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 (see coverage, page 6). CUNA Mutual’s John Lass told attendees that CUs 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. CUNA Mutual was working on that.
Several interlocking pieces to this puzzle can help CUs get invited rather than an afterthought.
First, there’s the principle of “fake it, ’til 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, please speak out. If the industry isn’t included at the table of something as monumental as ISIS, dramatic (tragic?) changes to the community lie ahead.
The U.S. in general is behind its global counterparts when it comes to technology such as chip and PIN and mobile banking. Consumers in less-developed countries use more advanced financial services technology than the U.S., which continues to sit around waiting for things to happen because the average U.S. consumer doesn’t experience the same urgency. CUs in rural areas of Mexico provide services via a full-service credit union in a backpack. With technological and generational shifts, U.S. consumers will jump on board in a hurry, and CUs 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 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, we’re hosting our first Not for CEOs event, March 20 in D.C. We’ve invited a variety of credit union leaders to lead a discussion on career development and leadership for younger executives. We will host a live audience that will pepper the execs with questions as well as live streaming the event at CUTimes.com/NotforCEOs. We'll also take questions via the #NotforCEOs hash tag on Twitter. The next generation of credit union 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 decisions on what they will excel at and what they will not. You can’t be all things to all people. It sounds simple and even 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 and others 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.