A Strong Bottom Line Through Strong Member Service

One CUSO demonstrates how going after big sales numbers doesn’t mean leaving members behind.


The investment services world has a distinct reputation of being a culture driven by results and bottom-line thinking. Credit unions, on the other hand, are driven by collaboration and a members-first attitude. These two points of reference at first present as polar opposites, but one San Diego-based collective is mixing the best of both worlds to meet staffing demands and generate a stable, vibrant business.

CUSO Financial Services (CFS) provides technology and personnel to credit unions to streamline the investment process for cooperatives and members alike. It operates as a limited partnership, which gives credit unions the chance to buy into the CUSO.

CFS offers investment personnel to credit unions under two umbrellas, says Kevin Mummau, executive vice president of program development at CFS. Forty of the 130 client credit unions are members of the CFO-managed program. The remaining 90 credit unions have dual investment services employees. In other words, investment representative are either employed by CFS or they are employed by both CFS and the credit union.

What are the pros and cons of each model? For credit unions that want a lower maintenance investment services program and less direct involvement, the managed option is better; however, the return on this program (often in the 20-30% range) is lower because the broker-dealer (CFO) absorbs many of the expenses. Many institutions that are equipped to shoulder the expenses of an investment services program prefer the dual-employee model.

Regardless of the preferred model, the financial consultant (i.e., the investment services representative) doesn’t need to wander from the mission of the CUSO or the credit union. According to Mummau, the long-held assumptions of the differences between investment service culture and credit union culture are major impediments to overcome. So instead of favoring one over the other, CFS builds an integrated sales and service culture.

"They can mesh extremely well," Mummau says. "It’s kind of getting over the semantics of the words. Good salespeople are nothing but good service people."

And CFS relishes the chance to join with credit unions to mix and maximize the two mindsets. 

As for CFS’ own staffing, the CUSO’s back-office operations are located in San Diego, and the bulk of its employees come from the area. Representatives in credit union branches, program managers out in the field, and six regional program managers ensure the CUSO runs smoothly away from sunny southern California.

One reason the CUSO is successful in building credit union partnerships is because, at its core, it embraces the same attributes as many credit unions. CFS is built on the ideals of awareness, integrity, and credibility, Mummau says. Those are characteristics any credit union (or business for that matter) can support. The CUSO capitalizes on its status as a limited partnership, which allows it to work with credit unions directly and solicit their input on how things are going in the field.  

CFS is an informative model of how managing differing attitudes and staffing styles can build an effective business. The CUSO employs sales people and teaches them to thrive in a cooperative environment. It has a home base, but it also needs people out in the field. The CUSO is proof that differing attitudes and models can mix in the cooperative movement.