The view of the credit union landscape from CUNA Mutual Group Senior Communication Specialist Holly Fearing’s perspective is awe-inspiring.
“What I enjoy most is getting people to understand that being passionate is about the way things should be,” said the latest Trailblazers 40 Below honoree. “We are capable of making a better place for all to live in. Why wouldn’t we be able to inspire others to join in our quest to move the world in a better direction?”
She admitted that view may seem Pollyannaish, but said it energizes her every day.
“I’m heartened to see the industry is not opposed to trying new things, and I think sometimes just asking the right question can open the floodgates to being more effective in showing how credit unions are different,” she said.
From the start, Fearing said she knew she wanted to be a writer. Ironically, time spent in the marketing department of a bank pushed her to find her niche with credit unions.
“One day we were discussing creating a campaign to increase the frequency of overdraft protection fees by 25%, and I knew that this was so not what I wanted to do with my life,” she said.
Fearing joined CUNA Mutual as a copy writer in May 2007, advancing to the position of corporate communications and public relations specialist one year later. She was promoted again to her current position in Feb. 2011.
“The financial background did help me join CUNA Mutual in the editorial department,” she said. “I had no clue about credit unions but once I learned, what an epiphany. Once you know what you love to do, you hold onto it and try to create more of it in the world. Turns out I wanted to be a part of credit unions all along. I just didn’t know it.”
She added that ultimately, the credit union cooperative structure resonated and aligned with her passion to be a part of something that makes a positive impact on people and local communities. She’s become such a champion of cooperatives and credit unions, she joked that she simply wears down the opposition.
“It’s like a win by war of attrition. I’m always thinking how can a good idea be taken 10 stories higher,” said Fearing, who attributes her tenacity to her runner’s mentality of outlasting others. “When people voice their frustrations over big banks or big business, the cooperative model is the answer we should shout to the world.”
Ninety-six million members is a huge stage to shout out the value of the cooperative model, she said. The more people who are aware of what cooperatives are and the value they offer, the more potential to expand the entire cooperative movement including credit unions, she added.
With the industry only claiming a 6% share of all financial assets, Fearing said it’s time to stop viewing other credit unions as competitors.
“Working together, credit unions can capture those consumers like me, who didn’t like the way banks were running my money,” she said. “If collectively you pick up 100, 1,000 or a million in your city or state it adds up. Every credit union should be working together to gain members. It’s illogical to me to see other credit unions as competition.”
She also believes credit unions should support other cooperatives as well.
“If you collaborate with a grocery or housing cooperative that’s multiple windows to an overlapping field of membership,” she said. “So if someone new to a city joins a grocery cooperative at checkout they can say thanks for joining, and you may want to join a credit union or other businesses like us. Think how many new referrals generated from just a single like-minded business.”
Fearing said it’s crazy there aren’t already similar cross-marketing cooperative programs popping up across the country.
“The cooperative business model is not without its flaws, but I think if we’re smart about it and tell the story in the right way, consumers will recognize this is what they’ve wanted but never knew they needed,” she said.
As someone who questions everything and sees innovation as a combination of inspiration filtered through a lens of perspective that reveals how things can work together in a new way, Fearing said her hopes for the credit union industry include rethinking what can be done.
“Let’s question the system. What’s to stop a credit union from going to every bank in town asking them to send those customers or businesses they’re not able to help your way and say here is a stack of my business cards,” she said. “Credit unions should rethink everything, even viewing their oversight in regulation as an inhibitor or boundary to doing something. Credit unions don’t need to see their boundaries as permanent.”
She added that in many ways it’s easier to get changes made on a local city government level. In Madison, cooperatives have the support of the mayor and that human element has helped in implementing changes.
Credit unions are often timid about educating members on the value of cooperatives for fear of bugging them, she said.
“Look at Apple. We didn’t know we needed an iPod, iPhone or iPad until they showed us why,” Fearing said.
She also suggested credit unions sit down with Occupy Money founders to learn why they formed a financial cooperative that is essentially a credit union.
“What’s not jiving with the more extreme purveyors of financial alternatives? If they don’t like the way things are being done, credit unions need to know why,” she said.
Given the competition for consumers’ attention, Fearing said she believes credit unions can tap into that brain space by sharing messages that resonate on an emotional level.
“Our differentiator can’t be just service and rates,” she said. “People aren’t very logical, so if we can capture the hearts and minds in a way they haven’t experienced before, they can connect, remember and share as loyal members.”