From Dairyland to Down Under

A Wisconsin CU CEO on sabbatical in Australia finds clues for dealing with challenges facing U.S. CUs.

October 02, 2010
KEYWORDS australia , board , credit , unions
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CU Mag: Are there similar applications for Summit?
Sponem: I see Summit doing the same thing with different execution. Our strategies encompass the idea of sustainability. Helping members no longer live paycheck to paycheck through thrift initiatives helps them create sustainability in their lives.

Efficiency helps us return value to our members. Growth, ROA, and capital keep us viable, and our community-involvement strategy is socially responsible. Helping to facilitate dreams gives us a higher purpose and

CU Mag: How will you use your experience in Australia to make Summit a better credit union?
Sponem: One thing I learned was to get out ahead of the changes affecting things like income and expenses. Sometimes changes happen in the marketplace and we wait too long to make changes.

We need to be more proactive. We need more contingency planning. And when things happen, we need to innovate and experiment more with new ideas.

Currently, everyone is wondering how Bank of America and Citibank will react to the interchange issue. But we’re sitting back. Meanwhile, our income will be affected and we’ll have to make some changes. And not all of these changes will fit with how we’ve traditionally thought about charging our members.

The Australian credit union system was averse to charging members more fees. It was difficult for them to look at their fee structures in different ways. But they had to do it.

If you wait too long and you’re forced to do something, you come up with different answers than if you get out in front of an issue—looking at it from a strategic, rather than a reactive, perspective.

CU Mag: What did the Aussies want to know about U.S. credit unions?
Sponem: They wanted to hear about the issues U.S. credit unions are facing because they’ve read about the corporate situation and the insurance fund assessments. They don’t have an insurance fund; they have an insurance guarantee, which wasn’t even in place until the global financial crisis started.

Everyone wanted to know about our vacation time because they don’t think we get much. Everyone in Australia gets four weeks of vacation. If you stay with the same company for 10 years, you get an extra 13 weeks to use within two years—that’s mandated by the government.

Encouraging young people to see the world is a huge thing in Australia. And Australians don’t worry about their jobs as much. They work hard and care about their careers, but they tend to believe that if something bad happens, something else will work out.

•  Abacus, Sydney, Australia
•  CUNA’s 2010-2011 Credit Union Environmental Scan
•  World Council of Credit Unions

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