I just spent the past two days at Harvard for the #bigbrightminds conference, and 24 hours later my mind is still recuperating from being totally blown. I’m back in the office today reflecting on the experience and content, and it’s starting to sink in that I was just exposed to the ideas and leaders who will not only define the credit union movement in the coming years, but in some cases actually shake the broader financial industry to its core, drastically change how millions of Americans will view personal finance and put a spotlight on the interconnectedness of economics, culture and social movements.
We heard from Nondini Naqui from the Society of Grownups in Boston who is less than two years into their Millennial-focused financial literacy campaign and has already helped thousands of young people better understand finances, all while growing their staff to 40 full-time employees (in 22 months) and securing an additional $100 million in funding to expand their much needed services to 10 of the nation’s biggest cities. Like their page and get ready for Naqui’s TED Talk in February because once the world hears her message (delivered with eloquence most presidents would envy), everything is going to change.
We heard Hope Jensen Schau, professor of marketing at the University of Arizona, discuss research showing how Millennials view large institutions with deep skepticism, but place enormous value in peer-to-peer institutions making a social impact. While Millennials are still poorly informed on the subject, her studies have so far shown an enormous interest in credit unions and how they can weave into the “pro-social” mindset of Millennials, who are largely uninterested in supporting institutions that don’t provide a clear social benefit along with their business model.
Jonathan Morduch, professor of public policy and economics at New York University, explained that household incomes today are as volatile as they’ve ever been, fluctuating more than 20% above/below their annualized monthly median income at least five months each year. These extreme spikes and dips highlight the importance of short-term savings – a product and habit that still today eludes consumers and financial institutions alike.
Dennis Campbell, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, spoke about the importance of freedom within organizational culture and how to design a framework or “boundary systems” that respects hierarchical integrity while empowering employees to make and own critical decisions. Campbell showed research that proved an organization’s culture is not defined by words, but tacitly by the decisions made by leadership and the prioritization of constituents in short term trade-off situations (e.g. when priorities conflict at Amazon or Southwest Airlines, Amazon puts the customer/price first and Southwest puts the organization’s culture first – and the decisions are made openly and in plain sight).
Campbell also discussed an incredible business/case-study in Turkey, where a collections business called TurkAsset is in the process of flipping a toxic industry on its head by simply choosing to view humans as its customers instead of the banks offloading subprime loans.
We were briefed on the latest products and services being developed internally by Filene Research Institute, including some incredible ideas around short-term loan options to neutralize the disastrous payday lending industry and a new credit monitoring app called SavvyMoney that will weave seamlessly into online banking systems for thousands of credit unions nationwide. This amazing program could finally and permanently end the elusive nature of credit scores, help millions of consumers put an end to identity theft, save members thousands by easing the process of debt consolidation and encourage healthier financial habits by providing instant feedback on the consequences of your good and bad financial decisions.
The depth and breadth of topics discussed in such a short window of time is a perfect metaphor for the very business model of Filene, which uses a small staff and enormous levels of talent to research and implement industry-changing ideas to benefit millions of credit union members – and consumers in general – across the country. And what better location but to host the entire event at Harvard, which established the expectation that we were in for a world-class schooling on economic innovations. An enormous thank you to Filene, CUNA, our hosts at the Harvard University Employees Credit Union, our crash host James Marshall, to all of the guest speakers and to everyone else who helped make this such a tremendous learning experience!