A Virtual Seat At The Table

New software makes it possible to give any member a "seat" on the board.


To put it mildly, technology has changed a bit in the 100+ years since the first credit union was founded. Most of the 96 Million credit union members have the option to take out a loan on an affordable automobile, drive it to myriad ATM networks, and conduct their business. On the flip side, they also have the opportunity to log into their credit union’s mobile banking platform, administrate their account remotely from various devises, and transfer funds deposited via their mobile phone. In-person transactions are changing, too. By 2015, it won’t even be necessary to swipe a credit card to make a purchase — EMV and pop money will take care of it.

Credit unions are adapting with the times and improving the member experience with cutting edge technology. This week, CreditUnions.com has been examining board governance. One of the many issues we addressed was how to encourage the board to engage with the people it represented, thereby ensuring its actions were somewhat guided by the goals of the people it represented.

Technology has revolutionized the banking experience, so is it time to start asking if technology can do the same with board governance? Social media, online polls, and blogs make it possible for members to interact with credit unions, and many use Facebook pages to discuss issues that wouldn’t warrant a phone call or branch visit. Is there similiar platform that allows member-owners to sway board decisions in a meaningful way?

Enter LiquidFeedback.

Created by Germany-based Public Software Group, this open-source platform allows users to vote for ideas directly or through trustees. Based on the assumption that no one person is interested in or knowledgeable about everything, users can sign up to vote only on issues that involve their personal knowledge base. For all other issues, they can cede their vote to a “trustee” they believe is better equipped to make an informed vote on their behalf. Users can also particpate in the initial drafting, scope, and language of a bill so legislation is in passable form by the time voting begins. And for those enterprising voters, a series of controls ensures they can't game the process.

In the words of Public Software Group, "This system allows all members to participate not only in voting but also in developing ideas and at the same time it is helping board members to understand what the majority really want, to make right and responsible decisions based on the 'popular vote'." Currently, the company sees this software applying to four key areas: political parties, associations/NGOs, government/civic participation, and economy/corporations. However, this system could easily apply to credit unions as well.

Imagine a scenario in which members can express their opinions to the board of directors through a series of votes. By seeing the votes and discussion in real time, the board would be able to take the temperature of the group in a time and cost efficient way. Meanwhile, it allows more members to take part in the institution's governance, underscoring the strength and responsibility of member-ownership.

Strengthening member relationships and fostering a word-of-mouth business model is repeatedly identified as a major goal for credit unions. What better way to do this than by encouraging members to speak up about the issues, products, and services they care about the most? An anonymous ballot might not be a practical way to reach out to your memmbers, but a browser-based piece of software that’s available to anyone with a smartphone or an Internet connection just might be the solution.


Aug. 16, 2013


  • What is popular at the moment and what is the best thing to do seldom coincide. In fact, when we reflect on truly great leaders in any walk of life they typically were not voicing or standing for the popular views of their day. These people saw beyond the day and into the future with vision far clearer than most of the people they lead. A great problem of our day is the lack of good, not blind, "followership", partly because technology allows everyone to participate as if they are a leader or without leadership at all.