Credit Union Times is very proud of its heritage and where it is going. This week we celebrate 20 years in print. Twenty years of keeping the credit union industry informed. Twenty years of serving the credit union industry.

We’ve changed a lot in that time. Names on the masthead have changed. Ownership has changed. The Internet has revolutionized the way the news is gathered and the way that it is provided-the way you, our readers, demand it. CUTimes.com has been online a full decade now. Over a year ago we introduced the digital version of Credit Union Times. We’re tweeting and posting on Facebook, venues not even conceived of 10 years ago, much less 20. Just last week we launched a blog.

Some may dismiss Twitter as a fad or feel that blogging isn’t real journalism. These may be true but that doesn’t mean they should not be tried, including at credit unions, because they are what you make of them. The biggest obstacle to success and innovation is the fear of failure (an epiphany of sorts I had, incidentally, by responding to a tweet a while back by a credit union professional).

While social media can be a “fun” activity but it’s serious work and cannot be jumped into without forethought. A credit union must decide why they want to do it, and it can’t be because everyone else is. We use it as another avenue to share stories, to get feedback on our columns and articles, it drives traffic to our Web site (which can have a financial impact with advertisers), it lets us learn more about what readers want, and it serves as a news aggregator to keep us informed.

Credit unions must think about their strategies. Just pushing out your latest promotion once a month is not going to cut it; you need to ensure you have the wherewithal to keep the effort going with postings at least a few times per week if not per day. Use Twitter to push out financial education materials or mainstream news relevant to your members and then throw in some promotional items. It can’t be all about you. For those of you who are concerned you’ll be slammed by a member somewhere along the way in this very open forum. This just gives the credit union the opportunity to make things right in a very open forum as well. You’re going to get slammed anyway. By the way, Twitter also lets you search for mentions of your company so you can respond quickly to these issues.

Twenty years ago Gen Y was crawling around, drooling. Now, Gen Yers may still drool, but they have money and future needs that you can serve. Credit unions weren’t thinking about Gen Y in its infancy but they sure are now, and many continue to break into youngsters minds earlier and earlier through financial literacy efforts in schools and online. Keep up that good work and an eye on the future.

Within the last 20 years, 12 years ago to be exact, the Credit Union Membership Access Act became law, which in part made it easier for credit unions to convert to mutual savings banks. While there hasn’t been a widespread trend to conversions, there has definitely been an uptick. The NCUA has taken an acute interest in the subject; courts have ruled the agency acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in trying to stop conversions even. Since then, the agency has added several disclosure requirements for the parts of the conversion it can control; disclosure is good. However, the agency also includes on its Web site (www.ncua.gov) information comparing bank and credit unions savings and share rates. I’m not sure of the safety and soundness purpose this serves.

The board is proposing to require that conversion balloting be conducted in secret and tallied by a third party, which really is the only way to hold a democratic election process, so this is a great clarification.

However, a lot of things that should have changed over the last 20 years have not. For starters, there are many board members who’ve been serving on their boards for the last 20 years or even double that. That historical knowledge is good to a point but if most or all of your credit union board has that length of tenure, it’s time to shake things up. The best reason for this is that the credit union board where each member has served 30 years is not likely to be representative of your membership, and if it is, you’ve got even bigger problems.

Additionally, the requirements for running a credit union have dramatically changed in that time. Some board members may be educated, savvy and interested enough to keep up and that’s great, but honestly, how many board members continue to serve on the board just because they always have? The financial services marketplace and credit unions have become much more sophisticated and complex, continuous and verifiable education efforts are a must. I was glad to see that the NCUA has proposed requiring volunteers to obtain basic finance and accounting proficiency at its last board meeting.

One often hears about the trouble with recruiting board members as part of the reason for a lack of turnover. The other reason you hear is you don’t want just anyone on the credit union board. OK, so lay out requirements for board service then market your elections. Ask for candidates. Burying an announcement on your Web site or putting it in a statement stuffer is not enough. I can’t tell you the last time I so much as glanced at a statement stuffer. Posters in the branches would be a start. Splash it prominently on your homepage. Local radio and cable would be nice too but possibly cost prohibitive for some credit unions. For SEG-based credit unions, the strategy behind marketing elections is a no-brainer.

The subject is a touchy one but cannot be ignored. The Filene Research Institute is performing a survey through March 24 with support from CUES on strengths and weaknesses of credit union boards. Thank goodness someone has the guts to raise these issues-it’s only been debated for 20 years.

–Comments? Email scooke@cutimes.com