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What Separates Good From Great, The Yeller From The Seller

Among life's little, often overlooked insights is just how small the difference can be between a good and a great idea.

It's certainly applicable in credit unions, where the good news is that asset size often doesn't matter. What does matter is a bit of imagination, a dose of big picture, and a solid helping of remembering you're competing for business.

Credit Union Journal has featured several such good-ideas-turned great in recent weeks. Among them:

* Seattle Metropolitan Credit Union'sFrank J. Diekmann idea for turning 10 bucks into tens of thousands more. Seattle Metropolitan budgeted $3,000 for a giveaway, but unlike nine out of 10 other credit unions that would have been content to give it to a charity and have the CEO's picture taken with an oversized check (the kind of feel-good donation that's forgotten the next day), SMCU got more mileage than a Prius rolling downhill out of the funds. The credit union gave away $2,000 of the funds one Alexander Hamilton at a time by asking folks, "If we gave you $10, what would you do for someone else?" The responses were videotaped and placed on its website at www.7principles.coop, with the winner given another $1,000 for the cause with which they had said they'd share the funds.

Marketing guru Paul Lucas, whose work appears frequently in Credit Union Journal, has written before that there's nothing wrong with altruism in charity, but there's something much more right about using donations to also help build the credit union's brands. Don't just give away money - treat it like any other investment, in this case one that can do good for the recipient and the credit union. Seattle Metro did just that.

When I was there the morning of the filming the line stretched around the corner of the downtown block. Sure, there were a few who admitted their altruism would extend all the way to the liquor store, but many more actually waited in line to give the ten dollars to someone who needed it. A local TV station provided coverage - we're guessing that would have cost more than just $3,000 right there.

* Another note tacked to the bulletin board of good ideas turned great is that of DFCU Financial Credit Union in Michigan. Many credit unions pay year-end bonus dividends and loan rebates (although perhaps not as many this year). The idea, while admirable, usually goes no further than the members the credit union already has.

Few CUs in recent years have put the "bonus" in bonus dividend as has DFCU Financial. As reported in Credit Union Journal Nov. 10, this year the $2-billion CU said it will pay out $17 million to its members in January. Over the last three years DFCU Financial has declared special patronage dividends of more than $50 million. Any credit union paying a bonus dividend this year will likely get a bit of extra awareness value thanks to a stock market in which dividends are being cut back. But DFCU Financial wasn't content to just pay the dividend and let it go at that.

Bonus dividends and loan rebates are one of those "benefits" credit unions often speak of but excel at keeping secret. Not at DFCU Financial. It's gone one step further and is showing non-members the type of bonus dividend they could earn by joining the credit union. On its website is a "Dividend Calculator" that in seconds shows individuals how much in a year-end payout they could receive by doing business with the credit union. The tool is located at www.paystobelong.com, and the site and the calculator are aimed squarely at bringing in new members and persuading existing members to bring over more services.

If DFCU Financial isn't already considering it, it would be wise to sell it to other CUs. And other CUs would be wise to pay themselves a bonus and buy it.

* Your CU has likely either installed a sales culture, is implementing one, or has discussed it. But the results are often mediocre at best, in large part because such cultures are forcibly retrofitted on employees who didn't sign up to "sell" anything. In other cases some employees see the kinds of numbers their incentive-based co-workers are earning and complain to management. When that happens, consultant Brett Christensen told the CUNA Lending Council meeting, he has a ready response:

"To stop the whining, explain to them, 'Great, we're looking for good sales people, and when you come to the sales team we're going to lower your base pay to a third of what you're getting now, there will be no annual increase, and if you can't get the job done I'm going to fire your butt in six months.'"

In most cases, said Christensen, that sends folks scurrying back to the happy-with-a-steady paycheck side of the fence. But for those who don't blink in response, the credit union has found itself someone who understands the "sales" in sales culture.

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann@cujournal.com.

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