“The harder I work, the luckier I get,” said Matt Vance, marketing and community manager at Bellingham,Wash.-based Industrial Credit Union. He has lived by those wordssince hearing them during an open session at a Crash event hehelped coordinate for Mountain West Credit Union Association

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“Mike Williams, CEO of Colorado Credit Union and board chair ofthe association, said it about the industry's future, and I thinkit's been true for me. You do get lucky for a reason. And it comesdown to hard work.”

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Vance knows a little something about luck considering hisintroduction to credit unions via an internship with the WashingtonCredit Union League (now Northwest Credit Union Association) beganin a chance bar conversation about the industry with its publicrelations director.

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“Similar to many, I never thought of credit unions. I wanted tobe in the advertising agency world, but after a few interviews withthe firms, I realized it wasn't for me,” said Vance. “I started atmy credit union seven years ago and thought it'd just be a jumpingpoint to something else, but from a marketing standpoint I'm doingwhat I dreamed. I'm one of those who never thought I'd be here butecstatic that I'm a part of something that's not just a job butmeaningful, which is a big deal to me.”

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As a dedicated champion of the credit union industry's corephilosophy and cooperative roots, Vance has high hopes for itsfuture and that more credit unions overall would ask more questionsaround differentiation and relevancy.

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“How can credit unions stand out in a crowded marketplace in agrossly competitive environment?” asked Vance. “How can we createproducts and services that stand out? As a local resource in ourcommunity, credit unions have a great built-in benefit of knowingour area so well. Some credit unions have been there in thecommunity for 50 plus years, hiring, helping. We can stand out, getnew members in thinking about how we can be more relevant byoffering products and services offering more value than just abland checking, savings or money market account.”

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In addition to rethinking differentiation through a nichestrategy, he added that other top challenges credit unions have toovercome include staying true to the cooperative principles thathave embodied the industry and young professional recruitment andretention.

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“We can't lose the credit union heart as we get bigger, moreefficient and more competitive. We can't lose sight of ourcooperative principles and what makes us unique,” said Vance.“There's been lots of talk about attracting young new members, butwe've got to look at how to get them on staff, engaged andinvolved. Not hand it to them, but how can we cross-generationallycome together to help them get to the next level and see a careerand future so we're strengthening the industry for generations tocome. A lot of good work has been done, but there's a lot morestill to be done.” 

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What has motivated and driven him all these years in theindustry has been that sense of fulfillment from being in a line ofwork that helps people and the community at large. He believes thatsense of purpose can be better showcased and incorporated in anyfuture recruitment efforts. Vance will be starting a new personalchapter in Seattle next month when he joins Salal Credit Union where he'll be more focused on product anddevelopment.

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“It's an exciting opportunity, and I'm looking forward togetting my hands dirty. I look around and see the industry not asone that's dying but as strong as ever been. There is so muchpotential that has yet to be tapped and love the fire you get tosee with groups like the Cooperative Trust,” said Vance, who hasparticipated in and helped coordinate a few Crash events. “I lovethat when we all get together and those at the senior executivelevel sit with us and share that we're doing what they were doing20 to 30 years ago.”

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To Vance, true innovation doesn't always mean inventingsomething new.

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“For me, it's about offering a different spin on a currentsomething or tweaking something that exists to make it better, oreasier for someone,” said Vance. “There are millions of ideasoutside the credit union world. How can we use those as a frameworkto help members and our industry” I enjoy the product developmentside and building something to help or change someone's lifefinancially. I look at products and services as how we can helpmake it better, easier for someone to have a positive outcomefinancially.”

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That approach was the thinking behind the development ofIndustrial CU's Family Pass program, which offered locals value bycombining traditional services like free checking with localbusiness offers loosely based on the Groupon model.

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“It's one of those things that was a natural fit built off thetimes we're in rather than it being something brand new,” saidVance. “We're very much in a discount and deal environment, andwith young families as a key target demographic, we thought if wewere going to reach this audience we had to offer value that speaksuniquely to them.”

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Launched two years ago, the Family Pass program essentiallytweaked what was popular and localized it.

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Five deals a month are offered in the categories of meal,adventure, freebie, giveaway and deal. He said it's been a win-winfor all. Business partners that participate get great exposure, andmembers use their customized debit cards to get the deals, buildingawareness of the value of credit union membership. Vance added ithas been a unique way to grow membership in Industrial CU's keydemographic through a personalized member experience.

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“We now have about 3,000 families in the program, and we ask ourlocal businesses for their best deal, so if they have a couponalready out, we want 10% above that. We promote them via branches,email and Facebook,” said Vance. “It's part of that sharedmentality of credit unions, so why not do it? We wanted to keep itsimple. That's why we limited it to five quality-relevant deals amonth, and it's gaining local cult status among moms here.”

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Too often, fear of failure prevents ideas from being implementedin the industry said Vance, and he does his best to live by the“fail fast and fail cheap” concept.

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“Failure is so healthy and should be celebrated,” said Vance.“At least you tried. We can't sit and sulk about them. All we cando is learn from them and move on. You took a risk, and it didn'twork so learn from it. And take away something specific that canhelp you the next time around. I think sometimes we are ourgreatest competition. We psych ourselves out of game we are in. Wehave to get out of our own way and keep that community focus onproviding relevant solutions to everyday challenges.”

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He added that breaking through the too often confining walls of“how it's always been done” can make all the difference.

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“We have to do a constant self-evaluation and to get past thatwe have to all agree that even what worked last year might not workthis year,” said Vance. “We have to take an honest look in themirror and ask how are we relevant, how can we provide a home incredit unions for people that is right and doing the rightthing.” 

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