CHICAGO — Credit union executives attending CO-OP Financial Services recent THINK 2013 Conference heard two teams of executives and a panel of experts debate whether the credit union industry needs to make measured changes to face future challenges or massive changes.
The team of executives arguing for massive change was made up by Patrick Basler, president of First Financial Credit Union; Michael Bell, attorney at Howard and Howard; and Sarah Snell Cook, publisher and editor-in-chief of Credit Union Times. The team of executives arguing for measured change teamed Frank Diekmann, publisher of Credit Union Journal; Jill Nowacki, vice president for development at MAPS Credit Union; and Sandra Scott, vice president of card services and product management for Patelco Credit Union.
The team arguing in favor of massive change won the debate by 57% to 43%, according to audience polling taken during the event.
Both the teams and the panel of experts, which included Mollie Bell, chief engagement officer, Filene Research Institute; Chip Filson, chairman, Callahan & Associates; and Brandi Stankovic, partner, Mitchell, Stankovic & Associates, struggled a bit with defining the topic of the debate, since both sides emphasized that they favored credit unions changing to meet the demands of a shifting marketplace.
“I don’t think anyone is up here arguing for the status quo,” said Caroline Willard, vice president for markets and strategy at CO-OP Financial Services who moderated the debate. “The question is what sort of change is most needed.”
The massive change team argued that credit unions began by stepping into the marketplace with a marked and massively new idea for financial services in the financial cooperative and have continued to adopt massive changes ever since. The measured change side argued credit unions had merely adopted and adapted to changes going on in the market.
In addition, both sides struggled a bit with the recognition that credit unions cannot always look to the members who are also their owners for direction when it comes to the question of change.
“You have to realize that some members are going to hate change,” observed Basler, one of the massive change team members. “And other times you are going to have to make changes in order to attract more members.”
Underlying the debate was a question about technology. For example, is offering a mobile banking experience represent a massive change or a measured change? It is massive in the sense that it means that a credit union might go for a long time without ever seeing a member face to face, but it is measured because the member is still interacting with the credit union to obtain financial services. All that has changed has been the means through which the interaction is accomplished.
Further, while much of the debate centered on changes to the margins of credit union business, the methods of how products and services are offered as well as the use of CUSOs to offer new sets of products and services, there was a high degree of conservative unanimity on stage about not changing credit unions as not-for-profit financial cooperatives owned by their members.
“You own us,” Filson said at one point. “That is part of what makes us unique in the marketplace.”