Credit union business development used to be all about developing relationships with and acquiring new members from Select Employee Groups. That isn’t the case anymore.  Business development is one of the fastest-growing trends in the credit union industry. There are many reasons for this surge.

First, credit unions are realizing that having a strong business development program is becoming a necessity. And this includes all types of credit unions including community charters, CDFIs, multiple common bonds, etc. That’s because more credit unions are realizing that the business development function encompasses a lot more than just SEG development.

Indeed, community development, building relationships with centers of influence and key decision-makers, community outreach, creating and maintaining visibility and awareness for the credit union, and shaping and communicating the credit union’s “value proposition” are all part of business development.

To demonstrate all of this, I would like to offer a definition of credit union business development: “The art of developing sustainable and meaningful relationships with local businesses, the credit union’s community, and existing and potential members with the goal of increasing the credit union’s viability and its visibility to local business and the community at large.”

The next reason for the surge in business development is that it touches almost all aspects of the organization. Business development professionals must have strong and trusting relationships with their fellow employees. The ability to work together with marketing, operations, lending, and member service employees is vital to the success of the business development program.

While it is fantastic that business development is gaining more momentum throughout the industry, it should be noted that business development is not for everyone – this does not mean that all credit unions don’t need it – this means that the business development profession is not for everyone.

It takes a certain skill set for an employee to be successful at business development. Many credit unions make the mistake of starting a business development program and putting someone in charge of the program that is not suited for the kind of work that business development includes. It is important to have the right people doing business development.

Here are some traits of successful credit union business development professionals: they are hard-working, flexible, passionate, driven, ambitious, not afraid to “push the envelope,” and are persistent (but respectful.) In addition, they realize that business development is not a 9-5 job and that it is a job that requires finesse and the ability to communicate with people through public speaking, making presentations and building relationships.

Since business development is becoming more and more desired, it is also important for credit union senior management to realize that it needs to be included in strategic planning initiatives and that input from the business development department should be gathered when making decisions about product development, service enhancements, and goal-setting.

Finally, credit union business professionals need the “freedom to fly.” Most of their work will be accomplished outside of the credit union itself. Don’t chain them to a desk or hold them to a time clock. Hold them accountable but don’t suppress their need to go where the opportunities to develop more business for the credit union are.

A strong business development program at your credit union will lead to more members, more loans, and will foster greater relationships throughout the community. And who doesn’t want those things?

Sean McDonald is president of Your Full Potential LLC  in Bloomfield, N.J., and founder of the Credit Union Business Development Academy.