Keep it simple, stupid.
It’s an old, overused phrase, but it sure rings true.
Running a successful credit union isn’t rocket science or brain surgery, but it’s not easy, either. I’ve written some stories that have made my head spin, and I can’t imagine how tough it must be to actually manage those topics. Technology, legal challenges, risk management, compliance, budgets, vendors—and somehow, you have to fit serving members into that laundry list.
That’s where the simple part comes in.
All day long, Credit Union Times posts stories about complicated issues. But as I put the final touches on this column, our most popular story online is a simple list of credit union mascots.
Perhaps our readers just want a diversion from the complex, but perhaps not. Could it be that when it comes to connecting with members and creating a brand that’s different from the big bank on every corner, it’s that simple?
We all talk about how financial services has evolved into nothing more than a commodity. Checking accounts and car loans are all pretty much the same. We rack our brains over pricing, risk profiles, target marketing, traffic patterns and anything that will give us the edge we need when members arrive at that zero moment of truth.
But then something as simple as Petey the Pelican draws crowds of kids begging for photos and attention as he represents the $218 million Pelican State Credit Union in Baton Rouge.
While you’re brainstorming ways to attract younger members, think about the parents trying to run errands with a bored, troublesome kid in tow. For him or her, where do you suppose that zero moment of truth happens?
I know I’ve had days when getting my toddler to shut his cry hole for just five minutes—just give me five ding dang minutes, kiddo—is worth far more than a few bucks a month saved on my car loan.
The last page on that mascot story really hit home. Cami and Zoey, two cute little dogs from the $9.5 million CanDo Credit Union of Walbridge, Ohio, are the simplest mascots of all. They don’t promote financial literacy or match the credit union’s Pantone logo colors; they are merely the pets of the credit union’s CEO and spokeswoman, and hang out in the branch during business hours.
From the story: “Our dogs remember exactly which members bring them treats. They share a toy box in the back offices and the kids know this. They come back and get balls to throw for the dogs and they play tug-of-war with them.”
A simple connection.
Now, I’m not stupid enough to think Cami and Zoey are a cure-all for the problems small credit unions face, or credit unions of any size, for that matter. They can’t provide economy of scale, bring delinquent members current or help you understand what the heck is going on with that interchange court case. But they are the perfect example of the credit union difference.
I think you agree, and that’s why that story shot to the top of the most read list within 24 hours, and smashed our records on Google Analytics.
Even if the story is popular only because it’s a diversion, it still worked. You’re credit union professionals, but you’re also consumers, looking for that simple something.
Credit unions that keep it simple are also the ones we’ll trot out before Congress as the House Ways and Means Committee considers our tax future. Who better represents the credit union difference: the guy who brings his dog to work to stretch his marketing budget, or the one who, according to the CUES 2012 Executive Compensation Survey, demands a banker’s salary?
Instead of crafting complex and somewhat hypocritical talking points, credit unions should keep the message simple: Americans have the right to access tax-free, not-for-profit financial cooperatives. Period.
And not only should you speak that simple cooperative truth, you should live it, too.
Look, I’m all for getting paid. As a female executive, I think it’s wonderful the female-friendly credit union industry is earning compensation on par with the male-dominated banking industry. (Although I do wonder how those numbers would look broken down by gender.)
But don’t cash that bank-sized paycheck while claiming that a holier-than-thou devotion to service makes you different.
Members of Congress may make some boneheaded decisions, but they ain’t that stupid.