Let’s face it; the forces we are managing as individual credit unions are extremely complicated. Staying on course at any kind of speed while buffeted by regulations, consumer expectations, competition, economic conditions, workforce capabilities and capacities limitations and many other forces is a tall order.
What’s more, building and maintaining a business engine (model) that harnesses these forces in the most efficient way possible is very much like rocket science.
For those who are sticklers on the details I will make it clear that there really is no such thing as rocket science … it is a colloquial term for aerospace engineering which encompasses the various engineering disciplines needed to build spacecraft. There is a great entry on aerospace engineering on Wikipedia if you care to know the history of the field but I won’t go any deeper here. Meanwhile, back to rocket science.
While aerospace engineers work to meld together the solutions to various challenges in aerodynamics, propulsion, avionics, fluid dynamics, materials, structural design, fuel chemistry, etc. to get a spacecraft off the ground and safely into space, credit union leaders face a similarly complicated mix of challenges.
For instance, we face the challenge of providing consumers with convenience (through a growing number of channels), value (in an ever-growing number of definitions) and stability (no more financial meltdowns please) while providing members/stockholders with strong growth and financial results.
Not easy, but considering that engineers had to work out how to ignite an extremely dangerous mix of chemicals in a jet engine to produce 32 million horsepower safely to propel a capsule holding human beings into space I feel confident that the great minds in the credit union movement can figure out a way to adjust to the new world we have before us.
To do so however, we all need to come to a realization … and a big one at that. WE CAN NOT BE ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE. There, I said it and I feel better for it. Say it a few times out loud and I think you will to.
Just as engineers need to understand the purpose of their craft before they design and build it, you need to understand who you are building your credit union for … as specifically as possible. Yes, the market you target needs to be big enough to be viable (and hopefully a growing market so it provides for long-term growth), but you need to get out of the mode of targeting an entire community.
Not only is trying to do too many things more complicated, it is a recipe for failure. Take for instance the aeronautical engineering challenge of the F-35 joint strike fighter. The F-35 has run into serious problems during testing as the difficulty of designing for agility AND range, as well as aircraft carrier AND vertical takeoff and landing (just Google “F-35 problems” for a long list of issues) became clear, and the jet is now projected to cost much more and performance will be lower than originally envisioned.
Similarly, banks and credit unions struggle to grow by serving the underserved community and the upscale market. Why should that be? Shouldn’t a larger market provide more opportunity? Yes … as long as that market has a specific group of needs that you can meet in a substantially better way than any competitors.
Think about it this way … people don’t need a checking account. What they need is a safe way to spend the money they have. Thinking about how you help them spend better than anyone else is just the beginning of targeting a market.
First you have to understand how a 25-year-old rising professional spends money compared to a 25-year-old who is employed part time and living at home. Or how these two compare to a married 45-year-old with kids. Or a 65-year-old nearing retirement. This is just a small part of how just one product needs to be examined to see who it serves best and how it can be modified to serve a different segment.
Better than that … decide which aspect of your market you want to serve and design your entire organization to serve them. Verity Credit Union is making great progress in transforming themselves into a credit union that serves moms (yes, women with children) better than anyone else. What a great market to go after … there is a good amount of similarity in needs, the market is always being refreshed, and, best of all, no one else is going after it!
So when you sit down to begin your strategic planning this fall … think about who you serve and who you should be serving. A great place to start is to look at your current member base and finding out what is the common thread among your best members.
- Who has the most products and services (your most loyal customers) and what do they look like demographically?
- Who are your most profitable customers? Why are they profitable and do you like what makes them profitable?
- Who are your most unprofitable customers? Why are they so unprofitable? How are they different from your most loyal customers?
With answers to these questions you can begin a great conversation around who you serve best and who you want to serve … and how you should serve them. Just like an onion, these questions will create more questions you will want to find answers to. Eventually it should become a lot clearer what kind of spacecraft, I mean credit union, YOU want to build.
Jim Craig is vice president of marketing at the $537 million 1st Advantage Federal Credit Union in Yorktown, Va.