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

The incredible 10 days

Sometimes you begin a week viewing all of the meetings, lunches, dinners and whatever else is on the calendar and wonder how you are going to make it through all of this. It becomes overwhelming at times just to consider how the heck you got into all of this. Sure you have a plan in front of you but you really didn’t realize the extent of time and the number of people you were going have some interaction with. At the beginning of your career it was exciting, then as you got used to this it became the norm. First it was a day or two then the length of time crept forward, being longer and longer. Now the length becomes more than a few days and is more into a week or more. You pace yourself and realize that this is what you have chosen, and what you are good at. You wouldn’t be doing this if that wasn’t the case, right?
These last 10 days looked like a marathon when you started but were more like a sprint when you look back. So many people, new and old, that you had great conversations and debates with. There were times of work, hard work, and times of fun, just plain fun. On Thursday afternoon I was assisting the Credit Union Foundation of BC at their booth at the CUCBC trade show. As president you attend and help out where you can. An older gentleman came up to me and said “Hello Gene, do you recognize me?”. I looked down at his name badge but he had purposely turned it around. The only thing that I recognized were his eyes. Nothing else. I said he looked familiar but no I didn’t know who he was. He mentioned his name and suddenly the past became the present. I had started in the credit union system in 1978 and this person was the loans officer at that credit union. I had only been there a short while when he left due to cancer. And I hadn’t heard from him only knowing that he was a survivor of that horrible disease. Now here he was standing in from of me 29 years later. It was overwhelming. A real super person (he used to ride bulls in rodeos as his hobby) who was now telling me what had happened in his life this last quarter of a century.
Life has its bumps and potholes but when you have events like that happen to you it makes it much more brilliant. We are human. We are social animals. No matter how tired and frustrated we get, those connections, those relationships are things that sustain us and keep us going. So everyone on Twitter thank you for all those stories and sharing all what is happening in your life in those short snippets. It makes me feel connected in some small way. It sure makes my life a bit more special.

Boy did we have fun yesterday

It started out with a bad weather forecast for our area. They had been talking about this Pacific storm coming in with rain and high winds from the south west. That usually means a lot of water. In B.C. and the Pacific Northwest you have a number of definitions for rain. Some of them are: Looks a little gray, drizzle, showers, intermittent showers, rain, it’s pouring, it’s coming down.…..you can gauge how bad it is by how someone defines the rain. Yesterday we were all waiting for it to pour.

We got everything ready and then the members came. We had over 180 people come to our celebration of International Credit Union Day. That represents about 10% of our membership. In fact we ran out of hamburgers and had to head up and get more. We put together a video on YouTube so you can see some of what happened.

Every year, after its over, you sit back and wonder how it went. This year was pretty special. We purposely asked the members what they liked about the credit union and what they wanted changed. We took a video of it all and last night when I was editing the clips it struck me. We are doing a good job but we never really ask and hear directly from the members. This ia a real testimony that all the staff can see. Members really do like us. There is a community and social aspect of who we are. There are a few clips that I will put together for a future download. The one with Earl Lehman speaks of being an owner. It is one we need to watch occasionally. It’s a good reminder.

Our first YouTube posting and Happy Credit Union Day!

Yesterday we let Kelly the videocam girl loose on all the staff in the building. We needed to have a trial run of the camcorder as well as some experience on downloading the scenes and putting something together. It went exceptionally well. The quick interviews, the great responses, and the ease of putting it all together was a surprise. Even if it isn’t that professional it gets the message out very quickly of just who this credit union is from the employees side. Tomorrow we will be doing the same thing from the member’s side.

Doing this puts any business in a very interesting position. The tools to show who exactly you are, what exactly you do and who is involved in your business are available to anyone that wants to use them. The cost is nothing. The outreach is global. This internet that we all seem to be more and more part of is bringing new ideas, new ways of doing things into our homes and work places. When one is able to read comments, blogs and twitters of individuals in geographic locations that you can only dream of visiting it still creates in me a sense of awe and amazement.

So what is stopping individuals and credit unions from capturing and using these various means? I have updated my business formula as to why some don’t use social media, so here is is:

Ignorance + Fear = Control

Those that are hesitant seem to lack the ability to give up this control function that has become so prevalent. They do not understand transparency. They are afraid of it. If they can’t control it they can’t see what it would benefit them. The saddest part is that they don’t realize that the world as they know it changed on them and those old rules don’t work to any great extent any longer.
My circle of associates and friends would be so much less by holding back. How would I have heard “On a Freezing Chicago Street” by Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s if Matt hadn’t twittered about Margot and iTunes hadn’t been invented to be able to buy it? Everyone has these internet events that occur again and again. They are in a sense that small human part of us that we get to share.

Our first YouTube posting was really about us stepping out to share a small story. Our blog is up and running. It’s scary but you know it feel’s pretty good. Shari is right. Happy International Credit Union Day everyone!

The upcoming International Credit Union Day October 18, 2007

I was thinking about this at the recent Symposium in Indianapolis so on the way home stopped at an electronics store and bought the easiest to use Sony camcorder I could find. I want to start talking to the staff about getting video clips especially for the upcoming CU Day October 18th. We have a day long event with a BBQ inviting the membership and community to come out and help us celebrate. I think it would be great to post those video clips to YouTube with appropriate tags to be viewed by everyone. I would love to get Fred to talk about the first loan our credit union gave out (he got it to buy a cow) . Think about it if we could get the word out and those with the gumption step up to the plate we could have a number of clips from all over the world of events and messages about that day, about us, about the members, etc. etc. Doesn’t take much effort, doesn’t need to be controlled by those that think in those terms, and would be great to see.

So when is it International Bankers Day anyway?

Do human emotions equate well with business events?

There is a post over on IT Management about Apple and their arrogance. Maybe Mike Elgan has a point. He speaks of Microsoft being humiliated by Apple. I really can’t see the tears here. And do companies the size of Apple and Microsoft exist with some of the feelings he describes? These are both billion dollar businesses. They have brands. They make money. They do not cry.

Remember in the mid 90’s — it was Microsoft that was ‘arrogant’ and Apple the weak and supposedly dying platform. It only lasted awhile before innovation and hard work changed this. Businesses either work to exist or move on to where ever they move on to. Let’s not get too excited here. I can’t see much blood on the floor. And whatever pain Microsoft is suffering because of this ‘bully’ Apple it is a long way from Microsoft’s heart (and pocketbook).

Do you want a balance with that transaction?

Today we had a meeting with Mobilearth, preparing to develop the next version of MemberNote (MemberNote3). Mobilearth are a local company that have developed a truly intriguing product — mobile banking with the full gamut of features. The first concept to produce is extended alert messaging. Over the past few years this has been the key mechanism that people see of value. If something happens to their account they want a text message telling them that. The discussions with users always moved to “Can you notice me if this happens?” If you take a look at your monthly statement there are more that ATM withdrawals or Interac transactions there. There are deposits, service charges, loan payments, etc. etc. There is no standard set of what members want noticed. By giving choice and self-management (DIY) to what alerts are wanted the end result is then solved. This process is handled admirably by Mobilearth and can easily be married to our current MemberNote product. The end result will be a very robust and powerful alert messaging system.

The next phase will be to introduce short codes to the product. Basically you would send a text message to a pre-determined number which initiates a query to your account. The resulting information is sent back to you via a text message. So you quickly want to know what the balance of your chequing account is. Sent BAL or BALANCE or ??? to telephone number 604-999-9999. You then receive via return text message the amount.

Whereas the alert system pushes the information to you on a predetermined action, the short code method is a push – pull process. You push the query to receive the pulled information. The beauty of being a small institution is the flexibility in technology development based on manageable transaction levels. You don’t need expensive sledgehammers to tap a pin into a wall. MemberNote 3 will maybe have one more component. But that has to be a secret. And it won’t be sending alerts to remind you to pick up the milk on the way home.

Innovation as a secret weapon

Ron Shelvin has posted something interesting. I would restate it in terms of “Innovation is a credit union’s secret weapon”. Just the nature of innovation makes it positive, dynamic and well — who wants to be called uninovated?

To innovate means to change, to make changes in something already established, to bring or introduce novelties, to alter or renew. It would appear that the major attribute needed is to be flexible. Now how many FIs could be called flexible? We are painted and stuccoed as rigid, certainly not flexible. This is an industry that has regulators, auditors, SWOT consultants, and inflexibility as part of it’s character. Flexibility and innovation can be viewed as risky by this group. But now is the time we can’t afford to be anything else but flexible and innovative. So here are 4 simple innovative ideas.

  • open the door 5 minutes before the posted time.
  • make sure a person answers the telephone, not an answering machine.
  • make sure the phone is answered by the 3rd ring. That means everyone answers the phone including senior people (who have also been trained on how to transfer a telephone call to another local).
  • phone and attempt to contact a member before you return any cheque.

Not exactly high points of technology. Just small things that have been changed from actions of the past. The key is that we as CUs have the ability to change, to do these things differently, to innovate. We don’t have the monolithic structure that prohibits us from doing this. So somebody please tell me — what is stopping us? Are we afraid to be different?

Bloggers meetup

Last night a number of us met at ShaShuka on Fraser Street. It was good to see everyone after a busy summer. John had his iPhone with him so the questions began. This is an amazing piece of technology. It is a computer with a finder, terminal, et al. The screen is crystal clear and John was moving through programs and lists in an amazingly fast fashion. This device will change the way we view cell phones, the way iPods changed the way we view music and digital imagery. Mobile banking with this device is going to put people’s financial transactions in front of them with complete ease. The question is what will banking look like when access to your account can be done from anywhere? How did the iPod change us when we could listen to our record collection from anywhere?

The consumer will no longer be a passive viewer but an active participant in realizing their spending habits. Think of it this way. You’ve set up your monthly budget, your using Wesabe to tag and assimilate your financing spending, you are in the grocery store and pay for the goods with your Debit card, the iPhone alerts you “Congratulations you are still within budget for food purchases this month….” or on the other side “Not good news – you are exceeding your entertainment budget by ….” Maybe we can become a nation of savers (more than 2.5% of our income) with a little discipline and technology.

What is in a motto?

Various businesses have some fairly simple but easy to remember mottos. The one that comes to mind the easiest is Avis – we’re no. 2 (it was Avis, wasn’t it?) or Wendy’s – where the beef? They sum up a core value or core principle but blanket it around the marketing message they want to establish.
Social networking is beginning to be realized as a comprehensive social phenomena. One important aspect that is being experienced is when the social networks meet face to face. Attending an event is like meeting an old pen pal. Key to this is that there is a human interaction that goes beyond the digital characters we view everyday.
Now credit unions have a very enviable position. We always have had members not customers. Members belong to something. Customers consume. We have that experience by maintaining a service culture over a sales culture (though some may differ here). As we move into developing and being part of social networking and as people begin to experience and see what it is, it can only augment who and what we are.
The credit union I work for has a motto – “Where neighbours bank”. And our agency of choice (Tim’s Bunch) presented a marketing byline ‘ “Keeping it fresh”. That puts two 3 word phrases into our daily actions. Easy to remember but sometimes difficult to to consider as a continuing action. What they do is define the culture we work in a little clearer. That is more important than a marketing motto.

Hardware and the upgrade process

We are moving our banking server to a Linux system with a new Dell server. It is very surprising to see what you can buy now as compared to just a few years ago. One looks forward, thinks of how things could be in two years, and when the two years arrive you still can’t believe the forward progress. Which brings me to this point. Are we using the potential of the hardware we have available today? Everytime there is a hardware jump it takes time for the software to catch up to it’s potential. With the release of the new Macs this week we quickly upgraded some older machines, not to the new ones, but to the ones the retailers just dropped the prices on. The savings are pretty good (except our provincial government now has an environmental surcharge attached) and depending on what is needed you can usually fill the need fairly easily. The server is a different story. We need the CPU power in order to get the work done in a quicker fashion. What it again boils down to is the user. What they need vs what they want. Funny how that objective vs subjective view seems to become apparent so often.

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There go the credit union assets

I usually try to be around the front door when the credit union closes. Though I am of no use in balancing the MSR’s there are usually some other tasks that need to be taken care of. And everyone gets to chat a bit about how the day went, who the good members were, what unique events happened and generally just try to wind down a bit before heading home.

As the staff leave I am reminded of what someone told me about their company at a similar time. He said he usually looks out at the parking lot as the staff leaves and thinks “There goes the company’s assets”. And he is right. The thought crosses my mind more often than nought that as the staff leave so goes the credit union assets. We wouldn’t be close to being the credit union we are without those people. They are the living and breathing assets that give the face to this institution. And without them we would not exist. By the way Mt. Lehman Credit Union’s 65th birthday was on Monday August 6th. Funny none of that staff looked at all like 65!

What seems to be happening with our knowledge

The book Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger is terribly intriguing. He states that our knowledge of the world has assumed the shape of a tree because that knowledge has been shackled to the physical. He repeats this notion numerous times in cataloguing information onto atoms. [putting the catalogue on index cards] With information being digitized, which allows us to go beyond the physical means, the shape of our knowledge is changing. Note he doesn’t say our knowledge is changing, just the shape of it.

There seems to be a pre-occupation with the notion of singleness [each-only-one-what] when dealing with knowledge in tree shapes. He gives us the following embedded assumptions that are so deep in our tradition of thought that they look like common sense.

  1. A well-constructed tree gives each thing a place. If too many items haven’t a place our miscellaenous category begins.
  2. Each thing gets only one place. Listing something more than once is confusing. Where should it go?
  3. No one category should be too big or small. This really points to an inadequacy in the method, not the knowledge.
  4. It should be obvious what the defning principle of each category is. Exactness, precision.

So where does that leave us? We are still trying to bridge the old model of viewing information with the attempt of trying new ways. We continue to grasp our “belief in the efficiency of rationality“. When one uses the word belief in these terms it becomes dogma and whoa to those who don’t follow that dogma. Dogmas with data are dangerous.

Some new ways – wikis, metadata, tags, facetted classification systems. We need to begin to use these new tools in our look for answers when faced with the magnitude of information we see daily. It’s hard to grasp sometimes and move away from paper and atoms. Paper has its place but when you can choose to store, sort and read it digitally vs the older way which really is the easiest?

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The question Wesabe is asking

Wesabe has an unbelievable product available to anyone who has the facility get get at their transaction data. They have delivered what some of us have thought about for awhile now, financial data and tagging. And they have brought how to use tagging to the easiest method imaginable. Then you have their graphing function, the ability to ‘vote’ on how you think the supplier is, Firefox uploader, browser snapshots, the list goes on. Did I mentioned the social networking aspect of giving financial tips?

So the question is, as a credit union, do you build something like this, which will take time and money and probably be a poor imitation. Or do you say to your members “This is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Here is what we can do to get you going on a truly innovative and valuable service!” But wait, some will say, and so begins the “if we don’t build it others will and we will loose out” discussion starts or “we must build it or it will dilute our brand” discussion continues.

What really should happen is that the member’s data, their financial transactions, should be viewed as their’s, not the banks or credit union’s. They spent the money, and paid for the service, they have every right to do with it as they see fit. And if Wesabe’s service is what they want then we should respond by doing what we can to make it easy for them to do it. And we should work with Wesabe to see how collectively we can serve our members better.

Will this model work? Yes I think it will because a good idea is a good idea is a good idea and you can’t keep something like this off people’s radar screen. Is it a revenue generator? No but does everything we do have to be. It builds a relationship. It assists people in getting a handle on how they spend money. It helps them to save money. It does everything that we have been trying to do, promote common sense and money usage.

As I have said before, banks and credit unions have become something like huge castles with moats around them and the drawbridge up. Then the Wesabians come marching up asking for what is theirs to do what they wish to do with it. We can lower that drawbridge and stop this financial feudilsm that is wasting time and resources for everyone. We need to listen that some have chosen a new financial polity.

Take the survey while sitting in a chair

One of the more frequent comments we hear from people who come to Mt. Lehman Credit Union is that “it really feels different here”. So you ask them how they came to that conclusion. They mention that while they were waiting they took a seat and noticed what was happening in the branch as the staff were working and the members were conducting business. They noticed how people were being served, how the conversations at the counter were taking place, how there was so much natural sunlight, and how it just felt good and friendly. This is the stuff credit unions are made of. Now how would you measure this? Again the question of how do you measure the quality of a business.

It got me thinking. How many businesses have chairs that you can park your butt down and just notice what is happening? Sure FI’s have seatting because there are always appointments. Our seats are also used if people want to sit while waiting for a teller. There is a device that alerts staff after anyone sits in the chair for longer than 47 seconds (just kidding). For some businesses it would be difficult to do this. There should be a law that any women’s shop have seatting available for husbands who will be there for awhile. But really if you as an individual were to measure if you wanted to do business with anyone, why not just be a silent sitter for 10 minutes and see what is going on. See if there truly is a unique experience there. How you view the experience is the active survey.

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The evening before the BarCampBankSeattle

Finally arrived here after a 6 hour journey [Vancouver-Seattle]. The border wait was 2 hours, the I-5 was backed up to Everett so there was the other 4 hours. One begins to feel claustrophobic being surrounded by that many cars for that long.

Got into the hotel room and got a call from Brad Garland & Mark McSpadden from The Garland Group to go for supper at Elliot’s. Great guys. We had some interesting discussions about banking, Web 2.0, and Ruby on Rails. If this is any indication of what is in store for the next 2 days there is going to be some significant discussions around banking and technology. Great minds think alike…

Why small credit unions have some unique advantages today

Tim has forced me to respond to his comment on Cuesskybox’s entry for Small Credit Unions. So maybe there are 10 good reasons on why ‘Small is Beautiful’ for credit unions.

  1. Relationships – smallness dictates that the number of relationships between members, staff and board is manageable for all parties. There is a quality, not quantity, in relationships.
  2. Communication is quick and inclusive.
  3. Transparency. There is always an understanding on why things are happening.
  4. Challenges that are healthy. Being small means you can’t take anything for granted.
  5. Agility in being able to move and respond quickly to any circumstance.
  6. Planning that is truly dynamic. You have a plan but you are constantly reviewing and upgrading it based on any and all communication received.
  7. Teamwork. Everyone can participate in the continuing sense of accomplishment.
  8. Managing your own destiny. There are market conditions and circumstances beyond anyone’s control but you can steer and manage quickly and precisely. You aren’t a 53 branch credit union so can manage in a much different direction.
  9. Technology is cheap. If you put the pillars you need in place to use technology as a strategic advantage, today’s hardware prices and work tools have never been cheaper or more powerful. You can build what you need.
  10. Politics don’t get in the way of accomplishing what needs to be done.
  11. Members, members, members. The always come first.

I haven’t posted in a week with all the family events recently (niece from Denmark, youngest son moving to Denmark). When the weather is good computer screens look a little gruesome.

A very different book for right brainers

One of the most interesting books I have read in a long time is Daniel Pink’s – A Whole New Mind, moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. In it he states that up to now the left-brainers, the MBA types, were what society had and needed. In the future the right-brainers will be needed. He speaks about this in a very easy to read setting. He then goes on to say that there are six essential aptitudes on which professional success and personal fulfillment now depend. They are Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning.
Each of these aptitudes are explored in separate chapters. And each of them resonate strongly with some well thought out and extremely satisfying writing. He explores those areas that have up to now been tidbits of ones thinking. You knew ‘Story’ was important but Pink puts it in the terms you hadn’t completely thought of. ‘Meaning’ was discussed in light of Victor Frankl’s – Man’s Search for Meaning. (Everyone has read this right?) A Whole New Mind is a very positive book and you will come away with huge and various ideas to move your mind around. This book is dangerous. For example when he discussed design, it is stated that whatever the design, it is giving the world something it didn’t know it was missing. Thank you Daniel, that makes perfect sense and gives you something to chew on next time you step up to the plate thinking you might know something about design. He even gets into labyrinths.
Before you begin to have a long discussion with any left-brained type read this book. You’ll find so much more to what makes us human than just counting beans and widgets.

Sometimes a great meeting

Today I was down at the Vancouver Club in Vancouver with 5 other credit unions discussing solutions with a data processing supplier. Usually these meeting are boring. People ask questions and the answers turn into another series of questions and before you know it you are about a mile from where you started. The Desjardins Group were different. They talked about their banking system but they presented a very compelling reason for being a credit union — your competition is the banks, not other credit unions. In B.C. we seem to have lost this focus at times. We compete with each other not noticing that there are banks out there.

Desjardins is the Central organization for Quebec caisses populaires (credit unions). They are the 6th largest financial institution in Canada. By this time next year they will have the largest ATM network in Canada. The key is cooperation. It appears this system has grown by cooperating and doesn’t get sidetracked by anyone. It was refreshing to hear why things were actually working. It was refreshing to hear about solutions that were formed out of credit union needs, not because someone in a powerful position wanted it that way. I look forward to hearing more from this organization. I just wish all credit union could come to the table with this type of mindset.

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MemberNote vs Clairmail/Telus/My-Spy

There is a post at The Bankwatch about a product that will alert a bank customer of transaction activity with their bank card. Earlier this week a product called My-Spy was on a local TV newscast with a similar service. It will be interesting to see how these products develop.

The credit union I work for developed a product over 2 years ago called MemberNote. It does the same thing but with a completely different method. It was built around the banking system and is totally an in-house solution. There are some differences.

These commercial products will have a price in order to implement them. That price will probably be passed on to the consumer. We have seen this as a necessary service and have implemented it from day one with no cost to the user. It is free. You will only pay what your telcom charges you for text messaging. That brings up a point. Is there any agreements between these companies and say Telus about revenue sharing on the messaging side?

The 3rd party solution is going to bang the @#$% out of anyones internet banking servers unless they can install the software/solution at the host site and deliver the alerts. What happens to website stats when the ‘bots’ are running let’s say every 5 minutes, signing into a banking internet page, pulling the info, and sending the alert (if there is a transaction)? There will be a lot of hits just to find out there wasn’t a transaction to report.

Security. Sorry but I really don’t want my PC running all day with a program to monitor my bank account in order to give me alerts.

These may be moot points. Competition is always great as it pushes us all to create something better. We plan on releasing a version 2 of the product in the next few months. New features will give another dimension to this service. We think it will be that much better.