Where is the Strategic Planning for Our Movement?

We are entering into the time of year when many credit unions assemble their best thinkers and do their strategic planning. What is anyone doing this for our movement as a whole?


Callahan's Classic
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 planning season.

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 a whole?
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 manner.

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 don’t start thinking along these lines, it’s never going to happen.

Eye on the Ball

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 today’s 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 the future.
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.

Narrow Thinking 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 can’t do that, credit unions to the people in 2015 will be a footnote in a history book.




Sept. 17, 2001


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