FISHERS, Ind. —This year’s CU Water Cooler Symposium was clearly a “no excuses” zone.
Shy or awkward in face-to-face networking situations? Personal trading cards, provided by Meet Meme, which featured each attendee’s picture, contact information, special power and hobbies helped not only break the ice, the scan-able QR Code made the standard business card exchange experience fun and easy.
Talks between the Sept. 29-30 sessions at the FORUM Credit Union conference center were whine-free as conversations revolved around getting things done while speakers turned commonly accepted beliefs on their head.
Charlie Trotter, principal/creative director of Constellation31, “a group of craftsmen and storytellers in Fort Worth, Texas,” redefined creativity from some magical thing reserved only for some to a factor common to all humans, the act of simply taking action despite fears.
“Imagination is the ability to imagine. Creativity is common to us all and if you can accept that, then you have the freedom to pursue it in whatever form it takes in your life,” said Trotter during his session on “Demystifying Creativity.”
“Take time for it to sink in that you are creative in your discipline. You showing up, knowing the nuts and bolts of your business, refining it – the skill of solving a problem –
that is interesting and creative. Creativity is only hard work, so toil every day.”
He added that to be good at creativity, attendees had to be willing to be bad at it in public. “The risk of insult is the price of clarity,” said Trotter quoting Roy H. Williams.
As for innovation, sometimes it’s not so much an “Aha” moment, as it is a process of finding the usefulness within a bad idea.
“The Eureka moment is a total misrepresentation of the innovation process,” said Jayson Halladay, president of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based PiggyMojo, as he shared the back story of his own journey with the couples-driven “impulse savings” solution. “Creating new products don’t come in a tidy, neat instant way nor do you have to be a genius to make one. It’s a sloppy process of finding the usefulness in a bad idea to move forward to true innovation. Embrace the bad ideas, be persistent and patient to transform them into good ones.”
He explained it took years of doing just that to develop the idea of making the experience of saving fun into PiggyMojo.
Having grown up in poor families, Halladay and his wife were motivated to come up with a way to make the experience of buying nothing as exciting as the rush from casual spending.
“You can’t talk about saving without acknowledging the fact that casual spending feels good and saving just feels pretty bland. The problem is that saving doesn’t offer any immediate satisfaction,” said Halladay. “We first pictured it as you’d enter a store and when you chose NOT to buy a shirt you’d head to the register, hand your credit card over and say ‘I’m not buying this $30 shirt’ and with a card swipe $30 gets transferred to your savings account.”
Failing as fast as you can helped what was initially called “Savings Rebel, Rise Up,” which Halladay acknowledged was too angry and aggressive a message, to evolve to the next level of learning. The key takeaway from early efforts was that meeting goals had to be rewarded in an interesting way and center around the idea of what are you willing to sacrifice for the greater good?
The process then evolved from leaving funny inspirational or threatening phone messages, to texting or tweeting positive reinforcement to encourage a behavior change between couples and/or among family members.
In addition, savings goals were made tangible as users could select or upload a black/white image grid representing what they were saving for. As better choices are made and weekly goals met, corresponding incremental savings on the square grid flip, gradually revealing the color version of the image.
“The impact of a financial education class where someone says you need to cut down on discretionary saving fades away in that impulse-buy moment. But now, it’s couples who are inspiring one another in real life situations to change behavior. When you get a text that your husband saved $30 by not buying a shirt and followed by a prompt asking what will you do to meet your weekly savings goal, you may opt out of that latte,” said Halladay. “The point is that the journey to get to PiggyMojo was a lot of push and fail for years and that is the true peek behind the curtain look at the process of innovation.”
In 2007, the Indiana Credit Union League partnered with some Filene Research Institute i3 Indiana credit union representatives and struck a match on innovation with the launch of ignite. It was created as a forum of new idea exchange/implementation, collaboration, professional development and networking.
“With ignite we created a safe harbor for risk taking and innovation,” said Doug True, FORUM CU chief lending and technology officer and a member of the inaugural Filene i3 group.
This year the Indiana Ignite Group has unveiled two programs designed to showcase Indiana credit unions. CU$aves is a mobile app with a CU twist on daily deals ala GroupOn.
It’s designed as a way to reinforce the idea that it pays to be a member by offering discounts on credit union and/or local area business products and services. So, for example, for $5 a member could get $10 worth of goods from a local business partner as long as they use their credit union debit card.
In addition to purchasing the deal, the member can also hit the share button and instantly share the deal with friends and family on Facebook. With CU$aves, credit unions can not only create stronger relationships with members but local business as well, while having the potential to gain new members with free publicity on Facebook.
The second program, a microsite called Indiana Credit Unions Commitment to Change, was created as a way to show consumers and legislators alike how credit unions are helping their communities.
In addition to stories shared by those helped by credit unions, the site offers a running tab of concrete numbers ranging from real time year-to-date dollars donated($124,589) to hours volunteered (1,041) so far.
According to Chad Helminak, Web/member development strategist at the Wisconsin Credit Union League, while it may be hard to find common ground on tag lines or talking points for that often-touted national awareness campaign, staff/member testimonials and data have proven to be an effective way to show what credit unions really are to lawmakers and the general public.
“It has a big impact when you can show lawmakers that Wisconsin credit unions saved members $203 million in 2010, that 92% of them have provided loans of $500 or less to members in need and their 95 in-school branches hold $3 million in student accounts,” said Helminak. “Get a camera and have your members share their story about how your credit union made a difference in their lives.”
Joanne Westwood, manager of accountability reporting at Vancity in Vancouver, British Columbia, added that sustainability reporting can further differentiate credit unions as it can demonstrate their business value through green efforts that help the communities they serve.
Lord of the Ratios
During his Lord of the Ratios session, Jim Craig, vice president of marketing at 1st Advantage CU in Yorktown, Va., suggested that it was time for a better business model.
“It’s all about the pivot, the ability and fortitude to change your business model and think abut how you want to make money not just whether you’re making money,” said Craig. “The more we learn about, teach discuss and understand ROE the stronger we are as a cooperative industry.”
Jeff Russell, CEO of TMG Financial Services and chief strategy officer for Affiliates Management Co. in Des Moines, Iowa, added that members want a variety of payment options including access from multiple channels and devices and with expectations of integration, innovation is as important as ever.
“No one cares about the products, but what they can do for you,” said Russell. “They don’t want a car loan, they want a car, so rethink what we as an industry are focused on.”
The sentiment of deciding whether credit unions were playing to win or playing not to lose seemed to be a running theme as a call for greater collaboration.
Kyle Daigle, vice president of product development at personal financial management specialist Geezeo in Connecticut, said it was time to move on from the checkmark mentality and onto the “best in market” mentality.
“Engagement banking deploys technology to achieve both member intimacy and scale,” said Daigle. “Engagement banking is not selling, it’s providing what the member needs before they know they need it. Functionality is not enough. Ease of use is just as important because startup newcomers like Banksimple, Square, Blippy and Swipely are shaking things up, so partner to provide best in class PFM, mobile, and bill pay tools that are integrated with each other.”