Tough Love from Pat Benatar

They say that whatever you do ON January 1st sets the tone for your entire year. So I got up last Friday morning, said my prayers, threw my black-eyed peas in a pot and jumped on the elliptical trainer. I like to listen to Pandora “shuffle” because I have crazy taste in music and I like to see what she dishes up for me. The very last song during this work out - the finish line song - Pat Benatar’s Invincible. 

If you’ve never heard it go download it now. I’ll wait.


  This bloody road remains a mystery. This sudden darkness fills the air. What are we waiting for? Won't anybody help us? What are we waiting for? We can't afford to be innocent stand up and face the enemy. It's a do or die situation - we will be invincible.

This bloody road remains a mystery.
This sudden darkness fills the air.
What are we waiting for?
Won't anybody help us?
What are we waiting for?
We can't afford to be innocent
stand up and face the enemy.
It's a do or die situation - we will be invincible.

When Matt Davis and I founded 6th Story we did so to make sure that credit unions didn’t go down on our watch. Neither one of us “chose” to work for credit unions and yet we choose to continue to make it our life’s work. But I have to tell you, there are some things going on in credit union land that we need to talk about. So here’s the tough love. 


I’m tired of the self-fulfilling prophecy predicting the ultimate demise of all small credit unions and that we will eventually have around 1200 goliath credit unions. Does that sound like the end of the movement? Absolutely. Think about it. Tax exempt status. Gone. But that’s not as big a deal as the fact that so many jobs are going to be lost. Credit union centric vendors out of business. Trade associations? Consolidated into something that looks suspiciously like CUNA?  This “prediction” isn’t good for anyone. NCUA sees to it that it’s virtually impossible to START a credit union. And even if you’re lucky enough to have the backing of your state and a viable model the Feds are going to make sure you never open your doors.

Some small credit union CEOs have shared with me that as they near retirement the boards of the big CUs see blood in the water and start circling and go around the CEO to their board to try and make a deal. Not cool. Stop it. 

The truth is there are many alternatives to mergers. According to NCUA the number one reason for merger is to “expand services.” The CUSO model is there to help credit unions gain access to affordable services. There are many examples of this, shared branching being the most obvious. I interviewed the CEO of The Florist CU in Roswell NM last year for a NACUSO blog. This $7.8 million CU with 900 member florists all over the nation has 5,341 branches and access to over 30,000 ATMs thanks to collaboration. 

NACUSO is a great resource for small to mid-size credit unions. They have the Marketplace, a list of CUSO services and an easy way to submit an RFP, the Next Big Idea Competition at the annual conference where they showcase the greatest minds in collaboration and they have just announced they are adding Partner Connection Sessions. If your credit union has thought about joining or collaborating to start a CUSO, this is the place to do it. Check it out.  

Another alternative I just heard about is The Network Credit Union option. It’s kind of a franchise model. It allows credit unions the benefit of collaboration, economies of scale, and diversification without giving up their brand identity. I think this is brilliant. You see when a credit union merges it’s like swooping in and closing the clubhouse. We forget that many members still have an emotional connection to their history. To their founders, who are teachers, postal workers, the guys down at the mill.  That common bond that is so critical to building loyalty. The Network Credit Union option gives the small credit union access to all of those big boys features without the members knowing about it. 

It’s time to face the enemy. Mergers. It’s a do or die situation. Collaborate and we will be invincible!

- Denise

Video Killed the Radio Star. Is Technology Killing Credit Unions?

I started my credit union career in 1980. There, I said it. I’ve been in the movement going on 36 years now and I’ve seen a lot of advances in technology. 

I was speaking to a young group of credit union professionals recently. You know, those elusive Millennials and I began my speech the way the first Star Wars movie began. Remember the words fading into the starlit sky….”A long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away……”

It was 1980. 

  • The “computer” had no screen to look at. Everything printed on green bar paper and if a member wanted their balance you had to print it on a card you shoved into this weird little frame
  • The member account numbers were kept on a Rolodex
  • The loan applications were on paper
  • We used typewriters to type loan documents and there were three carbon copies attached. if you made too many mistakes, you ripped it out and started all over again
  • We calculated loan payments using a Burroughs machine
  • To obtain a credit report we used a phone placed in a coupler that connected us. We typed in pertinent information but if we made even one mistake we had to hang up and start again
  • There was no such thing as a credit score
  • There was no email
  • There were no cell phones
  • There was no internet
  • You took pictures with a camera and took the film to the fotomat and waited a couple of days for the film to develop
  • There was no powerpoint - we used overhead projectors or flip charts
  • All computers were DOS based. There were no mouses, no Microsoft office suite. 
  • We made graphs with graph paper and colored pencils

It was fun to describe this world to the youngsters. There were gasps, giggles, and a couple of “No way!” 

The thing I most remember about those times though - the things I really cherished?

  • We had no choice but to listen to our member’s “story” when we saw less than perfect credit.
  • We never had to sit in a dark room and look at someone’s bullet ridden power point slides as they read them to us
  • The primary way we communicated with other branches was with inner-office envelopes. It was like waiting for the mailman to arrive and it was kind of exciting
  • If we had an issue with a co-worker in the building we had to actually talk to them. Not snipe them in an email.
  • We went to a library if we wanted to research something. It was a building full of books on every subject imaginable and there was always a woman that was the Google search engine of the books that could help you. It took effort and you cherished the learning

But the thing that really smacked me upside the head on this stroll down memory lane.


Because for the most part we did a lot of our business manually.  Has technology really advanced the credit union experience? 

When I'm on the road I can check out of my hotel room, check-in for my flight, get my boarding passes and ping an Uber driver to pick me up. Then check my email. All of this ON MY PHONE! That's an amazing improvement over the old experience. 

At most credit unions It still takes about 45 minutes to set up a new member account and loan application. The processes for the most part are clunky and not experience driven. I have the “convenience” of ATM deposits if I want an 8 day hold on my checks. I can apply for a loan online and get denied immediately by a machine if my credit score does not fit within the parameters. I can take a picture of my check (about 50% of the time) and send it with my phone, but again, if I want a long hold on the funds. Is that all we have to show for 36 years of innovation?

How do we end this madness? By reframing the conversation. When you are sitting in a meeting and someone throws out a good idea, do not, I repeat, do not turn to the IT guy (or gal) and ask “Can the core processor do that?” 

Instead, always begin your question with these three powerful words:

“How might we?”

I learned this incredible way of thinking when I was an i3er with Filene Research Institute.“How might we?” shuts down the knee jerk reaction of the “Core can’t do it.” It forces us to work through solutions. Right now most credit unions need to ask the most basic “How might we?” 

  • Get a loan out the door in 10 minutes?
  • Empower our staff to approve loans?
  • Not treat members like criminals when they open a new account?
  • Stop letting our core processor hold us hostage and keep us from creating the best possible member experience?

Don't let the gift of technology kill innovation.

- Denise

Instead of Saying This, Try That

I came across a slide this morning that I used when I was teaching at Southwest CUNA Management School a couple of years ago. I’ll never forget when I heard my buddy Brent Dixon say this. So true and this is why I hate marketing. Hate it. Because we feel compelled to talk in “brochure speak” instead of just talking like normal people. 

If you pull up almost any credit union website today you will see that the physical brochures came off the lobby wall and are now electronically hanging on a webpage. It’s really sad. Brochures are designed as cheat sheets for our frontline staff (because we have so many products and services they can’t possibly keep them all straight). Brochures are the worst possible selling tool because they basically are designed to take home and read. So many new member packers are what I like to call the “barf of brochures.” You get a nice little folder just stuffed with every product and service brochure we could find! Stop the madness. Save the trees. And for heaven’s sake let’s stop brochure speak and start talking like real people. 

Here are some examples I found this morning of brochure speak on websites. This is a new blog format I like to call: “Instead of Saying This, Say That” 

Instead of Saying This: Convenience, security and affordability are important factors to consider when deciding on a checking account (punch in the face)

Try That: We all know it’s a royal pain in the you-know-what to move a checking account. But since it’s something you use almost every day and you hate where you are today (big bank)  we’ll make it worth your while. (and don’t give them a crap switch kit - actually help them move their checking account)

Instead of Saying This: Holiday Hours: Closed Thursday, November 26th. We will be open our regular business hours on Friday, November 27th.

Try That: Our staff will be home on Thursday with their families giving thanks for the day off, but we’ll all be back to serve you on Friday the 27th. Happy Thanksgiving!

Instead of Saying This: Built on the credit union’s philosophy of “people helping people” our Mortgage Specialists are here to help you find the right home loan and make sure the process is as painless as possible. (insert needle across the record album noise here so I can make another point)

Getting a mortgage loan is the most emotional purchase/process in your lifetime. You better be committed to making it as painless as possible if you’re going to say that or you're just going to piss people off. 

Finally, this is the last time I’m going to say it (probably not). STOP using shiny happy stock art people on your websites. Why are you still doing that? Come on, we’re better than that. Unless you use this stock art. 

We’re not-for-profit financial institutions owned and operated by our members with a volunteer board of directors elected by our membership - punch me in the face.





Target Practice

In all my years of consulting the hardest thing for me to explain (mainly to board members) is the need to target an audience. 

Here’s the typical scenario. The credit union has been allowed to expand their charter to anyone that “lives, works, workshops” in a multi-county area. The board is giddy, they see stars in their eyes as their potential membership balloons from the few to the vast many.  At this point many credit unions decide they should re-brand to be more relevant which often includes a name change. 

After all, there will be confusion in this new space if we are still tied to our original sponsor - also known as your founders, your creators, the loyal group of hard-working individuals who throughout the years remained loyal to the credit union.  Right?

So let’s break it down to simple truths:

  1. Every single credit union in existence today began with a very distinct target audience. Whether it was school teachers, state employees, machinists, church goers or military. They proudly served this group, and they were successful because there was a common bond, a sense of exclusivity. Because it was “their club” members marketed for the credit union through word-of-mouth.
  2. The name of the credit union was usually branded to reflect that common bond. Sure, some of the names were a bit much, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 Federal Credit Union comes to mind. There’s an opportunity to shorten that up, make it fun but still relevant. 
  3. The territory that the credit union has now acquired is likely familiar with the industry or “club” that founded the financial co-op. Boeing Employees Credit Union is a great example. If you live, work or worship in the state of Washington you likely are related to someone that has worked for Boeing. 
  4. Nine times out of ten there is not a negative connotation associated with the founders and their brand name. Enron Credit Union had to change their name.  Anytime I see educators or teachers obliterated and replaced with a pharmaceutical name a bit of my soul dies.
  5. By simply changing the name, the confusion is not lessened. It’s not a Field of Dreams. You cannot simply build it and they will come. Re-branding (name changes) causes confusion and often implies some kind of wrong-doing, a merger, a financial fall-out. Especially after the recent recession that will always be the blame of banking. 

What should you do if you want, and many of you do need, to get the word out that your credit union is open to everyone?

  1. Do not say “Now everyone can join!” It’s weird, confusing and a bit off-putting. First of all it implies that the masses know that they couldn’t join before and have been waiting at the gates to come on in. Not likely. 
  2. Do not use politically correct shiny happy people stock art in your marketing to try and illustrate inclusion. It’s not real, it appeals to no one, and because so many credit unions take this approach you will look the same rather than different. 
  3. Continue to tell your story. One of the first things I do when I go to a credit union website is click “About Us.” This is the most important page on your website. Tell me your story. I don’t want to read “We are a financial cooperative founded in 1936 with over 150,000 members and $2 billion in assets.” Who cares? 
  4. Do take the time to declare a target audience. And here’s where it gets hard.

Name a company that targets everyone?

I always get these three answers:

The fact is, they do not target everyone, but they all target families. One of the many many reasons I won’t shop at Wal-mart is because I don’t have kids and things tend to be packaged in bulk. I don’t need 7 chicken breasts, I need two. Wal-Mart’s targeted demographic includes families and individuals with modest income. 

Disneyland on the other hand….it now costs almost $400 to get a family of four into the park for one day. That doesn’t include food, beverage and merchandise. They clearly do not target large families with modest income. 

McDonald’s targets parents with young children. These parents are busy, some a bit lazy, and most hope they don’t get caught handing over Happy Meals as dinner in the drive-up. 

A well-defined target audience is the first element to a marketing strategy. It is much easier to determine where and how to market the credit union when you’ve segmented your territory. Targeting an audience does not mean you exclude. Wal-Mart, Disneyland and McDonald’s don’t target me, but I’ve given all three of them my money over the years. Targeting an audience helps you prioritize your activities, create value, and most importantly differentiates you from your competition. 

If you’re ready for some target practice, complete the information below and you'll receive some fun worksheets to take to your next senior management and/or board meeting. 

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Who is your current target audience?