pleased with our first year's progress in providing a service that uses the collective knowledge of retired credit union executives for the benefit of all."
She added that there is even a warning that advisers will not always agree and that people should use their head when selecting advice.
"We make it clear that our site provides advice and is not a source for free consultants. If I notice the questions are crossing over I have to step in and say that our advisers are volunteering but not to run a credit union and then refer them to their league," said Herman. "It is still surprising that so many credit unions still aren't aware of what a wonderful resource they have in their leagues."
Herman said the questions have run the gamut from how to reduce costs while retaining top talent or help the membership grow to compliance issues or the more delicate questions regarding board relations.
"We honor our advisers' time and work around their schedule so if they are traveling for a few weeks and someone requests their advice, there is an out of office message generated letting people know they'll be gone or are unavailable during certain days," said Herman.
She said the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive so far, and over 200 credit union professionals have registered to pose questions. Since the initial launch the site has on average 200-220 new visitors a month, 400-600 unique visitors a month, and in its first year had a total of over 375,000 hits recorded.
"We believe in the value and experience offered especially now, during a challenging time in the financial services industry and the overall economy, when credit unions are more important than ever to the members they serve. This year we're looking to build awareness, get the word out that we are here to help-that is our biggest challenge," said Herman. "We've had a really good start, but we still want more credit union professionals to sign up and more advisers to volunteer. We're doing work through the leagues now to encourage them to tell people we exist, and in our marketing materials, we've started positioning ourselves as CURE because we've learned that people would see CU Retired Executives and automatically assume it's geared toward people retiring not recognizing that it's a resource."