Credit Unions Everywhere Live The “Members First” Motto

When employees prioritize what is best for the member, they demonstrate the cooperative difference.

 
 

By many measures, 2016 was the best year ever in credit unions’ 100-plus-year history. More than 4 million members joined for the first time during this calendar year — pushing membership grow to its fastest rate in 14 years.

What’s more, credit unions originated a record $461 billion in member loans — more than 30 million loans — during 2016. At year-end, the loan portfolio hit a new high of $880 billion as credit unions posted their third straight year of double-digit growth.

Share balances surpassed $1.1 trillion in 2016 — with growth still accelerating — and net worth topped a record $142 billion at year-end.

Although the financial results are outstanding, the real measure of success for credit unions lies in the impact they have on members’ lives. And that has increased, too. Member usage of products such as checking accounts, car loans, and credit cards keeps climbing, and credit unions have achieved new highs in average loan and share balances.

Everything You Want To Know About 4Q 2016 Data

By many measures, 2016 was the best year ever for credit unions. Membership growth, loan originations, share balances, and net worth are all in the realm of record performance, but the real measure of success lies in the impact credit unions have had on members’ lives. That has increased, too, as credit unions make ongoing, long-term investments in member value. A great year for credit unions means it was a great year for members. That’s a concept that highlights the cooperative difference.

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Credit unions are making ongoing, long-term investments in member value that go beyond the $65 million in loan rebates and more than $5.7 billion in dividends paid to members in the past year. They’ve developed products, services, and delivery channels that help members more easily meet their financial goals and needs. As an industry, credit unions have invested in more than 281,000 employees — the people who shape the culture of member service that is at the center of many institutions’ value propositions.

It Starts At The Top …

Defining organizational culture is challenging but essential. The core of an organization’s culture is often revealed by asking one question: What will employees prioritize in their daily activities?

The answer to this question sheds light on whether internal processes focus on prioritizing what serves the company best or what serves the customer best. The former was clearly the priority at both Wells Fargo and TCF Bank.

In 2016, Wells Fargo made headlines for all the wrong reasons when regulators discovered employees were opening accounts without customer permission. Culture at the California-based financial institution clearly did not put customers first, and the bank is paying the price. Checking account openings dropped 43% in February 2017 versus one year ago, and credit card applications were down 55%. The fact these declines are even larger than those reported in January suggests this does not appear to be a fleeting issue for consumers.

Early in 2017, the CFPB filed a lawsuit against Minnesota-based TCF Bank after investigations revealed the financial institution deceived customers into accepting overdraft fees on checking accounts. TCF had an incentive structure that offered bonuses up to $7,000 for branch managers who had achieved high opt-in rates for the overdraft program. Consequently, the bank reported an opt-in rate of 66%, three times the industry average. Making matters worse, TCF’s CEO named his boat “Overdraft” and hosted parties on board to celebrate the bank’s successes.

In response, some credit union CEOs sent messages to members asking them to tell the CEO if they ever feel like the credit union mistreats them. These messages came from the CEOs’ direct email accounts and often provide phone numbers to reach the chief executives. Member response ranged from gratitude to disbelief that the CEO reached out directly.

But that’s the way to demonstrate the cooperative difference — by starting at the top.

Elsewhere, mantras such as “if you aren’t serving a member, you’d better be serving someone who is!” ensures everyone at the credit union knows member service is paramount. An opportunity to make member service a priority from day one lies in new employee orientation. Explain why a cooperative is different from other organizations and how member service is the foundation of success. Some credit unions even offer to pay new employees to walk away if, by the end of orientation, they determine the credit union’s culture is not a fit. It is a powerful statement that underscores the importance of the organization’s values.

Credit union success is determined by what members achieve.

… And Reverberates Through The Organization

Employee orientation is essential in setting the tone from the start, but employees must live the values and the credit union must communicate them regularly. Annual all-employee meetings provide an opportunity for credit unions to reinforce values and recognize employee contributions to the organization’s success.

Regular branch visits by executive team members do more than “show the flag” — they ensure leadership is hearing the questions, concerns, and opportunities front-line staffers capture every day through their work. It is one way to ensure everyone in the organization stays on top of what matters most: member needs.

Besides in-person conversations, broader messages are also important. For example, monthly messages that update the entire credit union staff on the institution’s financial performance and key projects with examples of how employees have delivered on the credit union’s purpose highlight not only service but also how employee actions have a life-altering impact on members.

Credit union employees make this kind of impact every day, and raising the visibility of their actions is a critical part of keeping alive the values of the organization.

The Credit Union Difference In 16 Words

Here’s a simple phrase that highlights the cooperative difference: A great day for the credit union means it was a great day for the members.

The phrase underscores the fact credit union success is determined by what members achieve. Ensuring employees understand the importance of that phrase is the responsibility of every credit union leadership team.

The past year’s results indicate credit union employees and leaders regularly heard that phrase throughout 2016. With cooperatives increasingly becoming the go-to provider of financial services for consumers, expect to hear it even more in 2017.

 
 

March 31, 2017


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