Coffee and the kitchen table

I spent this morning drinking coffee around the kitchen table with 4 young individuals from Oregon and Maine credit unions. It was great to hear their enthusiasm for the credit union system. They had concerns but they also saw that it took work and effort to effect change and help move the credit union system towards some fundamental goals. We compared notes and saw that a lot of our membership comes from referrals from members and people who know about the credit union in the community. That word-of-mouth event is key. There is no manual or how to here. It is plain and simple. The cooperative culture that is set in the branch is noticed by the membership to the point of telling others about the credit union. You can’t can this stuff. It won’t pickle. It just is.

The problem starts when the growth button gets pushed to the detriment of the  cooperative culture. There is a fine line here. Everything will grow. Vegetables grow. You can add fertilizer and whatever else to make them grow bigger and faster but there is a limit. If you push it too hard you vegetable is something else. This seems to be also true for an organization like a credit union. It can grow naturally or you can push it until it becomes something else. I am pretty sure we know what that something else is.

There is a lot of work to consider when growing your credit union. From our discussions this morning I think the next generation of leaders understand what it takes to create a strong and healthy credit union without too much manure.

The blinkin’ New Year

Finally 2010 has appeared and we are half way through January. My life has been somewhat hectic up to Monday. There was a court case pending (personal) that was adjourned for 5 months pending a mediated settlement. It was interesting to live under the cloud of a 10 day trial only to find that at the 11th hour all parties agreed to a decent 5 point plan. Why we couldn’t have done that a year ago is beyond me. It is nice to have that cloud disappear.

Christmas was good with our oldest son and his wife coming down from Prince Rupert and the youngest from Copenhagen. As soon as we are together it seems we are saying goodbye to each other.

The credit union had another good year. It has always had an ‘organic’ growth capacity of anywhere from 3 to 5%. It may not grow fast but it is growing. What isn’t necessarily measured or shown on a financial statement is probably of a greater benefit. We arrived at the $44 million asset mark with basically the same number of members 1,800. The number of employees has dropped and is now at 10. All of the back office development has paid off with some substantial savings in manpower. What I think this shows is that when you have a strategy and direct your resources to fufill that strategy you may set some timelines that are unreasonable. They may be based on a 12 month calendar which is not necessarily the timeline you will see the benefits. Maybe the timeline will be measured on when the experience level of the staff is on average over 3 years or maybe when the percentage of users of a certain product reaches 25%. One should not forget that the goals you set can move beyond a monthly measurement. We are still part of developing products and with MDI should have a Blackberry, iPhone version of our internet banking product in a little over a month. This mobile version will not have all the features of a desktop browser version but it will have the most popular ones and it should move to cover more features in the future. The next big change will be the transition to chip cards.

I was asked to sit on a provincial credit union committee to establish a future card strategy for credit unions. With the power of the embedded chip we really don’t know what will be in store for us as this new ‘computer on a card’ feature unfolds. And of course 1 Credit Union Conference is in Las Vegas in July. That will be the CU event of the year.