When I first started writing about credit unions, lo' these many years ago, there were a number of things that shocked me, not the least of which was a fire-and-brimstonesque speech by then NCUA Chairman Norman D'Amours about the evils of competition (sometimes called "coopetition") among credit unions.

Another big shocker: credit union CEOs not only took my calls but sometimes even answered their own phones. Having come from reporting on investor-owned utilities and the deregulation of the electric power industry, and mainstream press before that, I was far more used to people running the other way when I tried to talk with them and getting stonewalled by PR flaks.

But perhaps the biggest surprise of them all was that once I got these CEOs on the phone, not only would they tell me all about some strategic plan they were implementing — they'd even offer to send me copies of their data.

I remember thinking, "why on earth would they do that?" But now, of course, I know. They do that because this isn't merely an industry, it's a cooperative movement. Which takes us back to that fire-and-brimstonesque speech by D'Amours.

He was preaching the evils of allowing more and more overlapping fields of membership, saying that the advent of such competition would leach the cooperative spirit right out of the movement. And I'm not going to tell you that this hasn't happened at all — over the years, I have found pockets of particularly competitive credit unions that don't want to share their secrets of success because they happen to be in an area rife with institutions with significant FOM overlap — but it hasn't happened on the wide scale that D'Amours foretold.

And a perfect example of that is CU Journal's Best Practices Awards, aimed not only at recognizing innovative approaches being implemented at credit unions across the country, but also at providing the "lessons learned" so that other CUs can adapt these award-winning initiatives themselves.

This week we finish up our Best Practices Awards with a cornucopia of great ideas that CUs were only too happy to share with others, including:

  • How United FCU contracted with a concierge service to help take care of employees' personal business so they could stay focused on credit union business
  • Why Vital CU committed to changing its corporate culture. Hint: resulting 25% loan growth after previously having negative loan growth
  • How Logix CU automated 70% of its data processing, allowing it to do more with less
  • How Mission City FCU made a mission out of turning the aftermath of the Great Recession into an even greater opportunity resulting in a booming loan portfolio
  • Why Cabrillo CU turned to e-signatures not only to decrease the cost of shuffling paper but also to ensure employees can spend more time serving members
  • How Mountain America CU solved its connectivity issues in-house, delighting its members along the way
  • What drove a 34% increase in online banking usage and caused Fingerlakes FCU's mobile growth to skyrocket by more than 128%
  • Why Securityplus FCU didn't just rebrand, it redefined what living up to that brand means for employees when they're serving members
  • How Missouri CU Association used intelligence gathered through polling to develop a more effective awareness campaign
  • How a core conversion at Northwest FCU led to a discovery that allowed the CU to increase usage of online mortgages by 50%
  • And in a perfect example of the cooperative spirit, Gold Coast CU and PBC CU are sharing award for sharing a mortgage loan officer, despite being in almost direct competition with one another

These days, I'm no longer surprised when credit unions are perfectly happy to share the secrets of their success with other credit unions. What's more shocking to me is when credit unions don't take advantage of it when they do.
Editor in Chief Lisa Freeman can be reached at lisa.freeman@sourcemedia.com.