LAS VEGAS — The stated theme of this year’s California/Nevada Credit Union Leagues’ annual meeting was “right here, right now”—but the sense in the halls of the Mirage where the event was held was more poignant. That sense was simply that the credit unions in these two states, both devastated by the recession and an especially sharp real estate downturn, are still alive and can finally begin to believe they have entered a period of recovery.
California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues CEO Diana Dykstra said as much in her opening remarks. “Credit unions have changed a lot during and after this economic crisis. We had to do better and different and that meant we had to change,” said Dykstra, who added that under her leadership she has put a primacy on listening to members.
Dykstra also hit a high note in her talk: “At the leagues we are committed to helping credit unions change people’s lives,” and the implication was that, particularly in California and Nevada, there are many who want that help to change their lives for the better.
Another speaker at the California/Nevada Leagues confab, its onetime leader Bill Cheney, who now serves as CUNA’s president/CEO, hit a on a similar theme in his talk when he predicted credit unions would see the member business lending cap lifted—but he stressed that getting that result would involve a lot of hard work. He invited credit unions and their business members to hike the Hill November 27-28 in what CUNA hopes will be a grassroots lobbying presence that gets its message across in Washington.
Cheney also said that an area of significant and deep focus for CUNA is looking for ways to ease the regulatory burden stemming from the many requirements imposed on credit unions by federal and to a lesser extent state regulators. Cheney stressed that he believed at least some regulators were getting that message but he insisted CUNA intended to keep pressuring for less onerous regulation.
Neil Goldman, a longtime number cruncher when it comes to credit union research, used his keynote to deliver a mixed message: There is much for credit unions to be happy with in current consumer research but there is plenty of disquieting information, too.
Goldman’s big point centered on banks’ lack of public good will. They just are disliked, but at the same time, according to numbers cited by Goldman, six in 10 consumers are unsure that credit unions are open to new members. There is very little knowledge about the shared ATM network. Deep consumer uncertainty exists as to whether credit unions are capable of delivering on the technological front that today so many consumers crave. The bottom line is that the opportunity for credit unions is unprecedented in its magnitude but to fully capitalize, credit unions have a lot of work to do in raising potential member awareness.
In a session of Credit Union Times’ ongoing “Not For CEOs” series held during the conference, Teresa Halleck, CEO of the $5.8 billion San Diego County Credit Union, said much the same as Goldman’s numbers revealed. Banks, she said, are “notorious for not doing the right thing.”
Credit unions, she added, are not-for-profit and community focused and that gives them real advantages in pursuing new members. “The current economy has given us a bigger platform to reach out and differentiate ourselves from banks.” But Halleck left little doubt that the pursuit is ongoing and requires tenacity.
A wholly different avenue for credit union growth was outlined by Miriam De Dios, CEO of Des Moines, Iowa-based Coopera, which is owned by the Iowa Credit Union League and works to bring more Hispanics into the credit union system.
“You saw what happened in the election,” said De Dios, referring to President Obama’s victory. “One group was credited with making a lot of the difference.” That was Hispanics of course, a group credited with delivering Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and several other states into the President’s column.
Getting more Hispanics involved in California and Nevada credit unions in particular has become a necessity, said De Dios who pointed to the fast growth of Hispanic populations in both states. For instance, by 2030 one in three Nevadans will be Hispanic.
Why aren’t more Hispanics involved in credit unions? According to De Dios there’s ignorance on both sides. Some credit unions think Hispanics are mainly undocumented and with few economic resources. Many Hispanics think credit unions just don’t want to serve them.
Both are false, said De Dios, who pointed to Coopera research suggesting it would be fairly easy for California credit unions alone to earn $592 million in annual income serving more Hispanics, of which 41% now count as unbanked or underbanked, according to Coopera.
In Nevada, similar numbers could happen, said De Dios and, in her mind, Hispanics are exactly the answer to many credit unions today.
Mixed into the California/Nevada Credit Union Leagues’ agenda also were a few talks designed to stretch the minds of attendees. That certainly was the goal of keynoter Frans Johansson, who was raised in Sweden, the son of a Swedish father and an American mother of African American and Native American descent. Johansson’s key message emphasized that logic and analysis alone rarely solve the big business problems. Randomness and serendipity often do.
“Pay attention to surprise. Surprise happens when you hit on something you could not logically have planned for,” said Johansson.
He advised attendees to stop in a newsstand on their way home and buy five magazines they never would read and then read them carefully, looking for the unexpected.
Onetime Starbucks’ marketer John Moore was another keynoter who said the path to lasting business success is based on following three rules: make money, make members happy, and make employees happy. The last point, suggested Moore, has been key to the success of Starbucks, which has from the start paid employees higher than the competitive set, and it has also offered them benefits such as healthcare. The result has been much lower turnover. “Be good to your employees and good things happen,” said Moore. “Jazzed employees will jazz members who will jazz your sales.”
Moore also suggested that the real way to succeed is to make your credit union “something to believe in. If you went out of business, would anyone care? Would anyone even notice?”
Digging even deeper into the social media universe was final keynoter Jay Baer, author of the popular convinceandconvert.com blog, who hit attendees with a transformative idea: “Today every member is a reporter.” His point: in an era of mobile phones and Twitter and Facebook, members with gripes or perhaps praises have places to easily make their ideas known and every institution needs a strategy for dealing with social media.
Baer continued, “You used to have time to contemplate, to think about a reaction. Now it’s boom!” He added, “Customer service has become a spectator sport.”
The good news is, he said, “Every member is a potential marketer.”
How to get there? “Be faster, smarter, more social,” exhorted Baer.
Baer cautioned, however, “Having a Facebook page is not transformational.” That may be a step but it means little. “Worry less about the technology than about building relationships.”
Relationships, he pointed out, fundamentally are what the new social tools are about and ought to be a sweet spot for credit unions which always have prided themselves on their member relationships.
Baer also shared what he called four magic words that will turn just about anybody into a social media superstar: Thank you and I’m sorry.
When members express anger on social media apologize. Ask for more details. Don’t get defensive. Don’t fight back. “People just want to be heard,” said Baer.
And thank them for their praise when they express it.
The goal, stressed Baer, is not to be good at social media. The goal, he urged, is to be good at business and have those successes cascade into social media. Being popular on Facebook, he said, “is a trailing indicator of business success,” meaning that the more an institution pleases its members, the more likely are they to friend and follow that credit union on social media.
“When you help someone, you create a member for life,” Baer said. He explained that helping members could occur offline or online.
“You are not an industry. You are a movement,” said Baer. When passion for the movement shapes interactions, good things will happen for the institution and its members, he suggested.
In a breakout session, Bill Shipley, a mobility expert with consulting giant Accenture, warned the audience: “If you are not playing in the mobile space you will lose out on a whole group of customers who don’t know anything else.”
Mobile is strategic, it is transformational, Shipley added. “It is not just another channel.” This is because mobile banking puts in the user’s hand vast powers to better execute financial activities, anytime, anywhere. Inherent in that is the danger of delay because evidence mounts that consumers are choosing financial institutions based upon the technology options available.
Shipley detailed a timeline from the decisions to make mobility core to an institution and actually getting there. Assuming the process goes smoothly, Shipley’s timeline showed 18 months until rollout.