7 (Challenge-Beaters) For 2011

For those within credit unions who are charged with driving growth and expansion, there are plenty of concerns ahead, but also opportunities. So here is my Top 7 in 2011 List of challenges and ways to meet them:

1) Squeezing Out New Growth
The key question for 2011 will be how to boost income, talent, trust and member loyalty in a no growth/slow growth environment. Lending, of course, will remain the golden goose, but the key here is to build new talent and a proactive lending culture by empowering employees to get engaged and motivated to ask for the business and referrals. CEOs would be wise to invest in innovation and human resources.

2) Preparing for Employee Jailbreaks
Get ready for musical chairs as turnover will increase with the improving economy. Dealing with stressed out/overworked employees will be a key internal priority. Showing real appreciation and increasing training will go a long way to make everyone feel wanted. How to retain and compensate top performers will be keeping CEOs up at night.

Allocating resources and creating a culture that rewards performance should be a welcomed opportunity for staff next year.

3) Acknowledging The King & Queen
The balance of power between buyer and seller has changed forever. Leaders must identify how the credit union can provide clearly defined differentiating value and service for the member, while earning their loyalty versus expecting it. Member retention and superior member service must be a high priority from the top down. Offer a Member Care hotline and Certificate of Member Ownership to differentiate from other providers and reinforce the value of membership.

4) Atwitter Over Social Media
The power of social media has become enormous. Leaders must not fear Facebook, but embrace it. Responsible practices and guidelines need to be developed to harness this media to drive activity, relationships and other business development initiatives. The goal is to create "member fans" and referrals that will help drive acceptance.

5) Protecting Your Reputation
Protecting the reputation and brand of the credit union will be a growing priority. Leaders will need to take a strategic approach to internal and external communications to ensure credit unions are ethical and transparent organizations. Developing the credit union's "strategic story" will be a key to keeping the credit union differentiated and connected in the community.

6) Knowing More Than Yourself
As you know, competition in the financial services marketplace is everywhere, beginning with members' PCs. Having well-trained staff who really know your competition by comparing rates, fees and what incentives they are offering is key. Reward employees and members for product referrals, and don't be afraid to offer rate, dollar discounts and incentives for more business.

7) Reaching Out To Clusters
All members are not the same. Segmenting and targeting the right products to meet different lifestyle demographic needs will be a key for growth. Boomers, Gen Y and Xers are the key groups to tap for perpetuating business. Teach and give members more self-service opportunities to stay engaged with the credit union. Using a concierge approach will help in developing a more personal intimate approach to connecting with members.

In looking to 2011, we need to remember the words of one of the most renowned leaders of all time, Alexander the Great, who said, "Difficulties are only steps to a goal. A courageous person calls them challenges". Effective credit union leaders will need the courage to accept those challenges and perform at a greater level than the competition.

John A. Vardallas is CEO of TheAmericanBoomeR Group, Madison, Wis., and can be reached at jvardallas@aol.com.e_SIht