Use That Cooperation Thing; Borrow These Ideas

On page 1 of this issue is a story detailing the record profits the banking industry recorded during the third quarter of this year. There's nothing wrong with that; it's a free market economy and that's what their business models are all about.

Beginning on page 11 in this issue, there are multiple stories on the innovations and "Best Practices" credit unions have developed over the past year. Obviously, there's nothing wrong with that either, as that's the credit union business model. But the latter isn't a reference to the Best Practices themselves, but rather the sharing of Best Practices with other credit unions. And that's what the credit union business model (is supposed to be) all about.

Credit Union Journal exists to help our readers grow and prosper, and every issue features stories and reporting focused on growth strategies. This issue and the next of Credit Union Journal will have a heaping extra dose of the growth tonic with our annual feature on Best Practices in Credit Unions. It's all part of our larger goal to demonstrate clear ROI on a subscription to this newspaper.

You will not be able to use everything you'll read about. But even one idea can have enormous impact on your bottom line and the member experience that you deliver.

Among The Ideas:
* A health and wellness program at Allegacy Credit Union. No, this isn't some let's-walk-the-parking-lot-at-lunch program. It's a serious effort to improve employees' bottom lines (the numbers they see on the scale, the blood pressure machine, etc.) as well as that of the credit union (reduced health care costs). Allegacy is one of several credit unions, by the way, that has more than one Best Practice featured in this issue.

* Lots of credit unions have intranets, and most are dull affairs where the excitement consists of the policies and procedures manual. Not so at American Airlines CU, which did internal focus groups and more to create an intranet that is very intranetting.

* VacationLand FCU has seized upon one of those little things so many CUs (and businesses) take for granted, until... "You have to seem relevant in the minds of your members and potential members. Otherwise, they will begin to overlook you," observed CEO Kevin Ralofsky. VFCU, whose rebranding efforts won a Best Practice Award, also introduced a Change Agent Squad made up of high school students and college age young adults that rides around town in a "cube."

* Speaking of those little things that can become Big Aggravating Things if you're a member/customer of a CU/Business: believe it or not, when members ask questions they actually like to get answers. For that reason Connex CU created its ASK (All Support Knowledge) program. Connex is another CU featured more than once in this issue.

* In its Best Practice, TruStone Credit Union brings to life the old adage that some things actually are better motivators than money. The former Teacher FCU discovered after unveiling its new name with much fanfare a few years back that members and the community were collectively yawning. "We discovered once we did change the name that we didn't find the growth we were looking for and, last year, in 2010, we shrank in membership," explained COO Jim Stahlmann. In response it began implementing a sales culture, part of which included employee incentives. "The idea of this is to get something really cool for yourself that you wouldn't normally get," said Stahlman. "If you get paid in cash you end up spending it at the grocery store."

* In California, Xceed Financial launched an effort known as Eco-Friendly Fridays when it focused on common sense ways it could be more environmentally friendly, and also contribute to its bottom line. In the Best Practice featured in this issue, employees have embraced the idea and essentially made it Eco-Friendly Monday Through Friday.

* In every issue Credit Union Journal features at least two pages of Community News that highlight, well, do you really need an explanation? Much of that reflects one-time efforts to raise money, donate time, etc. The Golden 1 Credit Union has taken the idea of community involvement in its markets a number of steps further. It reaches across 30 departments and 87 branches to ensure everyone is involved.

What Often Isn't Taught
* Funny, but for all the post-graduate programs and professional accreditations available to help you advance in management, there are precious few courses available in how to "manage" once you get there. Pen Air FCU has recognized that, and has introduced its own University in response. "We knew that some of our current leaders needed to refresh their skills and build news ones, because many have been in management roles and had never received any formal management training," noted VP Dana Mullins.

* Who doesn't want to be treated like a rock star? Except rock stars, of course, who are always either tweeting or singing lyrics about the burdens of their lives. But Xceed Financial has still set out to give its members rock star treatment as it seeks to set the stage for something more.

* Is there a politician or candidate not talking about jobs? Unlike them, WestStar CU actually did something about it.

You'll find all of these ideas and many more inside. As always, we invite your feedback at any time.

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