CU Mission Should Engender Passion and Caring

Embrace six perspectives to build the future of the CU movement.

October 17, 2012
KEYWORDS brand , credit , marketing , unions
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The following perspectives could have value and be a positive influence on the future of the credit union movement:

1. Branding. I have obviously not been in the planning sessions, listened to the marketing consultants, or heard the management team and the board debate as various credit unions decided to change their names.

But, as an outside observer, it seems to me that about half of those name changes were well-thought-out and effective. The other half left me scratching my head and wondering, “What were they thinking.”

I understand that brands and names evolve. Consumer acceptance shifts. Sponsors disappear or become less relevant. And credit unions sometimes change their target market, which leaves their historical brand outdated.

But on the other side of the equation, I am often reminded of a marketing axiom I learned many years ago: “Your brand is your lifeboat. Never abandon your lifeboat.”

An entity’s brand identification is a combination of marketing messages and consumers’ experiences with that entity’s products or services. Brand identification is built over years or even decades.

A brand becomes a consumer “comfort zone.” If the messages and experiences have been predominantly positive, brand can exert a powerful influence on a consumer’s decision to deal with a specific vendor or institution in the future.

Just as a lifeboat is needed and much-appreciated in a storm at sea, so too is a known and well-positioned brand.

Some of the best brand changes credit unions have made have been those that preserve a historical name, look, or feel while stretching that brand to reach new or more broadly defined markets.

But in doing so, management and boards of directors might want to keep the lifeboat analogy in the back of their minds.

2. Regulators. Most of us are trying to find a balance among multiple and often conflicting issues, objectives, principles, or priorities. That’s a natural consequence of limited resources—time, money, focus, and energy.

But, it is in finding that balance that we serve multiple good purposes, perhaps few to an ultimate best outcome. But accomplishing “more” too may be the really important result.

Regulators typically do not have that balance (other than the pressures of the regulated, for less!). A quote from an American Banker article makes the point: “Anyone in the prevention business—from doctors to airline security screeners to bank examiners—will tell you they face an exponentially bigger downside from being too lax than being too stringent. Abundance of caution will always win the day here.”

The Federal Reserve, however, does have a dual mandate: to manage the money supply (control inflation) and to have policies that will stimulate “full” employment.

There is much debate about the appropriateness of those competing objectives, but it would be fair to say that when they can both be achieved at the same time, the economy and society are well-served.

As far as I have been able to determine, our credit union federal regulator’s objectives or mission is to “prevent” and “avoid” risk based on wording such as “enforce legislation and regulation,” “assure safety and soundness,” and “protect the Share Insurance Fund.”

What I would suggest is that some of the words often in NCUA Board members’ speeches also get adopted as policy or mission (or even in legislation) for the agency, giving credit union regulator guidance “to stimulate credit union activities (loans and other financial services) for consumers and businesses to increase incomes, employment, ownership, and economic growth of, and in, America’s communities.”

Note: I have actually used for this text a variation of an NCUA description of its Community Development Revolving Loan Fund.

NEXT: CEO compensation

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