James Robert Lay

Ex-Punk Rocker Joins Digital Revolution

A golden age awaits credit unions that embrace the new digital world.

October 8, 2013

Most guys join rock bands to woo women. James Robert Lay quit one to win his girl’s heart.

While studying management information systems during his sophomore year at San Jacinto College in his native Texas, Lay was living his dream—playing in the emo punk band Perfect Balance, and waiting tables to pay the bills.

Until one day...

“I met this girl in the library who told me I would never make a career out of a punk band,” Lay recalls. “I liked her a lot and wanted to impress her.”

Lay had recently taken a course in Web design and the opportunities presented by the digital revolution fascinated him. So he quit the band, sold his guitar and other band equipment, and funded his new company with a couple hundred dollars.

The leap of faith paid off. Not only did Lay get the girl—Delena, now his wife—but the business he started in his parents’ basement in 2002 is growing and is stronger than ever.

Lay has worked with more than 400 North American credit unions, won more than 50 marketing awards, and shared throughout the industry his belief in aligning people, product, and process around their purpose to deliver 1-on-1 digital experiences.

This month marks another bold step for Lay. He rebranded his company from PTP New Media to CU Grow, which will emphasize building digital marketing and lead generation systems for select credit unions.

“We were slowly but surely becoming all things to all credit unions, which is something I speak about avoiding,” Lay says. “Focus is a must for continued success. And focus, according to [leadership guru] Jim Collins, is what takes an organization from good to great.”

CU Grow’s “destroying the box” mantra underscores the company’s desire to revolutionize the industry.

Lay has long savored leveraging new media platforms. With his brother and longtime colleague, Jonathan, the company produced a streaming video in 2003—two years before YouTube came onto the scene.

But Lay frets that many credit unions adopt digital tools without any long-term plan to bring them to market or maximize their potential.

“Here’s a good analogy,” he says. “You go down to the hardware store to purchase a shovel, hammer, nails, wood, and concrete to build a fence. But if there’s no construction plan in place, a person is left with an unfinished job and frustration while the tools and most of the supplies collect dust.”

Lay believes this could be a golden age for credit unions if they cease self-limiting practices and embrace the brave new digital world in ways they haven’t done before.

“My vision and hope,” Lay says, “is that five years from now, credit unions are celebrating a 20% market share, and continuing to grow.”