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How Do We Become Better Versions of Ourselves?

We view the new year as an opportunity to self-evaluate, look for areas of improvement, and acknowledge flaws that we have long ignored.  The new year brings the opportunity for self-reflection, personal growth, and completion of the things we have not accomplished in the past. We set goals and make resolutions to become better and more attractive versions of ourselves.

The same “fresh start” attitude can be applied within our work environments.  In order to remain competitive, we need to address what attracts members and strong employment candidates; both of which are essential to the future success of the credit union industry.  We need to ask how our organizations are viewed externally, ensuring that we align our outside appearance to match the good intentions that we have inside.

The article “Attracting and Retaining the Best Employees” by Robert Bradford, President and CEO, Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., published in 2012 through the companys’ e-zine, highlights five steps in hiring employees as a strategic advantage that coincidentally mirror what our members also desire from us.

Bradford’s five steps:

1      Recognize the importance of non-monetary factors

2      Unusual benefits make people feel special

3      Make your hiring criteria consistent with your strategies

4      Have a type of employee in mind when you design a job

5      Implement processes to make your hiring activities more efficient.

By separating employees and members into two groups, we can see how Bradford’s five steps correlate to each group through practical application.

Hiring Competent and Committed Employees:

  • Consider the knowledge, skills and abilities potential candidates must possess in order to succeed.
  • Address the timeline for recruiting, interviewing, and training new employees, taking proactive measures to reduce this time.
  • Utilize social media with traditional recruiting methods during hiring.
  • Offer employees non-monetary compensation such as flex-hours and mentoring programs.
  • Reward employees for their extra efforts with gift cards, thank you notes or through internal communication.

Attracting Engaged Members:

  • Implement technology that allows members control over their finances and access to services.
  • Recognize the nature of the members that currently engage with the credit union, and those you are trying to attract, ensuring products and services are in place to attract these groups.
  • Understand the correct form of media to use when targeting a specific market.
  • Streamline key processes such as account opening, member issue resolution and loan application by looking for ways to speed up each process.
  • Thank members with giveaways as a way to acknowledge their loyalty.

It is through self-evaluation that we allow ourselves to be honest about the changes we should make in order to become more “attractive” organizations.  Bradford’s five steps provide an opportunity to reflect on new strategies that grow membership and attract employees. There are still 10 months remaining in this year, it is not too late to make goals and resolutions to improve your organization.

This article originally published on CU Insight on February 6, 2013.

Change·CUinsight·Innovation·Leadership·Professional Development

Why? Because…That’s How We’ve Always Done It

All Credit Union professionals have seen it. Yet, we tend to underestimate its prevalence. So what is it?

Complacency – and it’s killing many credit unions’ ability to succeed and prosper.

In every industry, in every organization and in every field, the question, “Why?” may be one of the most difficult to answer. It’s an important question and should be welcomed in credit unions that are looking to grow and adapt with their members changing needs. Whether they like to admit it, many credit unions have a tendency to stifle the “why” inquiries coming from staff and members. This isn’t due to a lack of creativity or innovative ideas – but more the implementation of them.

Listening to staff, planning for the future and implementing new ideas are all necessary steps in growing a credit union, even if they are time consuming and often challenging. If your credit union skips one or all of these steps; it could diminish your organization’s future.

Why Ask Why? According to CU24′s Annual Credit Union Industry Survey; over 25% of CU CEO’s surveyed in 2012 indicated their biggest fear and challenge this year was adapting programs to new technologies. And over 50% of these surveyed CEO’s find that attracting new members is a CU’s greatest challenge. If we are at all apprehensive in our forecasts for growth and adding new members, clearly we need to shake things up and make some internal changes.

Although credit unions are experiencing positive growth in many overall measurements (including loans, checking accounts and return on assets), the vast majority are seeing the exact opposite – negative growth. These ratios are skewed mainly due to large credit union’s positive growth trends and significance in the industry. For instance, according to The Financial Brand*, as of September 2012, the top 100 credit unions, ranked by asset size have added 1.3 million new members, which accounts for 84.4% of all new members gained industry wide. This tells us that membership gains from those top credit unions are offset by the collective membership losses others are experiencing. This should also tell us that credit unions outside of the top 100 may need to change their approach to growing membership. Many small institutions are seeing a net decline in membership and are anxious to understand why.

Credit unions can no longer assume that doing what they’ve always done, with the same people in the same positions, will be the key to growth in the future.

Internal Talent Make it a priority to communicate with and develop your staff. It is important to know who you employ and who may possess hidden talents that would bring potential in someday leading your institution. Understanding your staff’s daily needs, accomplishments, difficulties and member interactions can help credit union leaders make strategic and progressive decisions. Seeing, listening to and developing these individuals could ultimately secure the future of your organization. Be sure to encourage and reward your staff for asking “Why?” and suggesting a new way of thinking. These could be deserving and affordable changes that may not require much time to implement.

One of the most rewarding and eye-opening moments I experienced in my current credit union position was conducting branch visits. I was shown numerous procedures/processes and must have asked the question, “Why?” about a hundred times. Answering my many questions has been a great learning opportunity for our credit union. We are always finding efficiencies and better utilization of our time to keep our focus on our most important asset – our members.

Implement Andrew Carnegie, a great American businessman once said, “The older I get the less I listen to what people say and the more I look at what they do.” Credit unions should prepare and follow through with strategic plans through rapid-yet-thorough execution. They can do this by establishing a team of employees. As mentioned above, developing your internal staff’s talents can be an effective way to materialize ideas.

With the many changes that have swept through credit unions in the areas of technology and compliance, it has become a struggle for credit union leaders to keep up with the innovations they used to thrive upon. This leads to a lack of implementation, which can lead to complacency, which can ultimately lead to the death of an organization. Implementation is difficult, but more necessary than ever. Credit unions need to think and plan differently and never forget to ask “Why?” Then, when you uncover the answer, run with the new ideas it generates…and run quickly.

This article was originally posted on CU Insight on November 5, 2012.

Careers·CUinsight·Professional Development

Fail, not Failure

Failure is hard, it’s messy, it can be really embarrassing, and sometimes it just plain sucks. But what if you were graded on your failures? What if it was part of your job to fail? What if, at your next evaluation, instead of praising your successes your raise was based on how well you failed? What would that look like?

Too often, failure is given a negative connotation. But what does it really mean when you fail? It means you took a risk, and that you were willing to try something outside your comfort zone. Taking a risk lets others know that “because that’s the way we’ve always done it” and “it’s never been done before” is no longer an acceptable answer for you, instead those phrases are viewed as challenges.

Henry Ford once said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently”.

It is time that as an industry we accepted failing as an important form of success. It is vital that teams are challenged with difficult tasks and held accountable for their actions. The light bulb wasn’t perfected until the rumored 10,000th try, Newton failed math, and Lincoln was defeated for his Senate seat only to be elected President two years later. So why are we holding ourselves, our teams, or our employees to a higher standard? To fail means that you are an active participant in future successes. Even if you fail, you have taken a stand and were willing to try something new, even if it doesn’t work out the first time. The key is to discover what did not work and try not to repeat your mistake.

During annual evaluations, would you rather see an employee who excelled by just doing the basics of their job or one that thought outside the box and tried something new? As managers it is our role to encourage our teams to take risks and try new ideas in safe and reasonable manner. Should we give them free reign every time they come to you with an idea? No, of course not! But coaching people to be successful after failing is a valuable skill.

The obvious opposite of failing is succeeding. You need to provide the appropriate environment for your employees to grow and try new and innovative ideas. When given a set of safety parameters, whether it is a limited budget, time or other resources, you are allowing opportunities for success. Employees are more likely to set higher goals, reach farther, and expect more of themselves when they are in control of the process. When an employee has control of the process they are less likely to hide failing results, alter goals in order to appear successful, and are more willing to admit to failing several times in order to create a better process.

It is well into Strategic Planning Season and new goals and objectives are being set for the next 12-60 months. Why not add in the ability to fail as a metric for judging success? Make the update sessions more about the experience of completion, and celebrate the small failings along the way.

This article was originally posted on CU Insight on November 5, 2012.

Collaboration·Community Development·CUinsight·Perception

Controlling Financial Elder Abuse: Whose Responsibility Is It?


When I was eleven years old, before the days of caller ID, when only rich people had cell phones and we still had to stand within feet of the wall mounted device to make a call, I answered the telephone and was greeted with the question, “Is your refrigerator running?”

Naive and a little taken off guard with such a question I replied with, “I dunno, let me check.” Holding my ear up to the fridge, I replied, “Yup, it’s running.”

My antagonist promptly responded with, “Well you better go catch it!” followed by laughter and the hollow click of the receiver on the other end.

I slowly placed the phone back in its cradle, my mouth agape, wondering how in the world I just fell for such a low trick.

Fast forward twenty years to the present. I approach every phone call with the same level of trepidation. I won a free trip to the Bahamas? No thanks. You’ll give me free cash for taking your survey? Nope. I’m fine, thank you. I inherited a windfall from a Nigerian Prince? Um, I don’t think so. I learned my lesson – trust no one.

Why is it that Gen X’ers and Gen Y’ers are so good at screening out fraud while our parents and grandparents aren’t? It’s become such a problem, there’s an entire section written in the Dodd-Frank Act addressing financial elder abuse. Guidelines are being hashed out to hold financial institutions and their staff responsible if it’s not reported properly.

According to an article written by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, seniors lost $2.9 Billion to fraud in 2010. It is definitely a problem. The real question is: Whose responsibility is it?

Currently, there are eight states that require mandatory reporting by financial institutions for possible financial elder abuse: Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, Arkansas, Hawaii, Kansas, New Mexico and California. Other states, like Michigan, have proposed house bills addressing elder abuse.

The Michigan Credit Union League (MCUL) published a bulletin to their website warning credit unions of the effects of mandatory reporting for elder abuse. Some of the possible effects noted by MCUL are:

  • Criminal penalties against individual tellers for failure to report
  • Statutory penalties on the financial institution for failure to report
  • Financial institution liable for claims of negligence
  • Over reporting
  • Violation of state privacy laws

We have a social responsibility as credit unions, and a duty as a community, to educate our members about the ever growing possibility of fraud. It is not the financial institution’s responsibility to invade consumer privacy and report every transaction that doesn’t morally or socially fit in with what we believe is appropriate.

Credit unions are not responsible for creating a hard line between the intentional bad decision of a grown adult and the manipulation of a senior citizen who has been tricked into giving an untrustworthy source his or her personal information.

Seniors are getting more tech savvy, more involved in their communities, and they’re living longer now than ever before. Instead of finding blame, we should work with our senior members and their children (and, yes, grandchildren) to share valuable insight about fraud in all its forms – online, over the phone, and in person. That way, no one needs to worry that their refrigerator is running.

This article originally published on CU Insight on October 9, 2012.

Collaboration·Community Development·CUinsight·Perception

Credit Unions in the Community

I, like many involved in the credit union movement, fell into this industry. I was looking for a part time gig while taking classes at a local college when I got a call from Neighborhood Credit Union’s HR department. Four years later, I have found my career path and, more importantly, a place to call home.

What truly attracted me to the credit union was their level of involvement in the community.  Credit unions have long been deeply entrenched in their surrounding communities. As Chet Kimmell (NCU’s CEO) explains it, “At Neighborhood Credit Union we are strong proponents of community involvement and outreach.  Community involvement is probably the most effective way to generate new business opportunities while at the same time giving back something of value to the local citizens. We give back in a variety of ways, such as scholarships for college bound students, financial education programs, or just through participating in fun community events.”

Within a few months on with NCU, we were invited to assist with the Children’s Miracle Network radio-thon at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. When I came in for my shift, parents and patients alike were thanking us. Finding a job that enables me to participate in community activities alongside our members is priceless.

As it turns out, consumers (especially younger generations) are also looking for businesses that are involved in their communities. Credit unions and cooperatives tend to be the natural alternative our communities turn to when they need an alternative to a large business or bank. Generations Y and Z (and even a few Gen-Xers) have been shown to be increasingly socially, environmentally, and economically conscious.

“A recent Nielsen’s Global Corporate Citizenship Survey found 46 percent of global consumers are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies who have implemented programs to give back to society. Furthermore, younger consumers tend to be more socially conscious, the research shows. More than half of consumers between 15 and 39 years old said they were willing to pay extra for such items, compared with 37 percent of those over 40.”

-from “Smaller Businesses Playing a Big Role in Social Responsibility”, the “A Smarter Planet” blog (““)

Vancity Credit Union, (located in British Colombia, Canada), states directly on their website under their product information that they have “invested over $72 million in local organizations that improve quality of life — social, economic, and environmental — in our community.”  Their efforts are not overlooked by their members, either.

In 2010, British Columbia’s Vancity Credit Union distributed $23.5 million back into their community through grants and dividends to the membership base and in that same year they also experienced the best financial results in the 65 year history of the credit union, as well as the third consecutive year of increased earnings. Credit unions have long used community outreach programs to strengthen member relationships and provide a way to get brand exposure in a market dominated by major banking institutions.

As we continue to develop and get involved with these programs, we always keep the member in mind. Not only do we owe it to them to provide products that suit their financial needs, we must also commit to making their neighborhoods, companies, churches and charities better through our contributions AND our actions. if we recognize the demand for socially responsible programs and meet those needs, both sides of the relationship will be successful and fulfilling.

This article originally published on CUInsight on September 6, 2012.


Serving Members – The Silver Lining of Data Breaches

It’s a day like any other. Sun shining, birds chirping, coffee brewing…you’re at work and things are humming along quite nicely. You’re sitting at your computer, looking at the day ahead, when suddenly, an e-mail arrives.

“Visa Fraud Control has been notified of a confirmed network intrusion…”

And just like that, your good mood is gone.

Card service managers dread e-mails like the one in this example.  As you respond, you learn the extent of the impact on your credit union. At best, the attached report may contain a small number of members who will be slightly inconvenienced by a simple block-and-reissue.  At worst, it will list hundreds, maybe even thousands of members who require extensive communication through letter, website, telephone, and your front line staff.  This does not even address the administrative legwork of blocking and reissuing cards and managing the ensuing fraud.

This process is painful for credit union support staff and, unfortunately, is more frequent with each passing year.  According to (2012 ITRC Breach report, 7/23/12), there have been 219 reported data breaches so far in 2012, affecting over 8.5 million individuals.  This equates to 1.25 breaches per day.

As a victim in a data breach, a member’s immediate reactions could range from mild annoyance to panic and outrage.  The long term effects could involve losing confidence in their credit union and the payment system.  It then falls to us to preserve the integrity of the card industry and minimize a member’s inconvenience that results from a breach.  These unhappy incidents can also be an opportunity to shine compared to our big bank rivals. Here are some useful tips for dealing with an information breach.

Ensure that your reaction minimizes member impact.  A credit union must react; this goes without saying.  However, sometimes your reaction can be invisible to your members.  Analyze your list of affected cardholders, look at the data elements that were compromised, and determine if a moderated response is acceptable.  Sometimes you will find that, with the data elements that were exposed, you have chargeback rights through the networks in any resulting fraud.  In those cases, it might be best to merely monitor the compromised accounts rather than block and reissue the cards.  Some networks can even create special rules to watch these cards.

Should you determine that your risk of fraud is great and you choose to reissue cards proactively, look for ways to minimize the impact on members.  One option may be to utilize “soft blocks” and allow your member to retain their old card while they wait for their new card to be delivered.

You must communicate with compassion.  Whenever logistically possible, try to contact affected members personally via telephone.  While sending a letter might be easier (indeed, sometimes this is necessary due to the size of the compromise), letters can be ignored or misunderstood.  Thus, a member’s first awareness of the compromise would be when his card stops working – not pleasant.

It is imperative that you select the right people to communicate with the member. Empathy, coupled with a fluid knowledge of the subject matter (staff training is important!), will be the keys to having positive conversations with the member.  This task cannot be successfully executed by an employee who does not have an instinctive desire to serve the membership.

When speaking to members, express to them that you are working in their best interest.   Turn laments of inconveniences into terms of safeguarding their finances.  Comfort your members with Visa’s Zero-Liability* policy on fraud.  Although a member response may initially be negative, most members are eventually thankful to be notified, albeit just for the chance to protect their finances.

Use the opportunity to set yourself apart.  Here is where credit unions have advantages over big banks. Breaches provide an opportunity to act with distinction and take service to a higher level.  For instance, a small-sized credit union is more likely to notice, through transaction history, that their compromised cardholder is on vacation.  Therefore, that account can be treated with special care so as to not disrupt the member’s travels.

The occasion also serves as a reminder of the personalized service that comes with using a local credit union.  It is unlikely that the member would be receiving news of the compromise via telephone call, should their card at a big bank be affected.

As much as possible, eliminate the inconveniences.  If you offer instant issuance, provide them a new card that day; if not, offer to rush deliver their card.

Also consider that these complex interactions may present additional opportunities to serve your member.  You may learn of fiscal needs they have, products that can benefit them, or financial niches to fill.

It often helps for staff members working compromises to be stationed in close proximity to each other.  Peer education is beneficial; employees can learn from each other’s successes.  Moreover, this type of work is strenuous and often negative.  Employees who do a good job dealing with breaches, especially ones who use the contact to strengthen the member relationship, should be recognized.

Data compromises can turn the best days into the darkest days and have the potential to turn long-time advocates into an angry mob of upset users. The good news is that your size and your community focus can help you maneuver around a disaster rather than being tarnished by it. Keeping these points in mind and proceeding with clarity, intelligence and compassion can burn away those storm clouds and make everything a little brighter.

*Visa International Operating Regulations, Chapter 5 Visa Products and Services, Subsection “Issuer Requirements – General”

This article was originally posted on CU Insight on August 9, 2012.

CUinsight·Gen Y·Leadership·Mentorship·Professional Development

Is Your Credit Union Ready for “The Boomer Shift”?

The belief that “our people are our greatest asset” has been a widely held tenet in our industry for some time. In an economy that lends itself to short-term employment and plenty of turnover in industries of all sizes, credit unions can keep devoted staff members around for years, even decades. While this career longevity can create a smart, experienced staff, it can also deter younger employees from becoming involved in the organization.

A seismic shift in employee demographics is coming, one that will dramatically change the nation, the economy and our industry.

  • According to a recent CUNA survey, 1 in 5 credit union CEOs will have retired by the end of 2012.  1 in 3 are expected to retire within the next five years.
  • The PEW Research Center estimates that 10,000 baby boomers reach the age of retirement every single day.  This will continue every day for the next 19 years.

This “Boomer Shift” has the potential to devastate credit unions.  Consider the impact of losing such experienced and wise credit union leaders.  Now, think specifically about your senior leadership teams – most credit unions’ executive teams consist primarily of baby boomers.  How would your organization function without those seasoned veterans?  Could your organization function without them?  If your answer is anything less than a resounding “Yes”, there is work to be done.

The facts above are eye-opening, and it’s clear that there is now a greater need than ever before for employee development and succession planning for rising, young employees.  The question is not if but how.

What are some ways to fire up the younger employees in your credit union and prepare them to take the reigns?

  • Begin a mentorship program
  • Earmark a Board of Directors seat for someone under 30
  • Create a Gen Y advisory panel
  • Formalize a job shadow program – one hour, once per month
  • Hold an innovation tournament involving products, services and marketing campaigns
  • Invite an employee under 30 to your credit union’s strategic planning sessions
  • Transparency matters – hold an annual all-staff meeting to communicate strategic objectives
  • Create volunteer opportunities through partnerships in your community
  • Credit union sponsored employee sports teams
  • Involve your Gen Y employees in the Cooperative Trust

Is it time consuming? Yes. Is it an adjustment? Yes. Is it important? You’d better believe it.

It’s time we recognize that the stakes are high. Are you willing to risk your credit union’s future, your employees’ jobs and your members’ financial well-being on anything less than complete confidence in your organization’s employee development and succession planning initiatives? Plato said it best: “The beginning is the most important part of the work.”

Get started. You’re not getting any younger.

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