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Six Guidelines for Building Strong CUSO/CU Partnerships

If the shoe fits...

August 16, 2010
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Guideline 1: Make sure the CUSO’s values and mission sync with your credit union’s values and mission.

It’s important that the credit union understand the mission and motive of a CUSO, including why the CUSO exists and what is the return on investment rationale for the CUSO’s owners.

A CUSO’s objectives and structure can each influence how it works with your credit union. Credit unions need to understand whether the CUSO has a profit motive and how that would relate to their service charge structure. And likewise, a credit union should be careful to align with a CUSO with sufficient capital and support from its owners to have staying power.

To find out what makes the CUSO tick, and if its values and mission will provide a good fit with your lending department and credit union, ask around, suggests the white paper. Trust and verify.

Credit union lenders belonging to the CUNA Lending Council can use its e-mail list to ask questions about the CUSO’s values and find a variety of references.

Guideline #2: Choose a partner, not a vendor.

A good credit union/CUSO fit occurs when the CUSO is willing to dive in with both feet, suggests the whitepaper. Good partners are more than transaction makers. They try hard to understand a credit union’s culture and what it’s about. If the CUSO isn’t motivated to identify and help fulfill the credit union’s cultural and strategic objectives, there’s a misalignment of purpose. If the credit union views the CUSO as simply transactional, “work done for work paid,” the true potential of a partnership opportunity is lost.

“Make sure the CUSO's long-term goals are consistent with what you’re looking for in a CUSO,” says Bresko. “For example, it may be growing faster than what it can support. You can ascertain that from the financials that show you the growth, service issues when you’re researching references, and recent growth. The credit union’s processing volume may be more than the CUSO can support. It may not be the right fit for you.”

A warning sign is if most of the discussion between the CUSO and the credit union is focused on the cost of doing business, suggests the whitepaper. That’s a vendor, not a partner.

The credit union has the obligation and responsibility to be clear about what it’s looking for from a CUSO. The CUSO isn’t in a position to tell the credit union what it takes to fulfill the credit union's cultural mission.

What if a credit union’s culture is somehow unique? The credit culture comes from the credit union and it needs to be supported by the CUSO. Credit unions should be concerned when a CUSO asks them to adopt a "one size fits all" credit policy.

In addition, visiting the CUSO can help you see if there’s going to be good alignment between credit union and CUSO, says the whitepaper. It’s an important part of the due diligence process. It’s another step in ensuring you’re working with a true partner.

Another valuable component in a good credit union/CUSO relationship is to use the CUSO’s expertise to help brainstorm thoughts and ideas. That’s another way to see how the CUSO might help your credit union see a service or product from a different point of view, and if it might be the right fit.

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