Credit Unions Build Advantage Through Collaboration

Collaboration gets lots of talk within the U.S. CU community, even if other countries do it much better (see Brazil or Poland, for instance, and in-person if you can).

Credit Union Journal has tried to do its part with the launch of CUllaborationNation.com, and we continue to invite your submissions of white papers, procedure manuals, policies, videos and more for the site, which is regularly updated.

Still, Sundie Seefried, CEO at Partner Colorado Credit Union and a member of the Rocky Mountain Alliance of Credit Unions, which has tried to foster collaboration, recently shared this observation with Credit Union Journal: "I have to wonder if it isn't just that competition has gotten so tough between us that we're starting to realize that we have to get an edge in order to compete, and if we're sharing everything all the time, we may lose that little advantage we need to stay in the game."

The comments came as part of a larger story on the Rocky Mountain Alliance.

Need a real-life example? During CUNA's recent America's Credit Union Conference in San Diego, a Credit Union Journal reporter was interviewing various attendees as part of our regular "Snapshot" feature, asking about their plans for the second half of the year. One CEO disclosed plans to broaden the CU's FOM. Later, that CEO approached me and asked if we would withhold those comments, saying she didn't want other CUs in her market to get wind of the move.


Broad community charters give the impression there is now a credit union for everyone. And certainly the challenge of chartering and then growing a credit union is often more than even the most energetic founders imagine. Yet many continue to believe their particular niche needs a financial co-op of its own. At the National Federation of CDCUs' meeting in Atlanta, for instance, I met one person who said he is focused on getting a charter for small, sustainable farmers.


Measuring your credit union (or even your staff) to peer group "averages?" Then that's what you'll get: average results, according to one person.

Happiness expert-seriously-Shawn Achor recently called on schools and institutions to "escape the cult of average. We tailor our school classes right toward the average, forgetting the fact most people are not average, they are scattered around the average. If we study what is merely average, we will remain merely average. So I study positive outliers."

Achor probably didn't realize it, but all credit unions, impossible as it may seem, are above average, much like the good citizens of Lake Wobegone. Just ask any room of CUs how many provide above-average service. Every hand will go up.

Achor, by the way, has been featured on various PBS stations around the country giving a one-hour talk that was similar to the remarks he gave to his credit union audience.


We're just four or five months away from Bonus Dividend season for credit unions. Some will offer large, attention-grabbing bonus returns to members, others more modest bonuses. In most cases, regardless of the overall size of the excess funds being returned to members, the amount going to individual members is modest. And let's face it, deposit an extra 20 bucks in a member's account and most won't even notice, even if your CU is living the credit union motto. (If your members don't notice, it's on your CU to tell them, retell them, and tell them again.)

North Island Credit Union in San Diego has done something interesting to get more mileage out of bonuses it pays to "loyal members."

As CEO John Tippets recently detailed, it has teamed with a local chain called Islands Restaurants, which has a member of the credit union on its board.

"The bonus dividend ended up being only about $10," explained Tippets, "which would not have been very exciting for our members. But with the deal we worked out we are paying the restaurant $10, while the member gets $20 in purchase value. Our name is on the mailing, as is the restaurant's name. It is a nice little surprise for our members who have three or more products with the credit union."

The only semi-catch besides having multiple relationships with North Island, where Tippets has led quite a turnaround, is that the members receiving the dividend consider referring North Island to their friends, family and employees.

"This promotion reinforces our great brand name," Tippets declared.

I'd say it does more than that. Give people that 10 or 20 dollars and, as noted above, it's unlikely they will really remember it longer than 10 or 20 minutes. But give them a free meal, even though it's the same value, and it will have a much stronger and longer-lasting effect. As someone wise once said, "Give a man a fish and you'll feed him for a day. Give that man a fish dinner, and he'll remember you tomorrow and the next day and the next..."


A reminder to readers: The next issue of Credit Union Journal (Aug. 27) will be our annual Buyer's Guide and Directory. It will, as always, include contact information on everything related to credit unions. What it will not have is any "news" that week. Make sure to visit www.cujournal.com for news updates throughout the week.


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