CUs Tap Into Their Communities

‘Your story is your greatest strength.’

October 31, 2011
KEYWORDS credit , growth , unions
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From road trips to multicultural centers, community credit unions show they’re more relevant today than ever before.

Speakers at CUNA’s Community Credit Union & Growth Conference in San Francisco share how they tap into the communities they serve.

Road trip leads to inspiration

Mark DeBellis took a credit union road trip that lasted 151 days and 16,000 miles. He made 200 contacts with credit unions and leagues, and visited 13 campgrounds, 15 recreational vehicle parks, and 25 Wal-Mart parking lots.

Mark DeBellis
Mark DeBellis

At the end, "I was tired, but inspired," says DeBellis, president of PSB Integrated Marketing, who shared these road-trip insights at CUNA’s Community Credit Union & Growth Conference:

  • Credit unions are more relevant today than at any other time;
  • Being the “little guy” in the fight builds character, tenacity, and creativity;
  • Consistency and authenticity are credit union hallmarks;
  • Don’t confuse size with significance—your opportunities to do great things for members doesn’t depend on the size of your credit union; and
  • Your story is your greatest strength.

‘The future isn’t what it used to be’

The future isn’t what it used to be, says CUNA Senior Economist Steve Rick. So prepare for the new normal: an operating environment marked by continued low interest rates, subdued economic growth, a new era of thrift, high unemployment, and smaller securitization markets.

A bright spot in the economy: strong spending by businesses on equipment and software, signs that companies are investing in efficiencies. But productivity is beginning to slow, he says. To meet increased demand, businesses must increase hiring.

Center educates modest-means members

Mark DeBellis
Jim Blake

A fundamental cause of the financial crisis was consumers' lack of financial education, says Jim Blake, CEO of HarborOne Credit Union, Brockton, Mass. To meet the educational needs of many area low- to middle-income residents, HarborOne opened a multicultural banking center.

Blake says these residents, largely minorities and immigrants, were being victimized by members of their own communities. The challenge for the center was to build trust, remove cultural barriers, and ensure the branch was profitable in one year.

The credit union partnered with area agencies and nonprofits to “triage” consumers when they walked in the door: Did they need housing services, savings advice, small-business development, or health care? Its core belief, he says, is that people will do business with entities they trust.

Blake's advice for credit unions: Think strategically about who in the community could have a stake in an effort like this. How can your credit union help them succeed?

Life-saving lessons

The Latino Community Credit Union, Durham, N.C., opened its doors about 10 years ago thanks to a grassroots movement to curb violence against Latinos, said Erika Bell, the credit union’s vice president for strategy and services.

Erika Bell
Erika Bell

“Community leaders came together to save lives and maintain safety,” she says.

Lessons the Latino Community learned:

  • Hire staff that represents your community;
  • Offer the right products;
  • Develop identification policies and procedures; and
  • Personalize your services.

The credit union offers a full package of products including auto loans to members without credit histories (up to $12,000) and mortgages without personal mortgage insurance or points for members with no credit history.

With low delinquencies and charge-offs, “we want to move low-income members into the middle class,” she says. “We want them to gain assets.”

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory (www.appreciationatwork.com/assess) will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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