Lessons From Unlikely Competitors

To draw inspiration for new services, processes, and products, credit unions need to look outside the financial industry.
Catherine Siskos

A little competition is always healthy, prompting us to refine and improve when we might otherwise become complacent. Plus, there’s no shame in copying somebody else’s business idea, especially if you can do it better.

This week, we look closely at businesses that credit unions don’t ordinarily think of as competitors to get ideas about services, processes, and products that cooperatives might learn from.

A slew of online business lenders, for example, promise fast easy loans in exchange for high interest rates. But it’s the way these lending upstarts have tweaked standard products, like lines of credit and cash advances, that bears watching.

At the same time, technology and social media companies are getting into the payments business, and when big names like Facebook explore new payment options, credit unions would be wise to pay attention.

Of course, some of the businesses we profile aren’t competitors at all, although their practices offer distinct parallels to cooperatives. Consider, for example, three companies a luxury hotel, grocery chain, and online retailer that consistently get high marks for customer service on consumer surveys. All have built customer-centric work cultures,and they have tips for how credit unions can do the same.

One of our roving reporters even found food trucks, vending machines, and pop-up stores that come and go during the holidays to be a source of inspiration for credit union business models.

Yes, all competition is healthy, but only if you’re paying attention to it. Otherwise, you risk getting left behind.

August 12, 2014

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