Technology Is Difference Between Credit Union Extinction and Survival: Editor's Column
The dinosaurs didn’t have the brains or the tools to see it coming, but credit unions do. Fiserv’s Mark Sievewright discussed ISIS among other threats to credit unions last week at the New Jersey Credit Union Leagues’ Reality Check conference. CUNA Mutual’s John Lass told attendees, credit unions are under a serious threat as financial delivery services evolve rapidly, and at least in the ISIS case, credit unions aren’t even at the table. He did add that CUNA Mutual is working on that.
Several interlocking pieces to this puzzle can help credit unions to get to the point that they’re actually invited rather than fighting to be an afterthought.
First there’s the principle of ‘fake it, till you make it.’ Convince yourself you’re as good as you think you are. Then, if you’re not there, get there fast. Credit unions have long suffered from self-esteem issues. Many, though not enough, are beginning to emerge from that mindset. Those that are, keep working at it. The rest of you, please speak out. If the industry isn’t included at the table of something that could be as monumental as ISIS, dramatic changes for the community lie ahead and they aren’t pretty.
The United States in general is behind its Asian and European counterparts when it comes to technology such as chip-and-PIN and mobile banking. Consumers in third-world countries use more advanced financial services technology than the United States, which continues to sit around and wait for things to happen because the average consumer doesn’t experience the same urgency here. Credit unions in rural areas of Mexico provide services via a full-service credit union in a backpack. But with technological and generational shifts, U.S. consumers will jump on board in a hurry and credit unions can’t afford to miss that boat.
According to Sievewright consumers in the next decade will measure service quality by how much they can do for themselves. Gen Xers had mothers who became mothers during the 1960s-70s wave of feminism. More women went to work. We were the original latch-key kids. We’re independent. Many of us grew up with computers in our homes. And right now we’re also rising up the ladder of our careers. We need mortgages, car loans and will shortly need student loans, and we want to be able to do it all online or from our cell phones, which we’ve had since we were 16, because we work 60-plus hours a week. If you’ve already missed us, not only have you missed a group ripe with income potential for financial services, you’ve missed a fertile training ground in the technology arena.
Gen Y, the Millennials and each younger generation will only require more and different technology from their financial services providers, whether that’s a credit union or eventually Verizon Wireless. The window of time to jump in and immerse your credit union in the evolution of technology or get out is narrowing quickly. Every business from credit unions to newspapers needs to face reality and not cling to what we think they should be. Of course principles like proper underwriting and accuracy, respectively, must be upheld, but we need to figure out how to continue adapting to evolving technology and consumer behavior.
Another demographic for credit unions to focus on is women. According to the blog She-conomy, American women spend about $5 trillion each year, which is more than half the GDP. Women buy more than half of the new cars, influence up to 80% of all car purchases, 22% shop online at least once a day (there’s that pesky technology again), and 92% pass along information about deals or finds to others. Each of these points can translate into lending and membership opportunities for credit unions.
Leaders of head-hunting firms have indicated that the beginning of the credit union CEO brain-drain is upon us. Top credit union executives will become younger over the next several years and help credit unions to further adapt to the changing financial services environment.
Credit Union Times isn’t standing idly by either. Last year, we created the Trailblazers 40 Below program to recognize rising credit union talent and get them recognized by current credit union leaders as they proceed with succession planning. Building upon that momentum, at CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference later this month, we’re hosting our first Not for CEOs event, March 20. We’ve invited a variety of credit union leaders to lead a discussion in career development and leadership for younger credit union executives. We expect to host a live audience that will pepper the executives with questions as well as live streaming the event at CUTimes.com/NotforCEOs and taking questions via the #NotforCEOs hash tag on Twitter. The next generation of credit unions leaders will be nothing like the last and their primary source of credit union news can’t be either.
As Lass said at the NJCUL Reality Check, credit unions are at a strategic crossroads and need to face facts. They must make the decisions of what they will excel at and what they will “be bad at.” You can’t be all things to all people. It sounds simple and even a little condescending, but the decision really does boil down to just that.
Finally, one thing no credit union can afford to do poorly is public relations, which is–as I started out this column writing–how to get your credit union noticed. Take note of the credit unions that regularly appear in Credit Union Times or your local press outlets. They get mentions because they generally do good PR. Talk with them. Scale up or down proportionate to your resources and get rolling.
But do it right. Bank of America is toying with charging customers fees for basic checking unless they meet certain criteria, like banking online or using multiple services. They’re attempting to roll out this fee in a more subtle manner than the debit card fee debacle that sparked Bank Transfer Day. That specific day, Nov. 5, may not have represented a sea change, but it definitely raised awareness of the abuses of large banks and credit unions’ more consumer-friendly model of banking business.