Why I am running for the board at Vancity – Community Focus #1

After working in the credit union movement for the past 36 years it was time to retire last June. My wife was retiring from being a special needs teach in the Burnaby school system and we were ready to enter this new phase of our lives together. The summer was great.

A few people had approached me as to what I was going to do and my initial plan was just to take it easy. When asked if I would run for the Vancity Board it didn’t get considered until i read the Desired Director attributes and Experience on the Vancity web site. Then something stated to make sense with their request. This blog post and the other that follow will be a deeper dive as to why.

There were four points with the first topic under Community Focus – ”Demonstrated commitment to cooperative values and principles”.  This was the most important one for me.

Credit unions are cooperatives that deliver financial services to members. Cooperatives have a unique role in our society for a variety of reasons and there a 7 principles of cooperatives that define us. Again Vancity had these distinctly pointed out to a link on their web page. The identity, culture and existence of a cooperative is embodied in these principles. Without a constant sifting of decisions that are made in concert with these principles, cooperatives will tend to act as corporations. The dilemma with cooperatives is that we haven’t been that good at articulating our reasons for existence in modern day terms to our communities. We need to constantly define and act out what a cooperative is in the setting we exist in. As the world moves forward this need becomes very apparent. Without it we become less relevant.

My career was based on these principles through the involvement of the credit unions I worked for and the work done with other credit unions both large and small. When commitment to these values and principles are aligned and lived, much of the meaning of why things are done, why directions and strategies are set and why we exist in the first place are understood. It makes total sense. I feel very comfortable that Vancity has this as a first point in building and maintaining their board. 

Next – Community Focus #2 – Understanding communities

One of my favourite Twitter features

One feature of Twitter that I have been using extensively and find very useful is to ‘favourite’ a Tweet. (whoops – for all those down south ‘favorite’). Depending on the program you are using to get your Twitter feed, ‘favouriting’ a Tweet is usually very easy. With the constantly expanding number of people that you follow you need some way of following up those URLs that are being given. You wouldn’t be following them if they weren’t right? I have 2,877 favourites at this point and they give me a huge resource to followup whenever I get a few minutes. Anything that is valuable gets moved to Evernote for future reference. (Evernote use is another story). If you have an iPhone or iPad then the movement and view of resources is ubiquitous. Any place, any time. A very good learning experience.

 

Work exemption

So what happens when you start a month long holiday? You begin a long list of things that you want to do. This list proceeds to be longer than one page and seems to grow like a bad fungus. One the second day of your holiday you realize something. You are using typical work processes, such as lists, to begin to define the time you will spend on a series of supposed important events. You question yourself as to why are you doing this. This is a holiday. It is meant to be something that isn’t work.

Here is one of the OED’s definition for holiday:

  1. a. A day on which ordinary occupations (of an individual or a community) are suspended; a day of exemption or cessation from work; a day of festivity, recreation, or amusement.

That said, how many of us can quickly flick on the ‘no work’ switch? It seems to me we are creatures of habit and when you are constantly refining your scope of work for a year you tend to get habitual in what you do. The question will now be how long will it take me to move from these structured work patterns to one of ease and serendipity. (Even that question has the attribute of a business decision – how long?).

Then there is the defining moment. Does it really matter? Time for another coffee. It’s work exemption day!

A National Credit Union and ducks

You will be hearing lots about recent federal Canadian draft legislation that allows credit unions to move beyond their historical provincial domains into a national marketplace. It will be an interesting debate.

To start off there will be a lot of new rules the new federal ‘credit union’ will have to operate under. But wait a second. Lets establish who and what this new entity will be. Will it be a ‘credit union’? I don’t think so. It will be a co-operative bank. Someone once said if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck it is a duck. And you don’t even have to look at the new set of rules that the co-operative bank will have to live under. Just look at what has happened in other co-operatives. Agricultural co-operatives (grain and dairy) have evolved from being co-operatives to corporations because their size dictated it. They needed more capital to grow. They just couldn’t find the capital from the membership or from the equity they had built up. They had to go beyond these two sources and that forced them to evolve into a corporation that could access capital markets. That happened with them and that is about to happen to credit unions as their size expands. They have a corporate model for growth that will eventually reach a point when there needs to be a choice to continue in some fashion as a credit union or to move to become a co-operative bank. I support this legislation as it follows historically what has happened in the co-operative system. Just make sure your members vote for it and realize if it walks like a co-operative bank and talks like a co-operative bank then it is a co-operative bank and not a credit union.

PS. This is one paragraph of what appeared in an Edmonton newspaper in response to the question about a credit unions going national.

In his 2010 federal budget, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Ottawa will draft legislation that allows credit unions to incorporate federally. Credit unions welcomed the move, saying operating outside their traditional provincial boundaries will give them more options to expand.

When a newspaper quotes “Credit unions welcomed” the move they must make sure they list the credit unions that have this opinion. It needs to say that this opinion is not held by most as a reason for welcoming the draft legislation.


BarCampBankBC2

William, Tim and I had a conference call a few weeks back to discuss having another BarCampBank in B.C. Now when you are dealing with these two individuals you do not sit in the front seat, you sit in the back. They either do the driving or give the directions. Your job is just to make sure anything they have forgotten is mentioned or to jump in to volunteer to do something if it is something they can’t do. They really are two guys with extreme amounts of energy and vision. 

What will the next Canadian west coast BarCampBank hold? This will be my fifth BarCampBank and as all our totally different you can never know. You hope that there will be a few people who have never attended because the enthusiasm they show seems to drive a lot of the energy of the function. You hope that people come without any preconceived ideas about what will happen. You know that you will meet up with people who have read your blog or who are twittering who you have never met before. The key point is the people. Sure there is always what is discussed and what issues were raised but it is always the people who come to mind when you think about what has happened before. To me that is the strongest point of BarCampBanks. 

BCBBC2 is going to be different from all the rest. Above my desk at home is a picture of 6 gentleman from Texas sitting around a restaurant table. This is what I remember most about BarCampBankDallas last year. There are still 4 of them in Texas, one has moved to San Francisco, the other New York. I still hear regularly about events in their lives from their blogs or Twitter. Someday I hope to meet them all again. It really was the BarCampBank that created that connection. It is always an amazing experience when you think about it. Social media is what we all talk about but really the people behind the messages are what is important.

The 5th anniversary of MemberNote

By now most people who have read this blog know about Mt. Lehman Credit Union’s MemberNote product. We have been working on the newest version of MemberNote (MemberNote3) for these past months and realized last week that April 15, 2004 was the day we launched the first version. It does seem like it was only yesterday for all of us here.

What have we learned by being the first to deliver real-time alerts?

That above all, the members use and appreciate what we have done. Time and time again we hear the stories of how they have used this and how it has helped them. Going into building this, we had this as the key reason for doing all of this work. If it was something of value to the end user then it would be worth it. We don’t charge anything for this which we believe is important. 

That being first to market with something puts you into a whole new realm. (I think Tim can speak more to this). There hasn’t been any competition so there is nothing to compete against it. The product really stands alone right now. We had hoped that others would have been to market by now and that ideas and enhancements would have been added and pushed this type of service to a higher level. But that hasn’t been the case and in some ways it is disappointing. Probably the biggest disappointment is that because we are so small the drum we beat isn’t heard by others. That is the cost of being small. It has been interesting to view what the ‘experts’ say about alert messaging. They certainly have their views and we are sometimes amazed as to how they come to their particular conclusions. So often what they opinion is not what we see after 5 years of experience. But then they have the bigger drum.

The crux of all of this though is that you can do whatever you put your mind to. Forget about listening to the ‘doubting Thomas’s’. Don’t pay any attention to all of that outside ‘noise’ that keeps telling you that only the big players with their vast resource bases can accomplish what is necessary. These last few months of economic turmoil have told us much about what that eventually can lead to. Is there anything so insidious as the remark ‘too big to fail’? There has to be a balance for sure. To be creative and innovative is not for the weak hearted. You have to believe what you can accomplish and not look back. You will fail and you will fall but that should not stop you from arriving at what think should be done. This small group of employees at this small credit union have accomplished some incredible things. What does the future hold? We don’t know but are working on a few items so stay tuned. Probably never as big as this but what the heck. As Admiral David Glasgow Farragut (1801-1870), the first senior officer of the U.S. Navy at the time of the American Civil War said, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”

Retweeting

There is an excellent post on TechCrunch about a site for retweeting. I hadn’t really thought about this because using Twitter in a browser doesn’t have this function. TweetDeck does (and if you aren’t using this program as your desktop browser you are loosing some extremely valuable tools and processes) and the wonderful iPhone app Tweetie. The program Retweetist purports that retweeting indicates authority or popularity and the program lists those tweets that have had numerous retweets (enough with the tweets…)

What seems to be happening here is that Twitter, since it seemingly is or is close to mainstream now, is beginning the “authority” or “popularity” or whatever you want to call it game, like past discussions on blogging and Technorati.  Benedict Spinoza said something about vain people “It may easily come to pass that a vain man may become proud and imagine himself pleasing to all when he is in reality a universal nuisance.” That sums up the popularity discussion  for me.

 Those that I have followed who have used Twitter for over a year (and that is a generalization) don’t appear to be playing this game. Those that one follows or are following are part of a network. That network is built up over time and it becomes a valued network. To me it is a very simple criteria to follow someone – I have either met them personally or would like to meet them someday. The popularity that others may speak of is not important because what people state on twitter is for my ears. The authority that is being discussed is moot. Numerous times this network of fellow Twitterers have shared valuable thoughts and insights that have always made my day much more colourful. The stimulus of a single sentence is extremely positive. It is one’s own Bartlett’s – Familiar Quotations. There is humour, sadness, wisdom, political irony, joy and many more emotions attached to these 140 character blurts. I have rarely quit following anyone. That action takes place when people begin to twitter numerous times in a row, numerous days in a row. That isn’t twittering, that is Soapboxing. 

Twittering is growing because people are finding new ways to challenge it’s limitations. Allowing saved searches in Tweetie gives you a very valuable tool to keep track of memes you want to follow. Being able to save linked URLs in Instapaper is just plain neat as you can quickly garner the days reading. Tweetdeck’s additional columns for 12 seconds and TwitScoop help tie in tweets to the Internet in a quick and easy fashion. This functionality will only grow. I just wish I could establish different groups to tweet to, like Jaiku (whoops). If everyone you followed, and you followed them for the right reasons, tweeted their most interesting URL once in awhile, that would be better than any search I could create in Google.

 

 

On the 13th day of a Christmas holiday

It is interesting to take a holiday from work. Most people need the break, some more than others. The problem always seems to be how long does it take to dis-engage from that work cycle. Invariably you tend to ‘dabble’ in a few things about work even when you are supposed to be on holidays. Your spouse will quickly remind you of any dabbling that you do. There just happens to be this demand or driving force to just get that last thing done or to find out about something that may have happened at work. This holiday was not be one of dis-engagement but it has a different quality by being with the kids.

It seems the better (read dis-engaged) holidays have always had the following points.

  • physically moving yourself to another geographic area at least in another time zone. The more times zones the better.
  • having a strong focus on what you plan to do i.e. golf. That may mean you don’t take your wife along. That presents another problem of dis-engagement.
  • removing any ability to contact you either via phone or Internet. Postal mail is ok.
  • defining the holiday by the number of postcards you send or at least buying the postcard but not having sent them. They sometimes make the best pictures of your visit.
  • your ability to finish at least 2 of the books you wanted to. You probably took 5 with you.
  • the number of times you forgot to shave (or brush your teeth).
  • having your meals at  times you would not normally have a meal. Nothing like having supper at 9:00 p.m.

This Christmas I had a few weeks off to be at home with the family. There wasn’t much we did due to the snow and weather. There was stuff that was work related. It was still a good holiday.

Social Capital and the positive capital of employment

My good friend and colleague William Azaroff has a very thoughtful post about the need for all of us to be creating social capital through our affiliations with others on the web and that this can prove a benefit with these different economic times upon us. I wanted to bring another view into focus.

I have long felt that as an employer (one that hires and fires) one of the most important aspects of working with people is to create an environment of trust and respect. Over the years there have been a number of people that have worked for the credit unions I have worked for that got their start with us and then moved on for various reasons. It has always been difficult to see these people leave as has been the case recently. You train and challenge them to be better employees and people and you watch them grow. Life does not remain stagnant and so things change and people move on.

It is important that as an employer you keep the relationships open to the point of having that person who wants to move on talk to you about it. When they feel confident enough to approach you to say that they are going to be looking for another job then you can prepare for their eventual departure. The process becomes healthy and proves to be a benefit to both parties. One of our employees told me they were looking for something else. That was a few months ago and they recently found a new job. They had the ability to say at any interview that they could call us, the current employer, for a reference. Now how powerful is that? They had the ability to take the time off for interviews without saying it was a doctors appointment. It was a transparent approach for them in moving their career path as they saw fit. It doesn’t happen often but when it does it puts a proper closure to the situation of leaving an old job and getting a new one.

Employers should be creating social capital that can be used by current employees as they need it. That should be the norm.

Then you have the other side when you have to let someone go. To terminate anyone is one of the most painful experiences you can imagine. To do it abruptly and quickly makes it worse. When you are able create a transitional plan that incorporates social values that both parties hold as important, that takes some of the pain out of the situation. The impact of loosing people affects the bottom line of course but the loss of anyone diminishes the social capital of any business in ways that one never realizes until that person has gone. You really can’t measure this loss. In the difficult times we will face in the future one hopes that the worst situation possible, loss of one’s job, can be handled with care, compassion and respect. Everyone deserves that.

This is the element that scares me the most for the future. Experience has taught me most people can live under difficult economic circumstances. It becomes tragic when people loose their livelihood. Much of what defines us is what we do and when we loose that important definition our lives become that much blacker. If social capital is one way of alleviating that despair it will make a true difference in how we move forward.

Early Christmas Morning

Our family maintains a European tradition of opening presents on Christmas Eve. Our grandparents had this tradition (German) and when I married Marjun it remained as it is also the Danish tradition. Christmas Day has always been quiet and peaceful.

It was a different Christmas Eve for us this time. Our daughter-in-law was not with us as she had to remain in Saskatoon. Both Fleming and Nils were here so it seemed a lot like a Christmas of their past childhood. Typically we sang some Christmas carols after the Christmas Eve dinner and before we opened presents. This is the time we all have a good laugh at the male section of the family. Even though we all love music Nils and I can’t sing. Fleming is much better. Marjun is choir material. If we don’t have the song sheet in front of us most second verses are pretty well ad-libbed which makes for a lot of fun. This year I took some videos for posterity.

My family always amazes me at their generousity. My mother-in-law always sends me some wonderful mohair socks which are appreciated immensely. There is nothing so soothing on the feet. Marjun got me a Roots training outfit (that must be a hint to get to the gymn). The rest was DVDs, a moleskine and books. This years books are:

A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada by John Ralston Saul

Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries by Naomi Wolf

Champlain’s Dream by David Hackett Fischer

With all the snow this year and the sudden return to milder temperatures it will be a slushy and wet Christmas Day. The perfect time to stay inside and enjoy each others company.

Saturday before Christmas

Colder than it has ever been in Vancouver since I can recall. If it stays like this the lineup at the stores for skates will start with every body of water an ice rink.

Day 3 of Christmas holidays is going well. Not much to do and not much planned. There is the Blackhawks – Canucks game to go to tonight. This will be my first hockey game this season and I am going with a die-hard hockey fan. It would be nice to get to Dix’s before the game.

Anyone finished all of their Christmas shopping yet? If you have one can only think you are the prepared type for this holiday season stuff. I didn’t want to say anal.

Ron Shevlin has hung up his blog as of yesterday. He will be missed. He had some great stuff there and it will be missed by a lot of people. I think anyone who blogs for more than a few years has that question in the back of their mind as to how much longer. The excitement seems to wear off and at times it becomes a chore. It does push you though to get something out. Procrastination is the enemy of blogging.

Here’s wishing everyone a Very Merry Christmas and the Happiest of New Year’s. That should cover anyone who I forget to send a card to, right?

The Challenge of Consumerism

Now that the financial system seems to be re-shaping and reforming, what can that mean to us, the little guys. Most of us have had it pretty good these last years without much financial pain and certainly not lacking in needs or wants. There is a growing voice that the economy’s future will be decided by what the consumer (you and me) will be doing. Will this insatiable need to buy more and buy often be limited? Will we truly be able to live within our means and keep our minds on purchases that are needed and not wanted. I would hazard a guess here. If anyone of us was to move tomorrow we would find our household absolutely full of stuff that is no longer needed or wanted. Just plain stuff.

We are creatures of habit and not easily changed. Some habits will not change until they become life threatening. I wouldn’t suggest that this day and age is life threatening but when you expect a lot of rain you usually make sure the roof isn’t leaking.

Last month when we were down on Commercial Drive we went into a shop that sold 3rd world items. At the back in a pile of a number of books we found an updated version of a cookbook called “More-with-Less” by Doris Longacre. We had originally purchased this cookbook back in 1976 and could use a new copy to replace our current copy which was falling apart. Here is part of the foreword to this newer edition:

When More-with-Less Cookbook was first published in 1976, Doris Longacre wrote of world shortages of food and of North Americans consuming too much of the world’s resources – money, calories, protein, sugar and processed food. We have not learned.

She is right – we have not learned. Will we have to take another 30 years to learn or are we going to really do something different this time? The problem is that we don’t know anything different. These are the economic cycles that will always exist.

Sick at home

I would like to thank some of the people I work with for passing on this flu/cold bug. It is such a delight to be bed ridden, hacking your lungs out, bored to tears.

It isn’t so much that you don’t feel well. It is the boredom that sets in when you can’t do anything. The medication seems to help but I think it works more from that resounding memory from your childhood when your mother said, “take your medicine and you will feel better”. As a child you believed your mother, as an adult you believe the memory. Another benefit of marrying a nurse is the wonderful care you get as a patient. It sometimes is worse than your mother. I keep hearing this voice that men are such babies when they are sick. No we aren’t babies, we are just plain sick. We don’t go to doctors and when sickness appears it is big and it is real. There is going to be some feedback from the family on this one.

Yesterday was CU Day and from the emails just read it was a resounding success, again. Probably about 10% of the membership showed up. Nala and her daughter from Currency were there. Sorry I missed everyone. Now its back to bed with my apple juice, kleenex and radio. I gotta get better because this boredom is killing me.

Financial meltdown

While driving home tonight I heard a Texas professor on the CBC talking about what has been happening on Wall Street these past few days. He spoke of a model that was broken and not working. He then mentioned the return to an older model where banks would hold their mortgages until the person having them repaid them. What a novel concept! To actually know the person you are lending to and to hold the debt with a charge on the property for the full amortization period!

For all 66 years of the credit union I work for this is the model that they have and it has served them well. Oh it isn’t glamourous and you can’t grow by 10% per year but it is safe and it is secure and after the last few days that is what a few people on the street didn’t consider very important.

Where it goes from here is anyones guess. The last bad economic time that we had with depleted housing prices, inflation and loss of jobs was the early 80’s. That would mean that anyone who is 40 years old or less didn’t live through that time as an economic entity i.e. too young to have a job. No one wants a return to those times. The problem is that a younger generation has lived in a constant growth and prosperity era. What goes up sometimes comes down. I wonder how most will manage if indeed it does get worse. Aesop had a fable about the tortoise and the hare. It is always interesting to see who won that race.

The miscellaneous Sunday

This morning Marjun and I decided to head down to Commercial Drive. For those that don’t know Commercial Drive it used to be an Italian community when I grew up, well it still is, but it has changed to a very eclectic type of neighbourhood. It had the Fringe Festival years ago and is made up of small, unique, independent businesses. The Starbuck and Subways of the world may exist but wouldn’t thrive in this community.

We took the Skytrain down and had brunch at Wazubees. A great little, well not so little, restaurant that serves good food. Your coffee always comes with a small glass of water on a metal tray. Replenish the fluids you know. After brunch we headed dow to the Fair Trade Shop to pick up a kilo of raw sugar. I’ve become addicted to this stuff over the years. It is brown and not granulated. Marjun picked up a set of the World Community cookbooks there. It is a set of three cookbooks which includes our old favourite “More with-Less”. As we headed back to the Skytrain we ran into the Azaroff and Cottingham families. It was great to see them and we had an ever too brief visit. That is what makes the Drive so different, the people you see down there and usually the people you run into down there.

We said goodbye to William, Amy and Ivan and headed into the Audiophile (used CDs and LPs). This is one of my favourite places to find hard to find music. (Zulu being the other one). Within 5 minutes I had three great finds.

• Sid n Susie Under the Covers – a Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs compendium of some 60’s pop music. They keep the memory of the music in a new age pop style.
• Elliot Smith’s – Figure 8
• 10,000 Maniacs – Campfire Songs

Back to the Skytrain, heading home, we stopped at the Rupert Station and a bicyclist was just getting in the door when it started closing in on his front wheel. There was an attendant standing at the other door who stuck her foot in the door to keep it open. He politely asked if he could get in. She shouted out “No, get the next one.” I figured it must have been the end of her shift and she wanted to get home or she was pissed off at someone and this poor guy was going to be her target. If the Skytrain was a commercial enterprise I would stop buying its product. Free market principle. But this is a public transit system so what is the alternative? Funny there was a small poster on the train that said “Please keep the Skytrain clean, it is your Skytrain.” Yeah sure.

audio.jpg

Another BarCampBankBC advertisement

Tim and William have done recent posts about BarCampBankBC which amply speak of what it is about. I can only repeat what they have already said.

This will be my 4th BarCampBank and one that hopefully will start “to foster innovations and the creation of new business models in the world of banking and finance.” in our geographic area and beyond. This direction is long overdue.

I have repeated numerous times that the ability and opportunity for financial institutions to create new products and services has never been better. All of the building blocks are there. The only hampering item is ourselves. We have created structures that make it difficult to foster innovation. We fail to keep our eyes focused on the end event and get caught up in the mundane and minuscule processes. Yes the devil is in the details but that should not be the excuse to limit our ability to be creative. This event is going to have some very interesting people attending. There are a few that I don’t see listed that will also be mentioned.

• Tim McAlpine – the creative genius of Currency Marketing.

• William Azaroff – the man behind Change Everything at Vancity.

• Morriss Partee – the New Englander whose CU Everything is a wealth of knowledge for CUs.

• Nala Henkel – another smart cookie from Currency

• Nancy Zimmerman – one of the most energetic and outspoken bankers I know, and she has heart.

• Stephen Akhurst – a very intelligent Central 1 consultant, he puts together the Innovation Awards for CUs in BC.

• Denise Wymore- Watch out when she starts talking about her pet peeves.

• Matt Vance – who wouldn’t like anyone from Bellingham?

• Boris Mann – the Drupal guy who makes things happen.

• Tripp Johnson – don’t know Trip but know about the Gonzo Banker people.

• Wendy Lachance – Coast Capital’s mobile expert.

• Kate Dugas – the other half of Change Everything at Vancity.

• Andy LaFlamme – another New Englander whose points of view are articulate and insightful. (Don’t get him and Morriss together for a Guitar Hero event!)

• Brent Dixon – one of the most creative people I know of.

• Dana Dekker – he was the force behind MACUs success.

• Roland Tanglao – if you want to know anything about mobile phones ask Roland.

• Caleb Chang – Caleb wears Hawaiian shirts on Monday, need I say more?

• David Drucker – a GUI expert and an ex-Bostoner (Bostonite? some one help me here).

• Laurel McJannet – she is from Verity which says it all.

• Mark Sadowski – Anyone from New Mexico has to be mentioned.

• Jeffry Pilcher – if you want to talk to Jeffry make sure all your ducks are in a row.

Who is missing? Ron Shevlin, Charlie Trotter, anyone from the Garland Group, Christian Mullins, anyone from Indianna or the Carolinas and a number of others.

Seriously if you haven’t attended a BarCampBank before this is your chance. You will not regret it. Don’t let the $35 registration fee paint it as a non-event. You will come away with some truly invaluable insights you won’t find anywhere else. It is an international event.

TGIF

Another week has passed and the events continue.

Our youngest son returned to his home in Copenhagen last Saturday after a great one month visit. As well, a friend returned home to Powell River who had been boarding with us since January while going to school at UBC. It is always an adjustment in a home when the total inhabitants decrease by 50%. Our oldest son and daughter are here for a visit for the next 2 weeks and after that we are home alone again. At least I won’t have to watch or hear the PS3 with Grand Theft Auto blaring away. That is another story.

The iPhone is working out very well. The phone has been dropping calls once in a while out here in the Valley but in Burnaby-Vancouver there hasn’t been any problems. The ability to have one device deliver all of the applications you connect with is really unbelievable. All of us at work have now had iPhones for a month and the glitter still has not worn off. There is only one minor issue, the inability to have your SMS mesages use ringtones instead of the stock alarm sounds. The best and most used downloaded programs for me would be:

• Evernote – Great synching with your Mac desktop.

• Comic Touch – Just add some humour because who doesn’t need it.

• Exposure – decent Flickr app.

• Jott – very usable app with the notes feature.

• BoxOffice – never have to look for a newspaper to see what movies are playing.

• Stanza – the best book reader. Great classics for free.

• Shazam – I finally know the names of some songs after hearing them for years.

• Facebook – a very decent interface.

And the two best!

• Twitteriffic – much better than any other Twitter client.

• OmniFocus – the absolute best program for to dos, projects, etc. Done in the GTD style with synching to your desktop.

As it turns out there are 10. There are a few more that are useful at times and of course the web sites that have a great iPhone interface.

I have started planning for the two presentations I am doing next month. It is always amazing when you start thinking about what you will say, how you will present it, thinking that there ins’t enough material. Then you get started and you have to hack it back because there is too much material. You could probably spend an infinite amount of time always tweaking the end result. One talk will be at Forum Solutions Partnership Symposium in Indiana. The other is at the CUCC 2008 National Lending Conference in St. John’s Newfoundland. After looking at all the other speakers I feel like a lightweight in a heavyweight division.

I have just started a book by Susan Jacoby “The Age of American Unreason”. In it she analyses of the intellectual condition of the US. She does not pull any punches. It has some great writing with inventive and sharp cynical humour. Rationalism at its best.

Have a great weekend everyone! The dog days of summer are upon us.

It just makes one wonder

This is the stuff that drive me nuts.

Credit Union Central of B.C. merged with Ontario Central to form Central 1. Here is something from their homepage:

When the merger took effect on July 1, 2008, the combined organization had more than $7.5 billion in assets, with 475 employees based at offices in Vancouver and Mississauga serving nearly 200 credit unions with some 2.8 million members

Good stuff. But when I click on the following

C1 __ Central 1 Credit Union-1.jpg

I get this message:

eCentral:
Our server has detected that you are not using the MS Internet Explorer browser.
Unfortunately, this service is not available for your type of browser. Please use Internet Explorer (version 5 or newer) to access this service.
Explorer can be downloaded for free at: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/ie/downloads/default.asp. Sorry for any inconvenience.

That means Safari, Camino and Firefox don’t work. If you have a Mac good luck.

You would think an organization this size would create web pages that wouldn’t have to have Microsoft as the only company that could produce a browser to use the site. Yep $7.5 billion in assets with all those employees (who never use Macs) serving 200 CUs with some 2.8 million members (who never use Macs). I thought those days were over. The ones where you had to get Microsoft tattooed somewhere to get a job. There must be a good reason, right?

Small is beautiful to some

Ron has a blog post about the downside of being small. Great post with some definite statements about how small is not the panacea for everyone.

First, small and large are relative terms. They are labels we place upon items in order for us to gain some semblance of order. What is small to some will be large to others and the opposite, what is large for some is small for others. Remember the end of the film Men in Black II?

There is another aspect of an organization’s size that is of a prime concern. How it is managed. You can have any size FI and if it is managed well size, though a consideration, is part and parcel of many other goals and strategies. A badly managed organization doesn’t need size to fail.

Small to me means keeping the organization flat, tight, and productive. It means being able to move on a dime. It means ‘fighting’ with 3rd party suppliers that create expensive products that would force you into a strategy or product that is not even a 50% solution. It means quit ‘whining’ and do what you are supposed to do. Small means have staff meetings where the contribution is from everyone so you formulate objectives that are understood and agreed upon so you don’t need a marketing department to push anything. Small means you don’t have to structure meetings to decide on the colour of the toilet paper in the washrooms. The list could go on and on. It is important that the term small does not get translated in the terms most employ. Small by its nature in today’s society looked upon as an anomaly because so much that we are shown (big) is the antithesis of small. That is why I think ‘small is beautiful’.

Ron and Jeffery are right. You need more coming in that going out. A very simple rule of business. But not all mergers have delivered that ideal and so merging sometimes clouds the issue of what is really necessary – changing the management to at least begin to move forward. Sometimes I have seen mergers to build larger empires of senior management. FIs live and they die, nothing continues forever. Try as you might there may be conditions and reasons that are no longer available or valid to continue.

It would be very easy for the Board to say “we need 10% growth and nothing else matters!” Piece of cake. But when they say “we want at least 5% growth, keep the community happy with at least a 7% dividend, make sure donations are 7% of net income, be sure to continue to contribute to the social capital of the CU and the community, and deliver innovative products that are useful, as well as no line-ups in the branch, etc…well that gets a bit more difficult to manage. Keep the bottom line healthy and you can realize all and more of these goals. That is the tough part. Fine tuning all the aspects of what makes you successful. Growing in all of these aspects makes for a difficult and at times impossible situation. But man is it ever rewarding and satisfying when everyone contributes to making it happen. The biggest enemy of being small? Thinking small.

Innovation and where it comes from

People ask me how we handle development work at the credit union. There is no simple answer or formula that one can recite as to how ideas flourish into a product, a process or a service. You wonder if they sometimes appear out of thin air.

Today was a prime example. Our e-statement project is finished, done, complete. Next Wednesday the interface will be in place for actual use by the members. All the components were developed in house except for the web site interface which was done by Central 1’s MemberDirect people. What does it do? It puts a link on the web site to a monthly PDF which is an exact duplicate of what the members have been receiving in the mail in paper form. For all the benefits it saves money and paper. But then as we talked about it, something happened.

Why not have a link for an up to date, real time PDF statement? If it is the 10th or 20th or whatever date in the current month, why not just click and a PDF created on the fly and delivered. Your transaction of 1 minute ago would be included. That means besides the depository of a few years of statements on your account, you could get a real time version statement anytime. As all of the methods and code were built, it looks like it would only take a half a day to do that. That means before Wednesday of next week this added feature will part of the launch.

But where did that idea come from? From a simple suggestion that with our ability to trigger real time transactions we could move that forward to being part of triggering real time statements. Was it valuable? I spoke to a few people and yes it was valuable. In fact it would make some businesses very happy in reconciling their accounts on a daily basis. The beauty of the whole function is that we aren’t using an outside supplier to do this on a month-end batch basis. What has been built is real time in-house the ultimate IT mantra. Expanding what we can do in real time gives us the idea for another product. If statement processing had been done by a 3rd party we would have been stuck in thinking in a ‘batch’ mode and never contemplated doing it differently.

I believe that innovation comes from dynamic thinking. Thinking how something can be done now and not later is important in what you have to offer. In today’s instant age much is possible by keeping everything fluid. It is important that you work in the environment you want to live in. There is always another step. If I ever have to get into a lifeboat I want a life preserver now, not pink plastic water wings later.