This is an article that first appeared in Callahan's Credit Union
Report in 1999 and is being rerun due to its relevance for strategic
We are entering into the time of year when many credit unions assemble
their best thinkers and do their strategic planning.
This is all
to the good. But where is anyone doing this for our movement as
Would your credit union last very long if you abandoned strategic
planning altogether? This is virtually what has happened to the
credit union movement.
Sure, some leaders
have put forth ideas like working for more favorable federal legislation,
or writing new charters or serving the Walgreens of the world. But
no one is really assembling the best minds and doing strategic planning
for the industry in an open, conspicuous, academic and practical
Out in Front
or Left Behind
To this time
credit unions have been a good source of financial transactions
for people. We should become as well their best source for financial
information. Is anybody thinking how this could happen?
There is a trend
afoot among some people to conduct all their financial affairs solely
over the Internet. Are we going to be there for them, or will they
go to someone else because the option does not exist for them at
credit unions? What leaders are concerning themselves with this?
If leaders were
really thinking about members and the rights of Americans for joining
a credit union, they would be working toward allowing anyone to
choose and join a credit union over the Internet. If we dont
start thinking along these lines, its never going to happen.
Eye on the
We had better
wake up and smell the trouble. The banks, telephone companies, power
companies and more are reorganizing for a global economy. But our
industry seems stuck on much smaller issues, ones addressing immediate
annoyances but not long-term strategies. Solving todays problems
is likely not going to help us much 10 and 15 years out, because
those solutions do not fit into any plan stretching that far into
We have to take a deep breath and ask a very fundamental question,
the one that we asked when this movement started and the one that
has to sustain us: Given the environment we face and are likely
to face in the future, how do we best serve the member of a financial
cooperative and ensure the rights of those who would like to belong?
We have to keep our eye on the ball and the above question is it.
Leads to Narrow Results
Who would have
dreamed 10 years ago that Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz would merge?
It was unthinkable, but executives worked to reduce barriers and
open the way for international efficiencies. Now look at what is
happening to our movement. Instead of seeing an easing of restrictions,
we are faced with new ones. California credit unions need legislation
to serve their members who live in Mexico. The banking industry
in this country is continuously attempting to build corrals around
us, and Congress, while kicking some down, is more or less content
to keep us hemmed in.
We have to waste
our time and energy holding the encroachers at bay. What little
time and energy is left is squandered on arguments such as those
over FOM that might favor one credit union over another but has
a net result of zero for the movement as a whole. And developing
a new product for credit unions is just a Band-Aid that
is not going to foster long-term improved health.
So we really
have to get together and think 10 and 15 years out. The National
Roundtable would be a good place to start.
Shake off the
crusty thinking. Forget about Band-Aids. Bring our best minds together
for industry-wide strategic planning that is going to rejuvenate
our movement and make it useful to Americans in 2015. If we cant
do that, credit unions to the people in 2015 will be a footnote
in a history book.