Credit Union Imperatives For 2020

Strategic decisions made around three essential elements will prove critical to the future success of the credit union movement.

To read a more in-depth commentary on a specific 2020 imperative, select a section below.




Every year, the team at Callahan & Associates gets together to identify what we think will be the hot topics for credit union leaders in the coming year. In the past, we’ve called these Big Ideas or Strategic Opportunities.

This year, we’re doing things differently because we feel taking that same approach is just not good enough anymore. We feel something has changed.

Perhaps the change we feel is the evolving set of lenses we are now looking through. Thus, the annual banker attacks feel less wrong and more personal. It may be the uneasy feeling we have that while the macro economic data looks positive, many Americans are not thriving financially.

It is said history often repeats itself. To look forward we need to look back and think about what those leaders who helped make our movement different would have done or what lenses they would have used. Naturally, today’s leaders might not use the same playbook to fuel growth and innovation as leaders from 30 years ago, but luckily the core values of their credit unions and why they exist hasn’t changed through the decades.

So as we look ahead we need to reflect on why credit unions do exist and focus on what we need to do as an industry to remain relevant in the future.

That’s why Callahan & Associates is making 2020 the Year of Imperatives.

An imperative is something that is essential or urgent. Used another way, an imperative is something of vital importance; crucial. We feel that credit unions are poised for greater impact on members and communities. It’s time to really focus on what has gotten us here and how we leverage the unique qualities of cooperative financial services to fuel change.

Today’s leaders might not use the same playbook to fuel growth and innovation as leaders from 30 years ago, but the core values of their credit unions and why they exist hasn’t changed through the decades.

Jon Jeffreys, CEO, Callahan & Associates

The first Callahan Imperative for 2020 is really the foundation for all others: Purpose.

Why do credit unions exist? Focusing on the movement’s why might sound corny, but research shows organizations that focus on purpose, over time, outperform those that focus solely on financial results.

In August 2019, the Business Roundtable announced it was redefining its core principles to include an economy that serves all Americans. Although some believe this new statement of purpose is nothing more than lipstick on a pig, it should serve as a wake-up call to credit unions across the country.

The belief that business entities serve multiple stakeholders is gaining traction. If the firms represented in the Business Roundtable are actually able to strategically pivot and execute on the values outlined in the new statement, it will be more difficult for credit unions to differentiate at a time when they are needed more than ever.

As we look to 2020, we want to examine questions like: What’s the narrative of the credit union movement? What impact does the movement have on its communities and members? Mastering the Purpose Imperative first and foremost is critical.

Once we truly understand our purpose, the Talent Imperative comes next. Fueled by a shared purpose, we need our employees to grow and evolve for the future. How can credit unions amplify the human touch behind financial services? How can we build diverse and inclusive teams that reflect our marketplace? What kind of experience should we create for our team and our members? Without the right talent in place, we can’t carry out our purpose.

This moves us into the final imperative for 2020: Mindset. Once we have the defined purpose and the talent to bring this purpose to life, we need to ensure we focus on maintaining the right organizational mindset to set us up for success. How can the movement expand innovation? How can we remain curious and not fear failure as a mechanism to learn and grow? What ways can credit unions collaborate together for the betterment of us all? Without the right mindset in place, we won’t be able to evolve and meet the needs of tomorrow’s member.

Read’s Full 2020 Imperatives Commentary

  • Closing The Purpose Gap

  • A Talent Imperative Facing Credit Unions

  • The Credit Union Mindset Imperative

These three imperatives together Purpose, Talent, and Mindset are interwoven and important in their own respect. Our hope in framing the imperative series is to fuel a sense of urgency for strategic conversations. Thinking about, discussing, and debating questions such as like those above will help leaders ask better questions that will lead to better outcomes for our members and our industry.

There is no one right or wrong answer, but one thing is certain: Starting these long-term strategic conversations now is imperative No. 1.

January 7, 2020

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