Credit Union Times’ web site poll has become a significant barometer of what’s going on in the minds of credit union leaders. The latest poll question is, “Should the credit union industry be described as a `movement?’ “At the time this letter is being written, the “Yes” votes and “No” votes are tied at 36% each. “Not Sure” is 4% and “Doesn’t Matter” is just under 24%.

With apologies to “redneck” comedian Jeff Foxworthy, you know that you are a credit union industry and not a movement when.. Three percent of your industry holds 50% of the assets and serves 40% of the customers. Your product and service portfolio is indistinguishable from that of your competitors. You are hiring talent away from your competitors exponentially faster than you are growing your own talent internally. Your customers respond with “credit union what?” and stare at you with a puzzled look when you refer to it as a “movement.” You make your own decisions rather than do what the movement philosophy police tell you to do. Many of your colleagues at large credit unions make over $1,000,000 per year in compensation. Your industry’s top lobbyist makes $1,000,000 per year in compensation. Your industry is sitting on a multi-million dollar pile of political action committee cash. Your lobbying personnel are inside-the-Beltway professionals who have never worked in the credit union trenches alongside the rank-and-file. Your state “league” rushes to change its name to “association” so that elected officials and the public more easily understand its role.

There are many advantages to being an industry rather than a movement and there is certainly nothing wrong with being described as an industry. All industries evolve in reaction to changes in the competition, the marketplace, and the strategic options they face.

In contrast, when an industry pretends to be a “movement” it is selling itself short. Credit union leaders should revel in being involved in a vital industry and the broader respect that brings. Marvin C. Umholtz President/CEO Umholtz Strategic Planning & Consulting Services Castle Rock, Colo