What Would Musk Measure?

Re-usable booster rockets deliver a powerful lesson about sustainability and strategic thought in the credit union space.

On Feb. 6, the Falcon Heavy launch rocket sent a Tesla sports car into space. I was fortunate enough to be in Orlando, FL about 50 miles away from Cape Canaveral and it was thrilling to see, even from that distance.

But the launch was followed by an even more astonishing sight: The twin landing of the side booster rockets. What an audacious feat of physics and engineering and a spectacular lesson in sustainability.

Now I wonder, what would Elon Musk measure?


Musk is the South African entrepreneur who disrupted financial services with PayPal before turning his attention to electric cars and commercial space travel.

This man’s thinking is big, hairy, and audacious. He can make the bottom line work, but he’s also a visionary. So, if he were creating a new credit union movement, would he envision it stuck with the same incremental gains, year-after-year?

Because that’s where we are. This fourth quarter 2017 issue of Credit Union Strategy & Performance again serves as an annual report for the financial cooperative movement, and this year we can again demonstrate growing market share in core metrics such as member rolls, mortgages and auto loans, and deposits.

Download the 2017 Credit Union Annual Report

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch rockets landing simultaneously at Kennedy Space Center in February 2018.

That’s a good thing. We know we’re providing the basic products and services that many millions of members need for a stable, secure financial life. That’s nothing to sniff at in today’s uncertain economic and employment environment.

But is that enough? Is it even sustainable? Are credit unions happy with 8% to 10% CAGR, or should they be shooting for 20%? Or 30%? That’s a big, hairy, audacious goal, indeed, but such goals are what people like Elon Musk people who reinvent or launch entire industries routinely set for themselves.

So, again, what would Musk measure? What would a visionary perspective on the board or in the C-suite look like? If that was you, what would you measure?

Would you measure the credit union’s impact, how well it’s acted on its mission, or how well it’s used its charter? For example, how much it has supported decent, affordable housing, reliable transportation for work, and education for those reaching for a college degree. These are pivotal tools for a sustainable, dignified life in a stable, safe, and productive community.

The credit union industry should not stop measuring loan growth, share growth, ROA, or net worth. The regulators wouldn’t be impressed, and these are core elements that enable the system to survive, thrive, and serve.

But what about measuring the movement? It’s time to start looking for equally cogent and when possible, concrete measures of how credit unions improve members’ lives.

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 Callahan.com/strategylab.

A good starting point might be the eight indicators of financial health from the Center for Financial Services Innovation. They include spending less than income, paying bills on time and in full, having a sustainable debt load, and planning ahead for expenses.

Credit unions need to figure out how to embrace new measures individually as well as collectively. The cooperative model is made to support that kind of thinking and action.

Ultimately, this is not a zero-sum game. Traditional metrics and mission measures both have their place. They sustain and build on each other like booster rockets used over and over again.

To uncover your mission metric, begin with a single tough question: What would Musk measure?

April 16, 2018

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