By Frank J. Diekmann
When CUNA’s GAC is in town, the only thing you’re more likely to trip over in Washington than a congressman sucking up to a CU audience is a CU audience being told how important it is to tell the “credit union story.”
But here is the nasty secret no one seems willing to admit, and it was on prime display when CUNA hosted its meeting two weeks ago: a lot of credit union people are really lousy at telling the tale.
Need an example? Then look no further than one general session during the meeting when the emcee waded into the audience and asked attendees what they would tell people on the street unfamiliar with credit unions about credit unions. This led to responses like:
- “As credit unions we truly care about them and not just them but their families.”
- “We help you solve problems.”
- “We are the best solution.”
- “When you walk in the door you will see credit union philosophy in action.”
- “We’re about people helping people.”
- “I want people to understand CUs are there to help their future from cradle to grave.”
- “I hope they know we welcome people with open arms.”
Blahbity, blah, blah, blah. Seriously, in that cliché-fest did you hear anything in all of that would really resonate with your average, very busy, staring-at-their-phone and surrounded-by-competing-messages American? Anything that would get anyone to become a member? A call to action? No--what you heard was the fuzzy feel-good pitch of credit unions to other credit unions that we hear every time CUs get together, when there’s so much mutual back-patting I’m surprised there isn’t a rash of rotator cuff injuries.
If those responses above are the credit union elevator pitch, who doesn’t suddenly remember they need to get off at the next floor? You could be on your way to the top of the 163-story Burj Khalifa, and you’d hop off at every stop rather than listen to that.
A Challenge For You
So here’s a challenge for every CEO or business development exec in credit unions: This year, literally make your employees and staff give you their elevator pitch. Do you have an elevator in your building? Even though you should be taking the stairs, next time you are in an elevator ask that person how they would describe the credit union to someone who knows nothing about the place or the cooperative finance concept. Give them until the next floor to sell you. My guess is you won’t be doing much buying, which means you have some work to do.
My other guess is once word gets around the office over what you’re up to 1) You will have motivated your employees to better understand what you’re all about and to be succinct when preaching the CU gospel, and 2) most of your employees will be taking the stairs.
And In Case You Missed It...
And now, some other notes form this year’s CUNA GAC:
Forget This Story
Speaking of stories, in this case a word that has become a chapter within CUs, kudos to CUNA President Jim Nussle for challenging this whole idea of “coopetition,” that is, the concept of competition among cooperatives.
It’s been a growing absurdity for some time that many credit unions look only to other CUs as “competitors,” even though the nation’s banks continue to hold about 90% retail marketshare.
“I hear about coopetition. Why? We have too much at stake. Why go after another credit union? Go after Bank of America. Don’t just ask what’s in it for me, ask what’s in it for we. We can be fiercely independent and fiercely cooperative.”
‘We Were All Going to Die’
GAC’s opening keynote featured a hike up the ultimate hill, Allison Levine’s story of summiting Mt. Everest (you can read more of her account here). One story not included in our reporting was a harrowing ice avalanche that nearly killed Levine and other hikers when the massive wall of ice stopped just five feet from her and the rest of her team. She related that a videographer who was accompanying the team instructed everyone to stand still. “I asked him, ‘How did you stay so calm?’ And he said, ‘I knew it was going to be OK.’” But Levine said she later read an account by the videographer who wrote, “I urged them to remain calm, because I knew for sure we were all going to die.”
Upset on a Bipartisan Basis
News flash: In case you haven’t heard, it’s a divided country and people are increasingly intolerant of hearing any view with which they don’t agree. CUNA managed to anger a few people on each side of the Republican/Democrat divide by having as speakers both former Secretary of State and presidential candidate John Kerry and Vice President Mike Pence.
One CEO of a California credit union told me that when Kerry began talking about climate change, the person behind him muttered, “This is BS,” and walked out. Speaking of which, when Kerry was asked what he would like to pass on to the next generation, he responded, “A planet that’s getting the job done, not one that’s a threat to their lives.”
Meanwhile, when Pence launched into remarks about border security and immigration that are familiar themes of the Trump Administration, I heard some grumbles and later some negative comments were posted on the CUNA GAC app.
Veep Goes Deep
And speaking of Pence: Hey, I get it. Absolutely no one in politics makes it without choking down some moldy baloney they don’t agree with (even when they’ve previously and publicly stated the opposite) because it’s the party line. And it’s also a Washington fundamental the ability to keep a straight face regardless of what is coming out of your mouth is what (sadly) separates the election winners from those giving concession speeches.
So, I suppose you just have to give a nod to Pence who, just one day after the Trump Administration unveiled a fiscal year 2020 budget that projects federal debt will increase $5 trillion during the four years of the Trump/Pence term, Pence told GAC, “Yesterday, President Trump submitted his budget request to the Congress. It called for fiscal discipline...”
The greatest irony here, of course, is that if Uncle Sam showed up in any credit union with that kind of debt-to-income ratio looking for a loan, he’d be kindly redirected to credit counseling.
Frank J. Diekmann is Cooperator in Chief at CUToday.info and can be reached at Frank@CUToday.infoor @FrankCUToday.