During my lifetime, I've been a member of three different credit unions. That would entitle me to an ownership share in each; one member, one vote. Right?
Well, although I may love credit unions and be overly biased in my opinions about them, I have to admit that none of the three ever made me feel like an owner.
I remember the first time I sat down at each to complete my membership form and make my first deposit to join up. During the entire process, no one ever explained to me that the credit union was a cooperative and how it differed from a bank. I was never told about an annual meeting, how important it was for me to attend, that I would have a vote, or that I could even one day seek to be nominated and elected to the board. As for my role as an owner, not a syllable was uttered.
Out of the three credit unions, only one came close to making me feel like an owner. It wasn't because their staff made a conscious effort to do so, but rather, it was because they provided an extraordinary level of service quality, welcoming and thanking me for my business, and going out of their way to ensure my needs were met. Yet, if only I had heard the word owner during that remarkable experience, I wonder how differently my perceptions would have been shaped!
The way I see it, being assigned member status today is overplayed in our American marketing culture. Everyone offers membership of one kind or another; from hotels to grocery stores. How many times were you asked, "Do you have your Ralph's Grocery card?"
Even the strictest understanding of membership is diffused by overuse. Although I may be paying a membership fee in exchange for certain rights and privileges, including exclusive access to specialized products and services, I still wonder what makes this membership different from another.
On the other hand, if the emphasis was placed on being an owner, a whole new sense of loyalty and allegiance comes into play.
For me, ownership creates a more profound and vibrant bond, albeit one that also requires me to relinquish a certain level of complacency, becoming more engaged in the enterprise. The dynamic ushers me to the front and center of the organization, creating for me a vested interest in seeing the organization succeed and prosper.
It's like owning a home. A few months ago, my wife and I took ownership of a new house and with it came a host of responsibilities and tasks. Was I surprised at what that ownership would entail? Not at all! This is my home we're talking about; to own, to maintain, to develop, so that it can grow in value.
Being an owner takes the exchange to an entirely new level, introducing a whole new range of possibilities into the relationship, far from those encountered by being a member of a health club, a frequent flyer program or American Express.
The question is this: Do we believe that the ethos of ownership at credit unions today is still alive and relevant? If so, then make those who belong to your credit union feel like owners. Refer to them as owners. And drop the use of member from your lexicon. After all, wouldn't Owner Shares offer greater curb appeal?
Walt Laskos, WesCorp public relations director, submitted this blog entry.