Yesterday after having lunch with a few friends at an Ethiopian restaurant I was able to spend the afternoon at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG). This was the first afternoon I had ever had free time in the city and had heard of their collection of Inuit carvings was the largest in the world. It really was worth it.
They had a large exhibit framed around the various decades since 1950. You could see the progression or more so the influence of the outside world in their carvings over the years. The geographic area from which the carvings have come from is huge but the common points the artists were depicting were similar. It was intriguing to see such beautiful work.
It started me thinking about the creativity in each piece given the landscape, geography and setting in which the carving was created. There was simplicity and yet in the strongest possible terms a complex beauty you rarely see. Art seems to transcend what we see with our eyes. It begins to take us into a realm that we don’t inhabit very often. To be able to be drawn in by the uniqueness of so many carvings was a wonderful experience. We need to take time, to pause for more than an hour and enter those artful, creative realms where text and noise no longer exist. It refreshes us to be human on occasion.
If you are ever in Winnipeg visit the WAG. It is an exceptional place.
Well I finally attended SXSW and it was everything I imagined, some more so than others. There were disappointments but it wasn’t with the venue or what was being offered. There were speakers that one expected some sort of intelligent discussion or debate about a subject and it was apparent that wasn’t to be. There is a group here and it is worth pointing out that they are a minority who are chasing money. They are looking for the next big Twitter or piece of hardware that they have developed or are developing or are cash investors. You hear the money subject a number of times but that isn’t what SXSW is about. There is a world connected by the internet and a lot of it is here.
When you get away from the main floor of the convention centre you realize all the world is not made up of billionaires or wannabes. There were some pretty passionate presentations that cover so many topics. It was like sitting in front of a TV and trying to decide which of 300 channels to pick. One definitely has to scour the list of presenters to get the best picks or you will miss out. The places are all alive with a constant hum of people moving about and talking about everything.
What did I like best about SXSW? The huge variety of subject matter, it really was incredible. You could only touch a small percentage of it. There were people here who by themselves would be the solo drawing card keynote speaker at any conference. There were a huge number of tech companies sponsoring just about everything. It took a few days to get used to the vastness of what was going on but when you did get a better picture, as always, it was time to go.
My sidekicks in this adventure were Tim McAlpine and Matt Davis. They added to the experience at every moment. It wouldn’t have been as good without them. I wouldn’t do anything much different the next time I came. More preparation in choosing the subject matter for sure and hopefully a hotel room closer to downtown. If you enjoy technology, music and food there is no place like it.
Jeffry Pilcher at FinancialBrand.com has written an excellent article on the credit union industry outlook. I would recommend you read this but more importantly read the comments because they are the key as to viewing how individuals perceive the result of this information.
Here in B.C. we have already gone through a “shrinkage” of credit unions over the last 20 years. In 1992 when I came back into the system there were 107 credit unions, now there are 44. The larger CUs have an 80% + total of the BC system assets at large. That is held by fewer than 10 credit unions. And yes we heard the ‘economies of scale’ proposition put forward at least 1,000 times in the last 20 years in all its hues and colours. But what really happened to those credit unions? What is the unknown cost of this ‘shrinkage’?
I believe the key component to loosing credit unions is their own belief that they are no longer relevant to their membership based on criteria that they inherited from outside sources. They begin to drink the wrong coloured Kool-Aid. They are so preoccupied with the ‘system’ template on how to run their organization they forget to leverage their strengths and develop and reinvent themselves in this very different financial world. By following the Pied Piper of ‘bigger is better’ they forget the culture they have and the history they have come from. To put it bluntly, they just give up, ignoring the wealth both financially and culturally that their credit union has established in their community.
There is nothing wrong with numerous credit unions in the same market. We all agree on the free market concept. What is neglected is that as credit unions we must align some strategies as financial co-operatives. No credit union is an island. At the same time individual credit unions must develop strategies that are dynamic and relevant. Those strategies must come from the source of collective wisdom of their membership. The direction that they set will be unique, growing and vital to their own ongoing future.
Listening, formulating, innovating, creating, respecting, and working towards a common vision is not easy. It is work. The end result will be a credit union that does not worry about how many CUs there will be in the future as you will be too busy maintaining that relevance with your membership and also contributing to the health of the credit union movement.
The cost of loosing CUs is huge. There are too many ‘funerals’ and not enough ‘births’. I believe smaller CUs are sometimes the conscience of the movement. Being smaller also gives a huge advantage for innovation and quick time of delivery for products and services. There is a role for both smaller and larger CUs to tackle our aging and declining membership base. What I have seen recently in the BC Credit Union movement has given me a new direction and a very positive view of the synergy used by both ends of the spectrum. It begins with discussing our cooperative nature and respecting our strategic differences.
I had one of those phone call interviews from a credit union magazine this afternoon. There is some hesitation to do these as a number of times in the past what has been said has sometimes been printed in a different fashion.
The question was about the use or non-use of the name credit union. This has been a long ongoing debate amongst credit unions in B.C One can understand, purely from a marketing sense, how removing ‘credit union” from you name can give you a stonger marketing differentiation. But in doing so it also can imply that those cooperative principles on which your financial cooperative follows are maybe not as important as they should be. I know that remark will bring some strong comments forward but much of who we are is in our name.
The key to me is that sometimes “credit union” as a name was changed because one hadn’t reflected or understood what it meant. The name was changed for marketing purposes, it did not change you as an institution necessarily. I think what was more a challenge was dropping the hands and globe logo from signage and printed material. That is the only real common identifier for credit unions worldwide so removing that could suggest some negative connotations.
What I am seeing now is a return, by some, to the credit union name and more usage of the hands and globe logo.
This was the first year since Northern Voice started that I hadn’t attended both days. The venue had changed back to downtown after being out at UBC for a number of years so just getting to know the space took a bit of effort. The weather always adds its character to the event.
What I found this year, as with every year, something unique. It was a much smaller group of people and it was set amongst various shops and a new and growing community. There were 3 rooms for the speakers which were very different and lent themselves to adding to the presentations. It was more a smaller community setting. All of the presentations I attended were excellent.
Maybe it was the proximity to the speaker or being in downtown Vancouver with all its cosmopolitan attitude or whatever but one thing was for certain, there was a passion and energy in the presentations that was so noticeable. Whatever the topic it seemed the 45 minutes disappeared too quickly. There was abundant laughter, caring, interesting wordsmithing, and a uniqueness of expression. The first Northern Voice was radical in the newness of the technologies (blogging, flickr, etc). Now we have ample internet communities to share and they have become very mainstream. The speakers challenged us on how to use these ‘tools’ for the communities we purpose. They spoke of caution in their predominant use and the constant need for other platforms to appear and challenge the behemoths. The radicalness was not in the instruments but on how they were used and the results that were accomplished.
Northern Voice 2012 showed me that we have, ever so subtly, moved to this second plateau of cautious usefulness. No one is declaring the means to any end is the only way. What they all said so passionately is that as we build communities we have so many workable examples of means that fulfil our necessary and desired ends. The toolbox is looking pretty good these days, much better than the past. We just need to voice our passions, follow our dreams, and continue to be pioneers in this ever changing world.
Northern Voice. What a great name. The conference epitomized there was a new Voice and it was once again coming from the North. Thanks to all the volunteers, speakers and sponsors. It really was a memorable event.
I started reading a book awhile ago by Kathleen Norris called Acedia & Me. She expands and defines in terms of our modern day what acedia is. It has been often understood as spiritual sloth. What it means to most would be the serious malady of being unable to care. After Christmas this seems to be something we all are aware of.
Acedia has a clinical cousin called depression. Norris traces acedia’s path through history to expose the damage to not only our own lives but also to our culture as we become desensitized by never ending distractions and our loss to care about anything that is really important. She finds that “restless boredom, frantic escapism, commitment phobia and enervating despair” that we have problems with today are “the ancient demon of acedia in modern dress.“
This is not a new concept. It is first encountered in the 4th century by the Christian monk Evagrius Ponticus. This is what makes the challenge so interesting. How can a 1600 year old concept be so relative in today’s world? We are so enamoured in the newness of the modern age that our view of history and what it has to offer is so easily forgotten. We should realize that the paths we currently walk are not always ‘new’ but sometimes very worn with previous travellers.
Coming back from the CU Water Cooler Symposium in Indianapolis on Saturday I began to try to piece everything together. If you have never attended, it is an event that really stretches your outlook on what the credit union movement means to so many different people.
There was an underlying theme that we needed to pay attention to our membership and move away from the constant rehearsal of paying attention to ourselves. The culture of each credit union should be directed by the board who are representatives of our membership. That being the case our cultures are dictated by our members. We need to be inclusive but not necessarily homogeneous. We include everyone in a common bond but that doesn’t make us ‘all things to all people all of the time’. And in this lies the difficulty.
By having a common bond it made credit unions easier to be part of the free market system. Are those that use credit unions understanding that a free market association creates challenges for us to remain a financial community of sorts. If they are only there for the “free chequing” what does it matter that credit unions have a social conscience?
The Symposium allows everyone to think and discuss issues that are relevant today and tomorrow. But we tend to get bogged down in the ‘good old days’ stuff and need those dialogues to bring us forward, screaming and kicking, into the future. The credit union I work for supports this event because this is one of the few remaining places where we can discuss the emerging culture of credit unions. We can begin to formulate what this will look like.
We do need a Manifesto or Accord sometimes when the dust settles. I would offer a few points.
1. The movement needs to reconcile that it is multi-generational. All contribute to the end result.
2. Credit Unions are formed with many dimensions. It is not all marketing, not all management, not specific to one domain. We are defining a new language for what we are and what we do. That takes time.
3. We are generalists that have been formed from exceptions not norms.
So just wait until next year when we go at it again.