NORTHFIELD, N.J.-Credit unions' quickest path to growth in 2013 begins at home.

"It's who you already have," stressed Bill Kennedy, CFO at Jersey Shore FCU and chair of CUNA's CFO Council. "You need to become an incredible advocate for the people you already have and farm the farmland you've already got."

Kennedy noted that one major change during 2012 was the continued shift toward an advocacy culture, setting up 2013 as a prime opportunity to boost wallet share.

"Some people call it a sales culture, but credit unions are becoming much more cognizant in recognizing that their frontline people, when they get in front of someone, they need to look at everything the member is doing. They're no longer just order-takers, and they can't be order-takers."

Frontline staffers, said Kennedy, should focus on simplifying things.

"Why would the member want to pay the car loan here and the credit card there? It's up to the credit union people to really, really become advocates for their members, and data analytics and knowledge can drive that."

Kennedy was quick to point out that credit unions still need to seek out "new farmland" and continue "going into territories you haven't been into before, but there's a higher cost to do that." The key is to simultaneously deepen wallet share with existing members while also expanding the institution's reach.

That two-pronged approach will be critical in years to come, said Kennedy, because credit union mergers aren't going away anytime soon. "I think we're going to start seeing 400-500 mergers per year going into 2013 and 2014," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if by 2018 we only had 5,000 credit unions."

For info: www.cunacfocouncil.org

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