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MEDIA, Pa. – Guy Messick believes consultants should listen to their own advice concerning CUs reinventing themselves to remain competitive. That’s why he formed CUSO Advisors Network to change the way legal advisory services are provided to credit unions and CUSOs. In the two years since it was formed, there’s been no shortage to the number and types of questions he and his associates have fielded. Organized by NACUSO Legal Counsel Messick, an attorney with the law firm of Lastowka & Messick P.C., along with Tom Davis, president of credit union and CUSO strategic and business-consulting firm Davis & Company, and Gene O’Rourke, managing partner of McGladrey & Pullen’s National Credit Union Practice, to provide credit unions and CUSOs guidance as they consider expanding member products and services, Messick said, “CUSOs are basically entrepreneurial businesses that are typically carried out by people without entrepreneurial experience. Often the manager of the credit unions doesn’t have experience starting up a business so there is some education process they have to go through. Since I represent CUSOs all of the time, in my client evaluation they look to me as the guy who has his pulse on what’s going on concerning CUSO’s incidental powers. We help credit unions just forming CUSOs to overcome the obstacles and the fear of the unknown. We want to be the point person a client talks with to help them solve their problem, their trusted advisor.” Messick stressed though that CUSO Advisors Network services aren’t limited to having to do with forming a new CUSO or implementing new services through an existing CUSO. He spends a lot of time reviewing existing CUSOs’ performances and advising on ways to improve them. “The common mistake credit unions make when they form a CUSO is thinking it will be successful without dedicating full-time management or someone whose principle duties is managing the CUSO. Those CUSOs that have been successful have been those with dedicated managers and staff and people whose performance evaluation is motivated by the CUSO’s success,” said Messick. “If you have someone at the credit union who’s not tied to the CUSO’s success, then the CUSO won’t be successful. The whole organization has to be motivated to support every part of the organization, and it has to be integrated as closely as possible with the credit union management structure,” he added. Messick said it comes back to someone being hired who’s full-time or who’s principle time is running the CUSO and that the person has sufficient knowledge about how to manage a CUSO and is given enough time to do so. “You can point to successful credit union people who have CUSO responsibilities, but you can’t expect to flow the CUSO as being just another responsibility on to someone’s plate and not give them the time to do it well, yet expect them to do it successfully,” said Messick. Even though credit unions and CUSOs complement one another, CUSOs and credit unions have several very different characteristics from each other. Depending on the service the CUSO offers, some are more regulated than others. “It requires credit unions to step outside their comfort zone. Once they do that, they realize there’s a great deal of opportunity,” he said. “There’s also a cultural issue that credit unions have to deal with. CUSOs and credit unions have different mentalities, the former being sales oriented and the latter being service focused. The question is whether credit unions will take the experience they have with CUSOs and apply those lessons internally,” said Messick. Messick said forming CUSO Advisors Network with O’Rourke and Davis who both have expertise in two totally different areas than he does allows the group to offer CUSOs and CUs expertise in multiple disciplines. Many credit unions want turnkey solutions and don’t want to have to assemble expertise on their own – one client recently wanted CUSO Advisors Network to review business lending services and provide an overview of the options CEOs can consider – so having expertise in varying areas is something the three of them can bring to the table. As CUSOs mature and become more of an entity for credit unions to partner with, Messick predicts the credit union industry will see more networking and partnering between CUSOs and other financial service providers such as vendors. “There is no doubt the financial services world is becoming increasingly networked,” he said. Messick recommends credit unions sit back once in a while and ask themselves what possibilities and opportunities they can create with a CUSO. It’s not the old business model, but something different, he said, and credit unions should think about what that difference can be and envision the opportunities. -

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