In a recent issue of Credit Union Times, a reference was made to continued healthy credit union membership growth. Certainly the surge in members over the past 20 years begs the assumption that it will only continue. But look again. Member growth numbers are leveling off! In fact, current research indicates: 1. The consumer banking market is now grossly oversupplied! 2. CUs are not picking up new people as much as other sources (mostly the new, non-traditional guys- e-bankers, brokers, etc.) are. (CUNA has "projection" figures regarding this.) 3. Banking products are now "commodities"; there is little difference in what is being offered on all sides. The credit union distinction is fading, a fact confirmed by research data. What this means, of course, is credit unions must wise up to the fact that their real market is not every consumer walking the street, but rather, those who seek the particular value-added benefits that CUs are known for. The good news is that market data shows huge opportunities for growing the credit union business, but this growth will come from the particular segment of the total market that wants/seeks the fulfillment benefits of value-added performance. This is the only segment of the total consumer market that is growing. Future success is going to come from doing more business with members that CUs already have and with non-members who specifically seek the value-added thing over the other (convenience/rate) source factors. Credit unions are going to have to learn to think selectively, stop chasing the rabbit of branch-based convenience, reinforce the products/services/features/benefits/behaviors that confirm credit union's long-standing, "value-added" competitive advantage, and promote this most critical difference as the CU unique POD (Point of Distinction). So wake up everybody! It is a new day out there. Time to switch from a mass-market to a niche-market perspective as the basic credit union strategic focus! It's the way to become a "High Performing CU". Five hundred credit unions did it this year (see for listing). Tony Ward-Smith Consultant Ward-Smith & Company Seattle, Wash.

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