The Credit Union Mindset Imperative

A collaborative culture that sticks to old principles while embracing innovation remains a key to the movement’s responsiveness and relevance.

Despite unprecedented speed of change and breadth and depth of competition, the credit union movement is uniquely positioned to thrive in 2020 that is, if we focus on our collective aptitude for innovation and appetite for collaboration.

Now, innovation and collaboration can be intimidating, but a mindset that sees challenges as chances, failures as learning opportunities, and our industry partners as collaborators rather than competition, is not only a workable way forward as the new decade dawns, it’s an imperative. In fact, we chose mindset as our third Imperative for 2020. It’s the only way to brush aside the notion that hurdles such as the regulatory environment, a tight labor market, and fast-growing consumer expectations are too much to easily overcome.

Indeed, it won’t be easy. But the simple fact is that without such an organizational mindset, innovation won’t happen and our relevance will diminish as Americans turn to the fintechs and mainstream financial service providers who not only offer the latest and greatest, but are now wrapping themselves in the mantle of social good that credit unions birthed as their mandate more than a century ago.

New Ways Of Thinking

Credit unions still have the credibility the cachet if you will that helped power the movement’s growth to record heights in the decade since the big bank-driven Great Recession. We still have the ability to offer highly competitive products and services. Most still do.

Our collective challenge now is to identify new ways of thinking about how we can best accomplish great things for our members, how we can best identify and meet their needs with the people helping people principles that have been in place from the beginning.

Solving for needs, after all, is the point of innovation. Credit unions have always been good at that. Being close to our membership provides an advantage that we should be loath to surrender, and so does our industry’s spirit of collaboration.

Don’t Go It Alone

No credit union has to go it alone. Even after years of co-opetition, credit unions still help each other through multiple channels that include CUSOs, vendor user groups (including startups and stalwarts), leagues and associations, and personal networking. Together, we provide the scale to create and innovate that individually most credit unions could only dream of.

That mindset is baked in. Remember, credit unions largely began as savings and lending circles collaborating with sponsor companies. Today’s challenges are simply opportunity writ large of how sharing ideas and resources can improve the outcome for everybody.

Progress Over Perfection

Collaboration does more than collect capabilities. It spreads the risk. That can help ameliorate the fear of failure. It’s no secret that we learn from our mistakes, but today’s speed of change calls for a slight alteration to that mindset.

By that, I mean we can’t let perfection prevent progress. It’s been standard practice to make sure a new product, service, or technology is wrinkle-free before it’s rolled out, but the speed of change and pace of innovation means we need to get comfortable with the notion of learning on the fly.

We need to keep in mind what our true purpose is, what problems our members wrestle with, what opportunities they have in front of them; then a mindset of innovation that matters will follow.

Jay Johnson, Chief Collaboration Officer, Callahan & Associates

And that raises the question: Are we willing to put something out there that’s not fully developed? That can be a great way to show members you’re working to meet their needs, to solve their problems, to enhance their opportunities, while at the same time engaging them (and their input) in the process of innovation.

Sure, that product or service may not succeed in the way we hoped, but we’ll learn what worked and what didn’t, and we’ll apply those learnings to the next iteration and innovation. Which, nowadays, needs to be in a production cycle of weeks, maybe months, certainly not years.

Purpose As Motivation

The credit union industry is coming off our best decade ever by nearly all measures and metrics. Together, we worked through the recession by sticking with the basics like lending where others won’t while for the most part doing a great job of keeping up with the Jones digitally and physically. Americans responded.

Now, the challenge will be to look back at what’s worked and what didn’t while we fine tune what we already do and develop new ways to ensure we reach and positively impact as many members as we can. We do that by keeping the focus on the member.

Truly, keeping member service at the forefront is not only a motivator, but it’s also a great way to avoid the trap of simply innovating for innovation’s sake. We need to keep in mind what our true purpose is, what problems our members wrestle with, what opportunities they have in front of them; and then set our collective minds to meet their needs.

January 8, 2020

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