How To Create A Vibrant Culture

To go along with a name change, this Illinois credit union shifted its overall culture.

Top-Level Takeaways

  • When Vibrant Credit Union changed is name from DHCU in a 2015 rebrand, the credit union changed job titles and responsibilities and introduced initiatives to put smiles on the faces of employees and members.
  • Changes include a retrofitted 1974 Volkswagen truck that hands out free ice cream and daily motivational moments that promote positive employee relationships.

Three years ago, Vibrant Credit Union ($653.3M, Moline, IL) changed its name and its fortune.

The Prairie State credit union had been using the acronym from its previous name, Deere Harvesters Credit Union, since its licensing agreement with Deere & Company lapsed in the early 2000s but found its legacy branding to be at the root of stagnant member growth.

Our own members believed you had to work at or be a part of John Deere to bank with us, says Steven Ducey, chief experience officer at Vibrant Credit Union. That wasn’t the case.

In 2015 the credit union rolled out a new name and took the opportunity to shift its culture as well, in essence relaunching the organization.

We didn’t just put a new name on the place, Ducey says. We shifted the way we operate as a business.

Vibrant’s member growth declined steadily between 2012 and 2015.

A Happy, Healthy Business

Although securing executive buy-in to shift an organization’s culture can be challenging, Vibrant benefited from timing. The credit union’s leadership team has turned over significantly since 2011 when Matt McCombs assumed his position as CEO, and its new leaders want to inject their own DNA into the institution. Culture is one way they influence the growth of the organization.

If we can cultivate happy, healthy people inside and outside the workplace, then we can grow a happy, healthy business, Ducey says. The more our folks smile, the more our members will smile.

The culture change at Vibrant started with the staff.

The credit union changed the title of branch manager to experience manager and adjusted responsibilities accordingly. Managers now focus on member interactions rather than transactions because interactions are what drive the member experience.

We can transact through ATM machines, but we interact through people, Ducey says.

As part of the rebrand, Vibrant wanted to deepen member relationships. Since 2015, Vibrant’s products per member has grown.

The credit union has also empowered experience managers to have as much fun as they want in the branch. If front-line staffers want to give every member who walks through the door a high five, that’s ok. If staff members are tired of the cold, Midwestern winter and want to throw a Hawaiian-themed party in protest, they should go for it, Ducey says.

No one goes to a dinner party on Friday night and talks about the experience they had at the bank this week, the experience officer says. But why shouldn’t they?

Creating experiences like this is a key aspect of Vibrant’s rebrand and culture shift. For example, soon after the rebrand, the credit union retrofitted a 1974 Volkswagen bus into an ice cream truck and hired a full-time brand ambassador to roll through the community and hand out free ice cream.


At first the truck showed up at golf outings, charitable events, and local parks and tweetedt its location. Then businesses started requesting the truck. Then parents asked the truck to attend children’s birthday parties. Last year, the truck attended nearly 400 community events and handed out tens of thousands of ice cream treats.

We’re invited into the workplaces and homes of the people in our community, Ducey says. The truck has become this hyper-local brand presence we’ve never had before.

Scream For Ice Cream

Vibrant buys its ice cream wholesale, maintains a garage full of deep freezers, and holds all the food management licenses required to operate an ice cream truck.

Letting Loose With Laser Tag

For four weeks in its headquarters, Vibrant held a laser tag tournament as part of its motivational moments.

Stepping Up To Show Support

In 2017, 130 Vibrant employees and family members walked in a local Fourth of July parade and handed out free ice cream.

Motivational Moments

Employees don’t arrive to the office and immediately sit down to work, Ducey says. Instead, they get coffee and chat with co-workers before starting the day.

Given that, CEO McCombs asked what the credit union could do to harness the power of that 15 minutes of socializing and relationship-building. That’s when Vibrant introduced motivational moments.

Each morning between 8:15 and 8:30, the credit union’s entire staff participates in some form of uplifting activity. Work conversations are forbidden.

According to Ducey, it was difficult for employees to generate and share ideas for activities in the beginning, but creativity begot creativity once employees started sharing ideas on Vibrant’s private social network.

Motivational movements include tamer activities such as the card game Spoons, heads-up, and arts and crafts, but some employees take it to another level entirely. During the Winter Olympics, staff members at one branch created a makeshift curlingrink; at another, employees transformed the teller line into a volleyball court; and at headquarters, employees ran a four-week laser tag tournament in which Ducey and his teammate came out victorious.

At any given moment between 8:15 and 8:30 you could have 20 different things going on in our buildings, he says. Not always are 100% of people doing the same thing, but always 100% of the people are doing something. And they’restarting the day with a smile.

Although the four mergers across 2017 played a role in the credit union’s member growth, it’s rate in 2017 outpaced the performance of asset-based peers.

The data in this article is pulled from Callahan’s Peer-to-Peer. Callahan Analytics can help your credit union benchmark performance. Learn how today.


All told, Ducey likes the results of this culture change.

Whether it’s the rebrand, the culture shift, or simply the effects of starting each day with a smile, members have responded. Products per member have grown since 2015, from 2.79 in fourth quarter 2015 to 3.12 in fourth quarter 2017. Membergrowth has taken off, too. After bottoming out at -10% in third quarter 2016, Vibrant has trended positively in the quarters since. At fourth quarter 2017, the credit union’s 29.7% member growth far outpaced the 4.4% posted by peers withassets between $500 million and $1 billion.

Impressive results by most any measurement.

We’re not a suit and tie kind of place, Ducey says. Our brand isn’t for everyone. But we offer banking at a level and experience that rivals anyone, and we are proud of how we do it.


April 23, 2018

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