Virtual money and virtual worlds

CU Hype has an interesting take on Second Life.

When I compare the state of the art gaming machines (PS3 and Xbox) to SL it doesn’t take much to say which is better. I have never been much of a gamer but recently bought the full meal deal, Sony Bravia LCD and a PlayStation 3. Why? The state of gaming has changed quite a bit since Zork and Wizardry. The graphics are better than the cartoons I used to watch as a kid. And with my beginner skills some of these games are going to last me a lifetime. Most of them have a real-time, Internet connection that brings the game into a non-virtual arena. You are playing with and against real people so it lends some concept of a larger human community. In a smaller way that is what SL brings to the table but in a pixelated setting.

Sony has something similar coming out on PS3 so the battle for virtual worlds is heating up.
There are some serious costs of both time and money for a business to set up shop on SL. It would be tough to get any ROI here. People don’t view money and the financial aspects of their life in virtual terms. In fact there is nothing virtual about a handful of cash.

Maybe in some future formats there may be some greater value in CUs using SL or something similar. Is it too early to tell? or are we seeing a technology, hearing the hype, and thinking it can help us. I don’t know for sure but blogging, twittering, YouTube, and Jott seem to be more than adequate in this First Life.

Odd thoughts

We were successful yesterday in moving our core banking system to Linux, changing our switch provider to Threshold and installing a new Diebold ATM at the branch. Months of planning and some extremely dedicated staff were the major contributors to a long but satisfying day. Everybody wants to take it easy for the next few days just to catch their breath.

I came across these 3 quotations this morning in an email. They ring true.

  • Learn to enjoy every minute of your life. Be happy now. Don’t wait for something outside of yourself to make you happy in the future. Think how really precious is the time you have to spend, whether its at work or with your family. Every minute should be enjoyed and savored.
    — Earl Nightingale 1921-1989, Author & Speaker
  • Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature nor do the children of man as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
    — Helen Keller 1880-1968, Blind/Deaf Author & Lecturer
  • I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.
    — Kurt Vonnegut, Author

How many CUs should be blogging or how many angels can dance on a head of a pin?

Morriss has written a blog “How many credit unions should be blogging” over at Some very interesting ideas that I need to expand on.

Beyond the point of every credit union should be blogging is a crucial concept that constantly churns in my mind. Credit unions’ common cause is that of a co-operative financial institution serving the needs of its members. The blog as a means of communicating should augment this premise, again by serving member needs. But how does something as verbose as a blog truly represent the entity? There will be views and ideas proposed that are representative of the individual, blogging about the credit union. That could be staff, management, CEO, board member, or even a member themselves. The credit union’s blog is also it’s banner and that communication will have a human perspective, not necessarily the credit union’s perspective. And this is maybe why CUs are hesitant. Some understood the mantra that their message must be pure, sanitized, non-controversial, politically correct, easy to understand and always towing the marketable CU (company) line.

I don’t believe a blog is a tool in a marketing toolkit. It can’t be a blog if it has to follow the above mantra. It needs to be resilient, challenging, inclusive, fair, honest, thought provoking, communicative, informing and whatever other attribute that will evolve over the next years. It is fundamentally the conversation that those 10 charter members had around that kitchen table that started the credit union. Those people got together out of a need, not out of a marketing direction.

The readers of credit union blogs need to understand the nature of blogs, that they aren’t marketing instruments (they may be tainted with marketing though). That they are open dialogues. They are a member notice board. They are Luther’s Wittenburg door. They are the radio call in show. They are the emotion, passion and human attribute of the credit union in a textual form. Again I would use the phrase – they are like nailing jello to a tree, sometimes very tough to define.

What is so necessary is that blogs become what each credit union needs them to become, developed in the context of their own culture. That diversity is something that should not be feared but embraced because that is what this system is all about. And here is where I will disagree with a number of my blogging peers. It cannot be solely or utterly defined in the realm of marketing because that isn’t what it is. Members will eventually see it as that. Do we really want our blogs to be the cloaked hype machines that so many businesses have made their blogs become? We are co-operatives. Realizing that just makes us different. And blogging should fit so easily with credit unions because diversity is and always is the domain we live in. If don’t realize our difference then we have a bigger problem that goes beyond blogging.

What’s in a name

Last week we began earnestly testing the new SMS product though our MemberDirect Integrated (MDI) channel. MDI is the Internet banking product developed by BC Central Credit Union which is used by a majority of BC credit unions. The product has usage by other credit unions across Canada. The SMS product is being championed by 3 credit unions, Mt. Lehman included and will be rolled out to the system (one by one) within the next few months. We are fortunate to be in this first group.

So now we need to name the product. It seems, at this point, there won’t be a system wide name like MemberCard. That is unfortunate but really a byproduct of our current credit union co-operative system. We will co-operate as long as there is no dilution to our own “brands”. For a credit union our size does it really matter?

Anyway back to our naming-the-product. I invited input from all 10 staff members and we came up with some pretty good names. We all understood the product (don’t forget we have had a SMS alert system for transactions called MemberNote for close to 3 years now) so the discussions really involved exactly what the product did and that is was a new and separate product that was different from MemberNote. We didn’t want to confuse the two as they served two distinct purposes. Discussions like these, at this level, are a neat attribute of this credit union. Everyone gets involved, everyone has input. But we got stuck. And the difference was generational. The younger staff aligned under one name, the older under another. Both had remarkable points as to why one was better than the other. What to do?

Over the last months there is a group, well it really isn’t a group it is an undefined bunch of people associated with credit unions that actively twitter. Why not throw this one out to the pack of experts and see what comes up? There were some great suggestions but one stood out (thank you Ron ! ) Textus. This was proposed to the group and was quickly accepted. We now have a new name for a new product.

When I look at this process it is so simple. I imagine we “should” have hired the experts, done the focus groups, etc. etc. etc. Would they have understood the product enough to come up with any better names? It just seems so fitting that the name came through Twitter. An tech name for a tech product from a tech bunch of people.

Time just seems to move on

Yesterday we were informed of the passing away of a dear person we knew and loved. Laurie was the wife of Marjun’s cousin and had suffered from cancer for over 2 years. She was a Canadian who had lived in Denmark and understood what it meant to be part of that society. We had so many interesting discussions over the years about Denmark and its people from a Canadian perspective. She was always so kind to the boys and put herself out whenever we saw her. She was the kind of person you never forgot, someone you could automatically connect with no matter how long it had been since the last time you visited with her. She was such a strong person, sure of herself, who had such a wonderful way of stating her opinion, letting you know that you were wrong but never making you feel that way. She will be missed by so many people. We will not forget you Laurie.

It is so sad when people pass on. It always shocks me when that person is younger than me. It doesn’t seem right no matter what. And at the same time Laurie passed away another friend and his wife, who I have known since he was a youngster, had their second son. On that same day two households, one with joy the other with sorrow. How can you feel with those two absolutes? One just sits back as time moves on and you say to yourself, that is what today has brought you.

Consumer posting

Jon Derum has an interesting post on his blog about giving people the ability to post comments on ‘blog bars’ (computer terminals at places of business). We really haven’t seen much of an evolution of this idea. We have a Mac setup at the end of the wickets where anyone can sit down to use it to have Internet access. When people know about it they sometimes use it. Some use it on a regular basis, others don’t bother. It does seem to be an issue of time though. People come in to do their ‘banking’ and are prone to move on once the task is completed. They don’t necessarily come to have access to the Internet or to the point made, spend the time to post a comment.

What is very interesting is to see how this ‘service’ will evolve. Will the ubiquitous iPhone/iTouch change when and how we will comment? Will free community wi-fi sites change usage? What happens when ATM’s become web based? Something is going to change, that is for certain.

For the lack of a word does the idea get misunderstood?

It seems we are brushing against new realms, new ideas and the fallout, new ways to do things. And yet we use old words and concepts to try to make some meaning for ourselves in these new realms. Those involved in blogging and twittering are sometimes at a loss explaining this new realm because how do you explain something so new that never stops changing.

I recently used the word ‘geekoid’ to explain how a program automatically setup a recorded TV show’s mpeg for streaming with a new http address. ‘Geek’ because it is using technology at the edge in a unique fashion and ‘oid’ because it sounds cool and as a suffix it means to form an adjective/noun with the sense of having the form or appearance of something related but not identical. It suggests that it is a cool use of technology but using TV technology that isn’t the same as we are used to. The program is Elgato’s EyeTV and its wi-fi access preference.

The word micro-blogging has appeared a few time recently to describe what twitter does. Users of twitter had just been calling it twittering, everybody who used this means to communicate easily understanding what it means. Micro-blogging seems to limit what it means.

One of the more interesting concepts is what credit unions do which is offering banking services. Who would understand them as offering credit unioning services? Our quest to make meaning of the new and redefining the old goes on. What seems to be taking shape with twittering is the quick sharing of concepts and ideas, off the cuff remarks that stick and begin to be used again and again until they find some small fashion of usage.

We as English users have a rich heritage of words to use, in fact probably more than most languages. But with 26 letters the capacity of understanding exactly what we say seems limited at times. I would suspect the challenge for bloggers/twitterers is to mold and message our communication not for the coolest of words but for the most understandable language. We shouldn’t be afraid to create something new or reuse words. We should not be persons of indolence.

Are we relevant or just expansionists?

Tim has brought up an interesting point about two ways to grow:

1. Become more relevant to your original field of membership

2. Expand the credit union’s field of membership

One of the most important criteria in this decision is what resources your have and how can you deploy them. And this is a major stumbling block when we talk about provincial or national campaigns. If you are large you have ample resources to expand your field of membership. Global awareness campaigns would fit this. But smaller CUs don’t have the luxury of a large budgets or ample HR. Maybe point #1 is the only consideration you can accomplish. That type of focus, that constant attempt to be relevant doesn’t always fit with a larger co-operative campaign. In fact it might make your message seem confusing.

For all the broad brushed attempts at expanding membership, being relevant is the hardest. Products and services are key, the delivery of these is vital. How do you take that cold, technical, database driven function and wrap it around something human, understandable, and friendly to make it relevant? I don’t think there is any single answer. Experience can define what works for your CU. Books and bloggers help.

One way to ‘monitor’ relevance is to very carefully watch the reasons people are opening and members are closing their accounts. I review these functions daily with the biggest question being Why? Why did they open or why did they close their accounts? Most reasons should be out of your control i.e. married and moving out of the area but if they aren’t these become the ‘soft’ areas that you need to get back and work on. And sometimes it becomes something that you can’t help. It hurts but you still exist in a competitive market place and giving away the farm isn’t always in the cards.

Taking care of business is the ever expanding goal of being relevant to your members. I don’t know if you ever arrive or are completely satisfied by the results. What is important is that you don’t give up trying.

They either get it or don’t

William has a great post celebrating his 5 years of blogging. He says:
“What I never could have predicted was how personally transformative the experience would be. The online community of FI bloggers I have joined is amazing. Insightful, supportive, funny and helpful. I have grown to admire, respect and lean on these fine folks and consider them to be an important part of the social fabric of my life (most of them are in the “my peers” section on the sidebar of my blog’s homepage).”

This community is a very different realm and one, as William points out, that is experienced. There are some very interesting comments being made about social media, micro-blogging and the gamut applications that add up to this “experience”. It isn’t something that is easily understood but is defined by the “experience”. Just when we feel comfortable about a topic or how we are using an application it will change and challenge us. The “experience” is never static. And the boundaries of your personal and professional groups on-line seem to always be expanding and contracting with people. There is no solid definition of how or why it works. It just does.

That said it does mean the pundits, experts and “we can make a buck off this” types are always broadcasting some definitive measure about this “experience”. But as we all know nailing jello to a tree is pretty difficult. There is a Danish saying that talks about one’s love for family. The saying says something like ” it is difficult to divide the wind from the sun”. You can’t measure or distribute the love you have for your wife and kids. It just exists. And in that light this online experience, though measurable because it is digital, transforms the bits and bytes to a human experience. Sure you can get rich and famous with an application (just look at the US debates last night with Facebook showing up). But the key experience is being able to be part of a group, without geographic boundaries, in order to share just a bit of what we think and feel.

It’s great that more individuals are getting involved. No one really understands this until they do. Will someone come up with a name for all of this? I guess Jimi was asking the question years ago – Are you Experienced?

The need for another holiday

Seems once the Christmas holiday season is over you need another holiday just to get your energy levels back. And every year everyone says the same thing “Gonna change next year… keeping it simple”. Sure.

What does 2008 hold in store?

Personally, I’m heading over to Europe to visit our youngest son, the artist, in Copenhagen. We are planning to head down to Barcelona for a week or so. It will be fun and something I am really looking forward to. Europe is Europe and it does get different when your family lives there.

This year golf will take a higher priority, right Tim?

Work wise it should be busy. This month, with the conversions and new ATM, we will begin formalizing some of interesting opportunities we will have. A few more unique products coupled with our service level is the goal. I think this will be the year iPhone will be introduced in Canada and with that the mobile market should begin shifting a little. Disruptive technologies seems to take interesting paths before being accepted to a greater level. There seems to be more and more iPods everywhere you look so the brand’s acceptance and its mature platform can only help moving Apple into this newer area.

That concept of putting a pocket sized computer with Internet access and an acceptable interface into the hands of more and more individuals makes one think about what will happen. In my short business lifespan there have been 3 giant steps that have moved the way we do things to the next plateau. The Apple II in 1978 (with Visicalc), the Internet with Mosaic and then Netscape in the early 90’s, and now the iPhone. Whether the original hardware/software continues to exist is minor. The total concept behind these products/services is what truly matters. They were able to change the way we thought about doing things. And as we all know there are always so many different ways to do anything. Very interesting times ahead.

Other thoughts:

1. Further growth of bankism in the Credit Union movement.
2. Greater demand for personal service (people tire of waiting for the machine).
3. The ripple effect of higher energy prices and the election of a new U.S. president.
4. More, not less, hype of self-apponted experts.
5. Less accountability leading to greater regulation.
6. Redefinitions of what our families look like.
7. Greater challenges against the politically correct.