You’ve heard it and read it before: “It’s all about the member.”
Meaning that credit unions exist for member benefit, period – and that
credit union people have to continuously keep this in mind.
The slogan gets pretty good play in the credit union world. We like to think
we had much to do with starting and spreading it. Back in 1992 when the Clinton
For President campaign was trying to upset then sitting-President Bush, their
informal slogan was “It’s the economy, stupid.” We started
mimicking that with “It’s the member, stupid,” meaning that
in the credit union world, all acts have to be for the benefit of the members.
We still believe in the purity and sanctity of this principle. Credit unions
have to maintain all their focus on member benefit. It they do, they’ll
prosper; if they don’t they’ll whither.
Slogans Can Be Easy
But as with any sort of organizational slogan or guide, it’s repeated
and referred to more than adhered to. It’s adopted by groups more than
followed. It can be mouthed but without much dedication; it can even serve to
mask divergent intentions.
People prefer to deal in their own comfort zones. Boards of Directors, senior
management teams, and staff are three groups all of whom have their particular
comfort zones and all of whom have their own versions of what they mean when
they say “It’s for the members.” Whatever any of these groups
wants to pursue, whatever “good” they want to do for the credit
union, they are likely to say what they are doing is “for the good of
the member.” This is especially true if they are challenged; they fall
back on their motive – “acting for the good of the member.”
In fact, no one really knows what is best for the member – and we are
the first to admit it. Only the members really know what is best for them, and
they tend not to put their needs and wants into words. Rather, they “vote
with their feet.”
Knowing Where The “Smarts” Are
Boards, senior management and staff can offer products, make adjustments to
service and the like, but what they are doing is hardly more than making educated
guesses. They have to wait to see how the members are going to react. If the
members stick with the credit union, if they bring in their own family members
and their friends, then the credit union has been acting in their benefit. If
they are not bringing in their family members and friends, and if they are shifting
their financial activity elsewhere or leaving the credit union entirely then
clearly they believe the credit union is acting less hard for their benefit
than an alternative.
The American people are by and large an intelligent people. They also like
to be loyal and tolerant. They are likely to see an institution such as a credit
union through a storm or even a couple of cycles, but if they see that over
the long haul they are not getting their value’s worth in one place they
will go where they believe they can. They’ll vote with their feet.
All of us need to remember that the “smartest” people in the credit
union are the members. They may or may not on average have more academic degrees
than people on the Board, management team and staff, but certainly they are
the smartest in determining what is in their own best interests. They know it
when they see it, and they know it across the street if that is where they see
it. Everyone else just makes educated guesses, and when groups in positions
of responsibility say they are acting “in the member interest,”
what they are really saying is that they are offering up a mask for their own
We are right to be skeptical of groups, from Boards to regulators. It is right
to not entirely trust these groups. But it is right to trust one group: Trust
the members. The members know every time what they want. The other groups can
miss, and often do; the members never miss.