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Besieged by New Competition, Will CUs Make the Leaderboard?

As I watched the recent British Open golf tournament my thoughts strayed to the predicament facing the financial services industry and how we're rising to the challenge.

The course the golfers faced is a test of accuracy, good decision-making and mental perseverance-much as the economy is testing financial managers, including credit union management. Tiger Woods, one of the world's leading athletes, failed to make the cut to play for the championship. (Golfers must meet a minimum score, or "cut", after the first two rounds on Thursday and Friday to continue play on Saturday and Sunday.) It was his first time on the rugged Scottish seaside course that winds along the Firth of Clyde and he was humbled by it.

As Woods bowed out Tom Watson emerged as the leader. At almost 60, he proved that experience and fortitude can prevail over the strength of youth. Watson won a fabled British Open on the same course many years ago and he was back trying to repeat the victory.

Thinking of all the CEOs, CFOs, managers and vendors I work with in our industry I was struck by the people who are stepping up to persevere in the most challenging economy of our professional lives. On Sunday the leaderboard became a revolving door of past champions and newcomers to the top spots. As the afternoon wore on the contest came down to a promising golfer who had yet to win a major, Stewart Cink, and Watson, a five-time British Open Champion who is 20 years his senior.

In golf, as in financial services, a lot of new names are coming forward this year. And some golfers who had settled into the middle of pack are making forays onto the leader boards. The tour is rapidly becoming tougher and more competitive. It's interesting to watch the golfers who are improving their game in response.

The same thing is happening in our industry. As major banks shuffle ownership and work to reinvent themselves in an economy no longer driven by an insane real estate boom, the entire financial services industry is shifting with them. We've seen the value of experience and maturity when dealing with mind-numbing losses to balance sheets and unprecedented uncertainty. And we've seen the positive impact of youth and optimism on organizations humbled by reduced capital and fear of the future.

Ours is not a contest that can be neatly wrapped up on the 18th hole or concluded on a specific day. But this is our opportunity for the credit union industry to let the financial services marketplace know that we're in the game. As Tiger Woods said, "We're all trying to get better. We're all making changes. The game is fluid, always evolving. You're trying to make adjustments here and there to get yourself to the next level."

This is our time to show ourselves as the financial services champions we know we are. It's our time to outflank the banks and prove through guts, determination and perseverance, that credit unions are the better choice. We've got the experience and the will to succeed. Now it's time to play to win.

Paul J Lucas is a national marketing and branding consultant. For more information log on to www.PaulJLucas.com or email paul@pauljlucas.com.

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