CUNA Search More Than Just Replacing Cheney
Bill Cheney's relatively unexpected departure from CUNA makes it official. Like a luxury cruise liner, CUNA is adrift at sea.
Oh, the power is still on and the toilets all work. The shrimp cocktail is delicious, the shows run on time and famous faces still drop by for guest appearances.
But that big, luxurious boat isn't really going anywhere.
For years, the CUNA faithful have marched to Capitol Hill with pretty much the same message: No new taxes, let us make more business loans and supplemental capital would be great, too. There have been some new slogans (Unite for Good! A Smarter Choice!) and some minor legislative victories, but they’ve never added up to lasting momentum.
The destination hasn't ever been crystal clear to me, either.
Meanwhile, financial services have radically changed. The last 10 years produced far more than the financial crisis and resulting overregulation backlash. The industry as a whole is rapidly approaching a tipping point. Personally, I think we’re already there.
The Millennial Disruption Index is the latest in a series of reports that say traditional banking may have run its course with consumers. The index, which ranks industries most likely to be radically transformed by Millennials, included more than 10,000 respondents born between 1981 and 2000.
It was produced by a business strategy consultancy arm of Viacom, and despite its promotional stunt white paper status, offers plenty of research meat. But you don't even have to dig far into the data sets to get to the good stuff. The website infographics are horrifying enough.
Millennials who would rather go to the dentist than hear a bank pitch: 71%.
Millennials who don't think they need a bank at all: 33%
Millennials who would be more excited about financial services from Google, Amazon, Apple, Paypal or Square than a bank: 73%.
Don't think for a minute credit unions aren't lumped in with banks in the minds of these consumers. So there are two takeaways here:
Dump your big bank stock immediately, and
Credit unions may become obsolete within 10 years.
What is CUNA, as the industry's largest organization, going to do about it?
The CUNA board is faced with a far greater task than replacing Bill Cheney with another old white dude who is more charismatic and has a few more important friends on Capitol Hill.
CUNA, as the face of the credit union industry, has a bigger problem.
Not only is the ship adrift, but the tides of the sea have changed, too.
The rising cost of employee benefits fueled record numbers of freelance employees before Obamacare even had a name. Working Americans who don't receive a regular paycheck via direct deposit don't fit traditional financial products at Wells Fargo any more than they do your credit union.
Prepaid debit cards mean checking accounts with overdraft fees are for suckers to the 35-and-under crowd.
And what about loans? How will traditional financial service providers adjust their loan underwriting for Millennials, who may never have, or want, regular paychecks? Credit unions have struggled to capture the Gen X market, and the oldest kids from the boomers’ first marriages start turning 50 this year.
Yes, CUNA needs a big win on Capitol Hill. But it needs much, much more, and so do credit unions. The CUNA board has a golden opportunity to transform the organization in ways that could boldly lead credit unions into the future. The Millennial Index reported that about half of those polled think tech startups will produce the future's mainstream financial products and services. Not banks. Or credit unions.
CUNA should be searching for that next big thing. CUNA's next leader should have an idea of what that thing might be and how credit unions will not just offer it eventually, but be the first to bring it to market.
The dual membership issue also needs to be resolved. CUNA may have to revisit its league franchise and make some major changes there, before that structure also grows obsolete.
It's going to take more than the usual chorus of great pricing, superior service and clever ads with a pinch of warm and fuzzy cooperative spirit to compete for Millennial market share and the generations that follow.
Here's hoping the CUNA board has that in mind when it selects its next leader.
Heather Anderson is executive editor of CU Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-370-4822.