A story goes that the ice cream cone was invented at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 when an ice cream vendor’s product was so popular that he ran out of bowls. No bowls, no way to provide his confection to customers. In the next stall, Ernest A. Hamwi was selling tartlets similar to waffles. He realized he could shape one of his pastries into a cone and use it as an edible bowl for his colleague’s ice cream. Thanks to this chance collaboration, Hamwi could sell his waffles, the ice cream vendor could continue meeting a consumer need on a hot day at the fair, and one of America’s favorite summertime treats was born.

Like the merger of ice cream and the tartlet, credit unions today often do their best when working together for a common good. It is, after all, one of our cooperative principles. Individually, our industry is confronted with the challenge to think of better ways to meet members’ demand for multiple access points and ease of use, all the while keeping costs down. Unlike the ice cream cone, many of today’s solutions involve significant research and development costs or extensive learning curves, or both.

When competing with other financial institutions that have heftier budgets, how does a credit union decide which of several promising projects to fund with limited resources? The answer is in the question itself: One credit union will have a hard time going up against big banks, big retail or big tech; but a group of credit unions willing to pool resources and share ideas can be much more successful.

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