How To Keep Collaboration From Being Just A Buzzword

I'm afraid "collaboration" has become just another business buzzword, joining the ranks of "synergy" and "innovation." What a shame. Because from where I (and many of my credit union colleagues) sit, it's one of the most important strategies we have to use right now

With so many glamorous start-ups, Internet giants, social media starlets and new banking competitors clamoring for our members' attention, credit unions certainly have our work cut out for us. How to remain not only relevant, but desirable, in a world filled with so much white noise, is one of our biggest challenges.

Banding together with one another-and even with "outsiders"-can help us cut through the din, while reaching the ears, eyes, minds and hearts of future members. Collaboration also creates the scale for us to compete against the mega-banks and their seemingly bottomless pockets.

As a league executive, I may be biased. After all, our movement is founded on cooperation and collaboration. By leveraging each of our member credit unions' uniqueness and strength, our movement as a whole becomes stronger. Uniting together as one powerful voice, we are able to attract exceptional partners, create enormous scale and develop completely new ways of thinking. Our legislators also take notice and listen to our needs, as we speak louder when voicing a collective opinion.


Smoothing A Tough Road

Rather than collaborating for the achievement of our goals, however, we must collaborate for the achievement of our members' goals as well. The next generation of credit union members has a tough road ahead of them, too.

Young people today are finding it more difficult than ever to go to college, find a job, maintain affordable healthcare insurance, buy a home and save for retirement. It's the organizations and individuals that creatively solve these problems for consumers that will generate the kind of relevancy and desirability we need to thrive as a movement.

The key will be finding those leaders -innovators who are doing great things outside our movement-who also share our values. Those who believe in the cooperative model and in consumer empowerment will ultimately make the best partners in our fight to earn and maintain member loyalty.

Our league, with the Iowa Credit Union League, recently embarked on a new collaboration with an outside organization that shares our cooperative values.

In June, we announced a partnership with CoOportunity Health. The goal? To enable credit unions in our two states to offer affordable, high-quality health insurance options for individuals, families and businesses starting this fall when as many as 30 million previously uninsured Americans will begin shopping for coverage. Like credit unions, CoOportunity Health is a not-for-profit organization managed by and for its members.


Backing Up The Buzz

Our member credit unions are excited about the potential for this partnership, as already 44 have signed on to offer CoOportunity Health plans to their existing and prospective members this fall. That means nearly 400,000 credit union members in our two states will have access to a cooperative, consumer-centric health insurance option for the first time.

Our credit unions can see the value in aligning with an organization that can solve what is predicted to be one of the most pressing needs of Americans in 2014 and beyond. Not only that; it's a pressing need of those consumer segments critically important to the growth of credit unions-namely Gen Y, underserved and immigrant populations, and small businesses.

Buzzwords become buzzwords for a reason.

They are used so frequently because often they are associated with strategies that actually work. Credit unions, by their very nature, understand the power of collaboration. We simply need to expand our definition.



Scott Sullivan is CEO for the Nebraska Credit Union League.