Merger of Our Discontent: How to Help Members Embrace Change

No two credit unions offer exactly the same products and services, and no two do everything in exactly the same way. When credit unions merge, the members of one or both of the credit unions are asked to adjust to some changes. Even when the net effect is beneficial, at least some members will be unhappy with at least some of the changes. Effective management of that inevitable discontent shortens the time it takes for the members to regard themselves as contented participants in the continuing, merged entity.

• Ask employees what products, services and practices are important to the membership. Do not depend upon members' preferences to be logical. Many credit union practices stem from long tradition and are important for what they symbolize. Discontinuing free coffee in the lobby without understanding who values it and why is taking a risk of unknown proportions.

• Assemble changes into groups. Each change carries overhead in terms of operational disruption and member aggravation. Staff must be trained; members must be notified; and some number of misunderstandings is inevitable. Minimize the impression that everything is changing and operations are unpredictable by implementing changes in logical groups. The practice will also reduce the total burden of the changes on staff.

• Make a conscious effort to coordinate the introduction of popular and unpopular changes. The goal is for each set of changes to be, in the aggregate, received as positive. Typically, rates and fees change as soon as the merger is effective, and new products and services are introduced. These are generally viewed as positive. As the operational merger proceeds, however, there are changes in the details of policy and practice. These are not usually well received. The earlier, popular changes provide no political balance for the current, less popular ones.

Carol Stryker is a long-time credit union veteran and consultant with SymbioticSolutions, Houston. She can be reached at 713.252.3361, or at CarolStryker@symbioticsols.com.