Credit Unions Matter. But Do Members Care?

If members don’t think their credit union is relevant, sooner or later, it won’t be.

Do your members know what makes their credit union different from a bank? Do they care? When they ask whether they should care, how do you answer?

Do your members care that the credit union is a member-owned financial cooperative? Do they care that the credit union is not-for-profit? Do they know when the credit union lives and breathes the seven cooperative principles and do they care when it doesn’t?

These might not appear to be tough questions to answer, but they are. ContentMiddleAd

When I worked in politics, we used to pray that our candidate would get a softball question like Why should I care? It was an invitation to get up on the metaphorical small-town bandstand and spout about truth, justice, and the American way; about baseball, Mom, and apple pie; maybe even about humble beginnings, big ideas, and inspiring notions of service beyond self.

Admittedly, that was in a world before cable TV, the internet, and streaming video. Today, the answer to Why should I care? is more along the lines of an elevator pitch but that’s the point.

In a world of one thousand distractions, invitations for more are rare and fleeting. Credit unions need to be ready to seize them.

People Are Strange

People don’t know what they don’t know. If you want them to care, you must give them a reason.

Sure, great rates and low fees are reasons to care. But, they are transactional reasons. They exist now. They matter now, so people care about them now. But what about tomorrow?

If credit unions want people to care a lot, and to care later as well as now, they have to give people reasons that are special, distinctive, difference-making, and enduring.

In Callahan’s consulting and strategic planning work around the country, we get to talk with a lot of top-level, bright, committed credit union people. We’ve noticed their replies to the question, Why should I care? tend to fall into one of two buckets.

One bucket holds the kinds of answers that start with the common bond. Most often, the hook is a near-mythological founding story. Factory workers, parishioners, or teachers coming together to pool their savings and lend to one other in times of need or for things that matter.

What’s The Tough Question?

Asking tough questions helps the credit union movement flourish. Make Callahan’s Tough Questions commentary on a regular stop for insight on thinking differently about the movement and framing strategies for success.

The cigar box in the desk drawer is the image here, or a story about helping an injured co-worker pay bills or a family move into a little clapboard house of their own.

Sometimes, there’s a more contemporary take a transcendent presence in the community that people can count on through good times and bad. That’s community in the virtual sense as well as the geographical one.

The other bucket holds the answers that begin with a value proposition. Lower interest on loans and higher dividends on savings. More flexibility in underwriting. An understanding and creative collections team.

We sometimes call this the bank-lite approach, and there’s nothing wrong with it as an operational framework if it delivers good member value, right? Well yes, that’s right. But is it sustainable? Is it enough to make members care a lot?

A Tough Test

Doug Fecher, CEO of Wright-Patt Credit Union ($3.9B, Beavercreek, OH) famously asks the question, If our credit union suddenly didn’t exist, would our members care enough to start it again?

That’s hard. How many credit unions today strive to meet a standard like that?

Our movement claims 110 million member-owners. How many of them care so much about their credit union that they would start a new one from scratch? How many see a financial cooperative as being truly relevant in their lives?

These are important questions because if members don’t think their credit union is relevant, sooner or later, it won’t be.

History and economics say credit unions DO matter, and that members SHOULD care. But in today’s busy, crazy world, where financial services give the appearance of being a commodity, chances to make that case are few and far between.

So, think through those elevator speeches. Talk about messages and share ideas about what works. Make a commitment to one another that the next time someone asks, Why should I care? you’ll hit that softball question out of the park.

Managing day-to-day operations requires a strategic mindset, but making time to talk about strategy is difficult. Callahan & Associates helps leadership teams focus on what’s important. Learn more at

February 26, 2018

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