Trailblazer 40 Below: CUinsight’s Randy Smith Has Seen the Light
Talk to Randy Smith, co-founder and publisher of CUinsight, and it’s hard not to get excited about the credit union industry.
“If you told me when I was in college that I’d be in the credit union industry, I would’ve been shocked,” said Smith. “I was on the big bank, Wall Street side for years. I think having that perspective just makes me feel so lucky to be where I am today, and I’m now the biggest credit union advocate.”
Like many, working with credit unions was more about the opportunity to make a career change. His cousin David Miller, co-founder of CUinsight, was forming a business continuity, disaster recovery service firm for credit unions and given Smith’s financial services background, knew he’d be the perfect partner.
“I knew it was time to make a change and working with individual credit unions, meeting this group of people who have a passion for the industry beyond just the job, was contagious,” said Smith.
Wanting to spread the word about credit unions, sparked the idea for CUinsight, which Miller and Smith first envisioned as a Google for credit unions.
“Obviously, bank is a four-letter word in the industry, but if you googled anything about credit unions, banks would pop up first. It would all be rolled together,” said Smith. “With so much great stuff going on with credit unions, how do you share that? Besides the trade publications, there were bloggers, local coverage and all this information floating out there, so we thought why not have it all in one place and really be a resource for credit union employees.”
As a news aggregation site, Smith said he’s constantly looking for the best information out there to share. He added it’s a place that focuses on connecting the credit union community to the news, press, career opportunities, posts, vendors and each other.
“We’ve never claimed to be journalists so we’re upfront about our bias toward the credit union community,” said Smith. “We try to put it all out there, the good and the bad, because it’s important to know what’s going on outside of the industry as well.”
It’s something that’s resonated within the industry. In just a little over three years, CUinsight emails go out every morning to 25,000 subscribers.
“I’ve got to be the luckiest guy in the world. We couldn’t believe how quickly it’s taken off, and the industry acceptance has been amazing,” said Smith. “It’s like the CNN Headline News effect where after these 200 sound bites you have a pretty good grasp of what’s going on in the world that day. I see our site as a great place to get a quick hit of the day’s information that you can skim to see if there’s something of interest without looking at 20 different sites and walk away with awareness of the most important stories of the day.”
The mix of Miller’s technical prowess, Smith’s vocal passion for the industry along with the organizational skills of Project Manager Kelsey Askea has struck what Smith said is the perfect balance.
“Everyone assumes I know how to build a website, work with code, fix computers. Not at all. I still have to call David to set up my email on a new laptop or iPad,” said Smith. “I love talking to people, big ideas and the news. I have no interest in the technical side of how things work. If people ask if we can do something or I come up with a new idea, I always assume it can be done. David makes it all happen and Kelsey keeps us on track.”
The site continues to evolve and a decision was made in January of this year to shine a spotlight on the CU Community page, where articles from over 100 credit union professionals can be found.
“I love just looking at our list of contributors. This is what my vision for CUinsight is all about. Giving the passionate people of the credit union movement not only a platform, but an audience to get ideas out and spark the discussion,” said Smith, who lives in Greenville, S.C. “Bringing together this group of intelligent and amazing people from around the credit union community gives me more satisfaction then anything I have ever done professionally.”
From his unique news perch, Smith said opportunities abound for credit unions.
“Credit unions are doing great things in their communities, but they still aren’t telling others outside the industry about it. As an industry, we’re way too modest. With all the horrible stories about banks, why not share the good credit unions are doing even at the local level. Because of what’s been happening the past two years people want to buy local and credit unions are like the small businesses in their communities."
After the national attention of Bank Transfer Day and the negative press about big banks, here is the opportunity for a great industry filled with great people to tell their stories of what they are doing to help people, support local businesses in their communities. It’s not going to last forever. Have a 30-second education ready about who your credit union is and why it matters. Let people know, we can do this,” Smith said.
He added to harness the industry’s full potential, innovation and cooperation are key.
“Our mantra here has been we’ll try anything and move quickly to get it out there but won’t get married to it so we fail fast and fail cheap. If it doesn’t work, we get rid of it. With innovation people are sometimes too afraid to try new ideas thinking it has to be some big make-the-hair-stand-on-the-back-of-your-neck idea. Really, it’s a matter of improving things from the way they’ve always been done– that we can all do,” said Smith. “I focus on cooperation instead of collaboration because of the shift in mindset. A credit union in North Carolina can talk to a credit union in California about something they’ve done that’s worked, and they’ll open their books and share everything. That’s cooperation and now is the time to stand and shout from the rooftops what’s working. Instead of seeing other credit unions as the competition, we’ve got to come together and go after the 90% market share that large banks and others like check cashers, Walmart, Google, Apple and online-only banks hold.”
He added that with cooperation, five to six credit unions could get together locally to offer everything from back-office services and human resources support to joining forces to build local awareness of all area credit unions.
“Stop being worried about just the individual credit union because by working together at even just the local level the conversation can shift from who isn’t participating to OK, let’s build awareness of credit unions for our area because it makes more sense as everyone wins when locals know about credit unions.”
He’d also like to see more credit unions dig deeper into the whys behind those member satisfaction surveys beyond rates as a way to leverage their true value proposition.
“On a broader level, asking if they are providing all that their members expect them to, what can we do next, what’s working what isn’t and how to make those changes that need to be made looking ahead,” said Smith. “The best advice I ever had beside have fun with what you’re doing, is to keep trying new ideas and always listen. Listen to your employees, members and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to try to do right by them and do it better.
"I think a lot of times in the process of overanalyzing an idea that if it doesn’t work instantly, it just gets written off instead of going back to see what did and didn’t work and why. If credit unions listed just five things that they’ve heard members complain about or suggested for years and figured out how to change that experience or make it better that is the key to success. If you just focus on one item at a time to change, it’d take that fear of failure rate way down. We all have budgets but coming up with even one solution a quarter or a year–anyone can do that. That’s how your members and employees become your greatest advocates.”