"The harder I work, the luckier I get,” said Matt Vance, marketing and community manager at Bellingham, Wash.-based Industrial Credit Union. He has lived by those words since hearing them during an open session at a Crash event he helped coordinate for Mountain West Credit Union Association.
“Mike Williams, CEO of Colorado Credit Union and board chair of the association, said it about the industry’s future, and I think it’s been true for me. You do get lucky for a reason. And it comes down to hard work.”
Vance knows a little something about luck considering his introduction to credit unions via an internship with the Washington Credit Union League (now Northwest Credit Union Association) began in a chance bar conversation about the industry with its public relations director.
“Similar to many, I never thought of credit unions. I wanted to be in the advertising agency world, but after a few interviews with the firms, I realized it wasn’t for me,” said Vance. “I started at my credit union seven years ago and thought it’d just be a jumping point to something else, but from a marketing standpoint I’m doing what I dreamed. I’m one of those who never thought I’d be here but ecstatic that I’m a part of something that’s not just a job but meaningful, which is a big deal to me.”
As a dedicated champion of the credit union industry’s core philosophy and cooperative roots, Vance has high hopes for its future and that more credit unions overall would ask more questions around differentiation and relevancy.
“How can credit unions stand out in a crowded marketplace in a grossly competitive environment?” asked Vance. “How can we create products and services that stand out? As a local resource in our community, credit unions have a great built-in benefit of knowing our area so well. Some credit unions have been there in the community for 50 plus years, hiring, helping. We can stand out, get new members in thinking about how we can be more relevant by offering products and services offering more value than just a bland checking, savings or money market account.”
In addition to rethinking differentiation through a niche strategy, he added that other top challenges credit unions have to overcome include staying true to the cooperative principles that have embodied the industry and young professional recruitment and retention.
“We can’t lose the credit union heart as we get bigger, more efficient and more competitive. We can’t lose sight of our cooperative principles and what makes us unique,” said Vance. “There’s been lots of talk about attracting young new members, but we’ve got to look at how to get them on staff, engaged and involved. Not hand it to them, but how can we cross-generationally come together to help them get to the next level and see a career and future so we’re strengthening the industry for generations to come. A lot of good work has been done, but there’s a lot more still to be done.”
What has motivated and driven him all these years in the industry has been that sense of fulfillment from being in a line of work that helps people and the community at large. He believes that sense of purpose can be better showcased and incorporated in any future recruitment efforts. Vance will be starting a new personal chapter in Seattle next month when he joins Salal Credit Union where he’ll be more focused on product and development.
“It’s an exciting opportunity, and I’m looking forward to getting my hands dirty. I look around and see the industry not as one that’s dying but as strong as ever been. There is so much potential that has yet to be tapped and love the fire you get to see with groups like the Cooperative Trust,” said Vance, who has participated in and helped coordinate a few Crash events. “I love that when we all get together and those at the senior executive level sit with us and share that we’re doing what they were doing 20 to 30 years ago.”
To Vance, true innovation doesn’t always mean inventing something new.
“For me, it’s about offering a different spin on a current something or tweaking something that exists to make it better, or easier for someone,” said Vance. “There are millions of ideas outside the credit union world. How can we use those as a framework to help members and our industry” I enjoy the product development side and building something to help or change someone’s life financially. I look at products and services as how we can help make it better, easier for someone to have a positive outcome financially.”
That approach was the thinking behind the development of Industrial CU’s Family Pass program, which offered locals value by combining traditional services like free checking with local business offers loosely based on the Groupon model.
“It’s one of those things that was a natural fit built off the times we’re in rather than it being something brand new,” said Vance. “We’re very much in a discount and deal environment, and with young families as a key target demographic, we thought if we were going to reach this audience we had to offer value that speaks uniquely to them.”
Launched two years ago, the Family Pass program essentially tweaked what was popular and localized it.
Five deals a month are offered in the categories of meal, adventure, freebie, giveaway and deal. He said it’s been a win-win for all. Business partners that participate get great exposure, and members use their customized debit cards to get the deals, building awareness of the value of credit union membership. Vance added it has been a unique way to grow membership in Industrial CU’s key demographic through a personalized member experience.
“We now have about 3,000 families in the program, and we ask our local businesses for their best deal, so if they have a coupon already out, we want 10% above that. We promote them via branches, email and Facebook,” said Vance. “It’s part of that shared mentality of credit unions, so why not do it? We wanted to keep it simple. That’s why we limited it to five quality-relevant deals a month, and it’s gaining local cult status among moms here.”
Too often, fear of failure prevents ideas from being implemented in the industry said Vance, and he does his best to live by the “fail fast and fail cheap” concept.
“Failure is so healthy and should be celebrated,” said Vance. “At least you tried. We can’t sit and sulk about them. All we can do is learn from them and move on. You took a risk, and it didn’t work so learn from it. And take away something specific that can help you the next time around. I think sometimes we are our greatest competition. We psych ourselves out of game we are in. We have to get out of our own way and keep that community focus on providing relevant solutions to everyday challenges.”
He added that breaking through the too often confining walls of “how it’s always been done” can make all the difference.
“We have to do a constant self-evaluation and to get past that we have to all agree that even what worked last year might not work this year,” said Vance. “We have to take an honest look in the mirror and ask how are we relevant, how can we provide a home in credit unions for people that is right and doing the right thing.”