Working Harder to Build a Strong Brand
Our credit union began as a reaction to a North Carolina court case that said local government employees could not qualify for membership in North Carolina’s State Employees’ Credit Union (SECU), one of the country’s largest. Accordingly, Local Government FCU (LGFCU) set up business and accepted membership from persons employed by cities, counties, local authorities, local hospitals, firefighter companies, libraries and the like, along with their family members.
We have our own corporate governance and our own management, but from the beginning we established a strong symbiotic relationship with SECU, which provided office space, branch services and operational support. Our relationship is not one of a joint venture but more that of a credit union to a single-sponsor. We share a common service platform and we are dependent on SECU as the older and larger credit union.
The Metrics of Our Strategic Planning
The close relationship we enjoy with SECU does not relieve us of the duty of strategic planning, and in some respects we need strategic planning
Research & Development. We spend about 30% of our work in this area, looking into new products and services and how best to deliver them. In this category we also spend efforts researching other industries to learn about their trends and what might be translatable to our own. This R&D category we definitely feel is our most critical, and this is why we put the most effort into it.
Governance & Policy Issues. We spend about 20% of our effort in this area. Our Board members come from government and government management, and they are very sensitive to policy and governance. They understand they are to consider only the big picture. They very purposefully stay away from tactical issues because they understand that if they did delve into tactical matters they would be thinking like staff and not like a Board.
Our Relationship with SECU. We spend about 20% of our effort in this area. In our SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), we list as our #1 Strength our relationship with SECU. We also list it as our #1 Weakness, because we are so dependent upon SECU. We get along very well with SECU and our staffs work well together, but we realize that the day may come when, either voluntarily or involuntarily, our symbiotic relationship may end. The future is uncertain and can hold many surprises; we know we had best face reality. Thus we recognize the need to constantly think about our relationship with SECU, and to ask ourselves what improvements should be made to it. At every Planning Session, we ask ourselves how the relationship is going and what its future should be.
Forecasting and Financial Issues. We spend about 10% of our effort considering the economic climate and statistical information.
Credit Union Industry Environment. We spend about 10% of our effort examining what is going on among credit unions around the country, how credit unions are reacting in the national economic climate and so forth.
Staff & Volunteer Issues. We spend about 10% of our effort looking at personnel issues, asking ourselves if we have the right people, and in the right positions, and if their training is adequate.
The content of our strategic planning varies year to year but generally we stick to the above six categories and in these approximate ratios
Our Board and Big Decisions
Our Board comprises nine persons, geographically distributed around the state. Two are minorities, three are women, half is retired and half is still active in local government. Most are experienced in management. The Board has two standing committees, Management and Operations. Board meetings are limited to members of the Board, me, our executive VP and the assistant corporation secretary. We also have two other committees: a loan committee and an advisory council.
Perhaps the biggest decision our Board has made in the last several years was to break our headquarters away from office space we had held in the building with SECU and to build a new headquarters for ourselves. Paired with this was the decision not to build the headquarters where it would have been less costly to us – on the outskirts of a city – but rather in the heart of the state’s capital, Raleigh, and not only that but also to build a large conference center into the same building.
We did this very deliberately because we wanted to be known as an integral part of local government. Hundreds of newly and seasoned elected officials, as well as professional officers, travel to Raleigh every year for training. By hosting these training events in the LGFCU Conference Center, we avoid looking as if we were on the margins, literally or figuratively. Rather we wanted to show that we were in the thick of local government and not only that but also able to host large conferences for local officials. This we have done.
A Strong Brand
Another part of our strategy has been to build a very strong brand. You can imagine that having come into existence the way we did and having worked for years within the fostering infrastructure of SECU, many citizens of our state would be confused about the distinction between a credit union for state government employees and one for local government employees, that is between SECU and LGFCU. We decided we had to work hard at establishing a very high quality brand, to maintain its high quality and to work to demonstrate to the people of our state that, for those who were eligible, they could trust us with their financial lives.
In a way, we are relieved from a good deal of what other credit unions have to deal with. Because our members go to SECU branches throughout the state and because SECU handles so much of our operations, our Board can devote more time to creative thinking. The Board members in effect operate much like a think tank. My staff and our Board work very hard at coming up with ideas that are not just outside the box but over the horizon.
An Immediate Goal
Presently, we feel one of our biggest challenges is bringing in young people. Our membership is growing older, and we need to show the rising generations that we are the financial services institution of choice. One way we are doing this is taking a very hard look at our website and what we can do with it. We are researching what Hollywood is doing with computer graphics and how some of those techniques can be applied to a website.
We understand that we have to work exceptionally hard to distinguish ourselves, and that is what we have been doing.