It is crazy how quickly a once thriving CUSO can suddenly find itself on its back sucking for air and worrying about its future. I have seen this many times and the answers usually aren’t buried that deep. Let’s examine some of the ways on how not to get derailed so quickly.
Manage your financials
Most of the problems in an organization can be diagnosed by going through your financial data. If you aren’t an accounting expert, find someone who is and have them help you analyze your income statement, balance sheet and cash flow forecasts. Nine times out of 10, you can gain a better understanding of your problems by better understanding your financials.
Include yourself in IT decisions
Purchasing “must haves” and “best of breed” everything will catch up with you over time. Sometimes, the cost to purchase a new product or service can pale in comparison to the maintenance costs over three or four years. Don’t build something that is too expensive to maintain. Look for strong low cost alternative IT products. Get your IT staff into the practice of submitting all requests with a three-year cost of ownership and at least two other products they reviewed before making this recommendation.
Diversify your product line
Product diversification over time is important. The CUSO may have been created for a specific purpose, but technology, member needs, regulations, all change, and what makes your CUSO valuable today may not work tomorrow. Keep an eye on emerging trends and don’t be afraid to examine adjacent markets for possible opportunities.
People hire mirror images
If you have a human resources department or management team with socially extroverted personalities who are not especially technical, they will tend to hire outgoing people that everyone likes who don’t have a technical background. Why, because they aren’t focused on hiring for technical aptitude.If you have a hiring manager who can be a little negative, they may tend to hire folks with the same characteristics. Your employees are your biggest asset, and corporate culture is very important. As a general rule, hire slow and fire fast.
Stay true to your mission
Your CUSO was designed to service your credit unions. By collaborating with one another, credit unions can use the CUSO model to bring down costs, improve service, and remain competitive. The purpose of the CUSO isn’t to pay huge dividends and give endless discounts. No one wants to belong to an insolvent CUSO. Purchase what you need, set cash aside for a rainy day, and then address discounting.
Share your passion
Your employees and your credit unions need to know and share your vision. If no one is following your lead, it’s probably because you are the only one who knows where you are going and that’s probably not a good thing. This lack of leadership drags everyone down, and you start wondering why no one is buying your products or attending your events. Communicate often and be specific.
Pay attention to industry trends
Have you ever seen a nature show with prairie dogs? With my staff, I use the example of how they eat in the wild. While most have their heads down eating, at least one is sitting up keeping a look out for predators to make sure no one in the group gets eaten. You are the lookout prairie dog in this scenario. Keep your head up and communicate to your staff what is happening in the industry. Read the trade publications, listen to your clients, talk to your managers and keep your head up.
Form strategic alliances
If you think you know all there is to know, your CUSO will eventually go out of business. I can guarantee you. You need to understand that partnerships help you grow and that closed systems eventually implode or wither and die.
Jim Giacobbe is president/CEO of United Solutions Co.
Contact 866-942-9186 or jgiacobbe@ unitedsolutions.coop.