Strategic Thinking And The Road Ahead

Credit unions can’t predict the future, but they can prepare for it by thinking about how to respond to change.

 
 

Planning season is approaching, and as credit union teams across the country lay out their agendas, there are a few tough questions I challenge them to add.

As you talk about your credit union and your market, consider this: What don’t you know?

What don’t you know about the market ahead? What will your market look like in five years? How about in 10 years? What will your members need to survive and thrive? How will their needs be different tomorrow from what they are today?

 

 

Several progressive credit unions I've spoken to lately already are thinking long-term like this and looking at the road ahead through a couple of fairly distinct perspectives. The first perspective is about the marketplace. The second is about the members.

The retail world continues to change dramatically. Malls are closing, and the physical presence for daily commerce is becoming less important by the day. Retailers, including some iconic names, are going bankrupt. In this age of commoditization — of banks and credit unions and fintechs that look identical to the average consumer — the movement needs to get ready, one institution at a time, to again distinguish itself.

Survivors of this environment are agile. Some are doubling down on a luxe brand experience. One example of this is high-end clothing stores that carry minimal stock but offer tailoring services to ensure the perfect fit for the items that are on hand or can be ordered.

Other retailers are adapting their delivery model to maximize digital. They are leveraging the growing capabilities of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and blockchain technologies while providing only the most necessary services in person.

Car-buying services like Carvana, which offer a 100% online experience, come to mind here. Other examples are car-sharing services and the coming availability of driverless cars, which will surely have an impact on the one-third of the loan portfolio that is tied up in auto loans for the average credit union.

What do these disruptions mean to your marketplace? To your branching model? Every credit union must consider for itself how it delivers services now and how it will meet the needs and expectations of members a decade from now.

In this age of commoditization — of banks and credit unions and fintechs that look identical to the average consumer — the movement needs to get ready, one institution at a time, to again distinguish itself.

Jay Johnson, Partner, Callahan & Associates

Some are already doing this. Rogue Credit Union is building out its physical presence while designing new branches with an eye toward converting them later into self-service and concierge-style delivery models. But only when members and the marketplace are ready. Check out this case study on CreditUnions.com to learn more about that.

That’s the marketplace perspective, now what about the members?

The lives of members change in step with the marketplace that they empower as well as depend upon. The workforce is morphing in such ways that the only certainty is uncertainty. How can the credit union help members adapt to a gig economy or maintain one household budget on several shifting income sources?

There are different ways to think about members’ lives and how the institution can serve them. No credit union is going to land on the perfect answer in a single planning session. The point here is to begin the thought process. The power of strategic planning is that those who do it well know they don’t have a crystal ball but are less likely to get stuck behind the eight ball when the game changes.

That’s because the power of long-term thinking lies in how it stretches an organization’s ability to think about the future. It’s not about committing to a path today. It’s about having the organizational infrastructure and intellectual capacity to recognize that change is coming and be able to adapt when it does.

The time to start thinking about tomorrow’s changes isn’t next year — it’s now. Times are good. Most credit unions are doing well, and the economy continues to produce jobs and profits. But this is all cyclical, and it won’t last.

Now’s the time to step away from the day-to-day and give some thought to what lies ahead, not because you need an accurate forecast but because you need to be ready to respond. Whatever happens, you know members will need a trusted partner that can help them with shelter, food, education — you know, the basics. How will you fill that role?

The poet Robert Frost said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Today, the credit union path is still the one less traveled. Let’s make sure it can make all the difference to those who choose it.

It’s Time For Tough Questions

Asking tough questions helps the credit union movement flourish. Make Callahan’s Tough Questions commentary on CreditUnions.com a regular stop for insight on thinking differently about the movement and framing strategies for success.

Read More Commentary

This article appeared originally in Credit Union Strategy & Performance. Read More Today.

 

Aug. 27, 2018


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