Here's a joke:
Two little perch are swimming along one morning and they pass a kindly older channel bass.
"Hello boys! How's the water?" he chuckles.
"Uh, hi there," replies one of the perch.
They swim on for a little while before one turns to the other and says, "What the hell is water?"
The more time you spend swimming around in something, the harder it is to see beyond that thing.
Right now, many credit unions find themselves in survival mode. One of the most crushing characteristics of survival mode is that it comes with blinders. If you don't believe me, ask payday lenders. Those blinders are their bread and butter. The entire business model of predatory lending relies on consumers being so broken and overwhelmed that they can't see beyond the immediate future.
We're an industry tasked with changing short-sighted consumer behavior-walking members through the continuum of financial health and vision from transactor to saver to borrower to owner. But we struggle with our own short-term payoffs that come at a high cost: replacing long-term strategy with short-term tactics, or simply hunkering down and doing nothing while waiting for a return to normalcy.
Edward Filene said it well:
"There never was a normal year which could be effectively used as a pattern for other years, hence every effort to get back to normalcy must necessarily fail."
The "normal" many credit unions are hoping is right around the corner will never come. We need to adapt, we need to fight, or we will die. It's as simple as that.
We can learn from the ad industry. Forty years ago advertising agencies relied on media buys to make money. The creative was thrown in for free. It was window dressing. Since then, two things happened:
1) Visionaries like Bill Bernbach realized that creative advertising can drive behavior, and therefore sales. His "think small" VW campaign started an industry revolution.
2) The changing media landscape has made big media buys less relevant, effective, and in turn less lucrative (case in point: Pepsi has gotten out of mass media buys altogether).
Advertising changed. In 40 years their business model has flipped on its head, 180 degrees. Creative drives everything and media buys are simply a piece of the larger creative strategy. The old model is no longer relevant, and the agencies that didn't adapt disappeared.
Ask yourself: how much has changed for our industry in 40 years? Sure, there are new products and tools, but in the end has our fundamental business model changed at all?
I think we're due a revolution. What will the future look like? None of us knows. But the only way we'll be around to see it happen is to create it ourselves.
Brent Dixon, young adult adviser at the Filene Research Institute, submitted this blog.