We’re not in Kansas anymore

There was something very unique about Kansas City. It might be the best kept secret in America. There were no expectations before arrving but the city quickly offered some interesting venues, great food and very friendly people. A few of us went there for the Credit Union Water Cooler Symposium and found it  a very interesting place to walk around. From the venue site ‘The Alamo’ to Kansas city BBQ eateries there was a positive city character that was portrayed everywhere. My favourite place was the Negro Baseball League Museum. It portrayed. in a timeline, how the league started and what it went through until the late ‘50s. Speaking to a security attendant in the lobby, he mentioned that there are numerous Major League players that come through the museum. A few weeks ago the Molina family were there. Stories like that bring the place alive.

Cities have much to offer and each has a special understanding and character surrounding the place they live. No two are ever the same, which makes traveling so interesting. The buildings put together the framework of living but it is the people who inhabit the city that make it so interesting. There was an article this last week about a Danish town that were digging up the streets for sewer lines and came across a wooden pipeline that was built in the 1500’s. What did they do with it? Threw it away because ‘that is what you do in a city that is over 750 years old.’ No matter what the age or the edifices a city has, it is its character driven by the people that give it that wonderful sense of difference.

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What is it with that 60’s music?

There was something magic about the mid 60’s. We had recovered to some extent from those assassinations. We no longer saw alcohol as the drug of choice. Vietnam was the war that was coming into view. There was a darkness that was balanced by something ever so different. Hair was longer, institutional frameworks were no long taken for granted, the clothes were different with giant colours and bell bottoms along with the return of paisley. All of this had a strong touchpoint – music, it was changing as much as it was new. We had the Beattles, the Moody Blues, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. This was a new line in the sand. This was the music that had no definitions but the ones we gave them.

To this day that music brings back those moments full of sounds, sights and smells. The context is as important as the melodies. Without the context the music only becomes notes on a page. Nostalgic for sure but when memories surface they are more than mere tunes.

It was a haunting, fearful time were one encountered doubt. But the music was like a sword that cut those fears to the quick and made happiness part of your own humanity.

Gout

Just because your father had it

why do you?

It sometimes trickles in

that toe

attached to that foot

without any reason

but then when it explodes and

you curse that 6 letter word

Purine. 

There is suddenly

a radar around you foot

sensing any immovable object

within inches.

And bedsheets hurt,

staircases are steeplechases,

and you hope your

foot doesn’t explode. 

Time heals. 

Purines still exist. 

As you attempt to forget

the pain

until next time. 

Houellebecq’s new book “Submission”

In today’s Globe and Mail Russell Smith has an excellent review of Michel Houellebecq’s new novel “Submission”. It is provocative and amazingly frank about a book that has recently been published that speaks to the recent events in France.

Russell points to so many areas of concern about the world we now live in. One thinks about the freedom of expression and the need to be vigilant with guarding this basic tenet in our fragile democracy. We need to consider what those that would hamper that right, by the suggestion of ultimate protection with a proposed security regime, would have in the lessening of that freedom. Maybe our understanding of what sacrifice means has to be changed. The freedoms we hold dear will never be guarded by anyone other than the individual and that may mean an ultimate sacrifice.

To people that knock on our door and attempt to convert us to their brand of religion I tell them that though I disagree and will debate what they are presenting, I will stand with them against any group or organization that attempts to take away their right to express their views. Without that diversity of expression, that only comes with that freedom, we will return to serfdom.

Who’s next?

This morning I was listening to The Who and their 1971 album “Who’s Next?”. This album captured something of that time. What was it like then and how was it any different than now?

The album cover speaks of the youth’s obstinance then. It was a time of confusion. It was a time of optimism though. Personalities had come and gone but nothing or no one seemed in want for much. We had arrived with our ideals, our education, our minimal but refreshing means to do just about anything. We hadn’t met any diversity that we could not either accept or overcome in some fashion. Our new found courage was grounded in being naively youthful. Energy and passion wore out the obstacles. We resisted little as there was little to resist. Our suffering had not arrived and the world was still bound in its happenings, sharpness had not started. Our idealism would not be prevailed upon. The world and its events were belonged by no one and it was still ‘us’. ‘Me’ and it selfishness had not been born. ‘Now’ is not of that age.

 

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Douglas Coupland

Went to the Vancouver Art Gallery yesterday to see the Coupland exhibit. It was excellent! I had no idea the extent of the creativity of this person. There is a lot to see and it is definitely a show you can attend more than once.

The intrigue about his work is substantial. You can see a unique perspective of the world we now live in. You can see elements of being a Vancouverite and a Canadian. There is boldness yet intricacy in the presentations. It is exciting to dismantle and then reconstruct, in a different fashion, one’s view of something. So much of his art does this and it is brilliant.

One very neat thing is the invitation to take pictures with the hashtag #couplandvan.

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Holidays

Half way through a 3 week holiday and for the first time in a long time I feel somewhat rested.

We seem to get into an everyday work cycle that is not very easy to shed. It takes a lot of concentrated effort to stay away from the business aspect of your life with the immediacy of smartphones and the ubiquitous internet. It seems we have woven our personal and business lives in such a fashion it is hard to take them apart. A staycation is more like part time work.

The next week will be how well my mind can reset. And how hot and sunny it will be!

Last day at CUWaterCooler Nashville

The CUWaterCooler is just about over. There are two more presentations before it will be the end of this years Symposium. It has been as different as all the others before it.

We missed a few of the editors like Ed Brett from Westminster Credit Union. The venue is probably the best ever and those returning knew the neighbourhood so getting around was easier. We reunited with old friends and made some new ones. We talked about the same old things and some new debates began. Matt Monge’s presentation about ‘Servant Leadership’ was extremely valuable and really challenged anyone who was a CEO. Rob Oxoby’s “Behavoir, Savings and Borrowing of the Lifecycle: Insights from Behavioural Economics’ gave us some remarkable experience in Games Theory. Every presentation was valuable and relevant to anyone in a credit union. And as always there was an entertainment factor at times. When I get home I need to find that old Monopoly game.

One can’t really put a tag or singular definiton about CUWaterCooler. It really needs to be experienced. It is fun and it makes you think is some new fashion. Thanks to everyone who came, to those who contributed, to Tim and Matt who work so hard to make it what it is, to Ron who always gives us some incredible insight and to Nashville for being a wonderful host.

Funny, once you drink from this watercooler you always want to come back.

Expectations for the CUWaterCooler

There are only a few days left until leaving for Nashville to attend the CUWaterCooler event. It has been a few years that this event has been in existence and has evolved from the Forum Solutions Symposium in Fishers, Indiana that goes back to at least 2008. (somebody out there will correct me on this).

I realize some individuals when reading this will say that most of us are just regurgitating the same old stuff and live in our own credit union echo chamber. That may appear to be so. Maybe it is because most of us have travelled the road of attending too many value-less conferences. We have paid large amounts of money only to hear experts tell us what we either already know or what we have dismissed as not extremely vital.

One of the key understandings of co-hosts and editors is to have a symposium that brings value in the simplest of terms to everyone who attends. Most presentations are by people who have a high degree of passion for what they will speak about. They are genuine in what they present and are more than willing to be challenged to further the dialogue. When everyone is willing to discuss the subject everyone learns.

I am always amazed by the people who attend for the first time. They really haven’t experienced those types of discussions or that level of networking. They usually come away excited and anxious about what to do when they get home. That makes this event different. The ideas you hear about get developed to a greater degree by the communication you have with everyone there. You begin to formulate what that will mean where you work. That is the real magic of the CUWaterCooler. Two days of being part of a group of people who want to do a better job, are willing to change and have some great ideas on how to accomplish these new found challenges — who wouldn’t want be to part of that?

Here is some advice. Come with no expectations except to enjoy the company, have intriguing discussions and make some new friends. What you leave with will be a gentle prodding to try something different. For some that will be immediate, for others a much longer journey. The fact is that something in the way you perceive credit unions will change, if only just a little. And that is what makes it all worth it.

It is a little cold in Winnipeg

Yesterday after having lunch with a few friends at an Ethiopian restaurant I was able to spend the afternoon at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG). This was the first afternoon I had ever had free time in the city and had heard of their collection of Inuit carvings was the largest in the world. It really was worth it.

They had a large exhibit framed around the various decades since 1950. You could see the progression or more so the influence of the outside world in their carvings over the years. The geographic area from which the carvings have come from is huge but the common points the artists were depicting were similar. It was intriguing to see such beautiful work. 

It started me thinking about the creativity in each piece given the landscape, geography and setting in which the carving was created. There was simplicity and yet in the strongest possible terms a complex beauty you rarely see. Art seems to transcend what we see with our eyes. It begins to take us into a realm that we don’t inhabit very often. To be able to be drawn in by the uniqueness of so many carvings was a wonderful experience. We need to take time, to pause for more than an hour and enter those artful, creative realms where text and noise no longer exist. It refreshes us to be human on occasion. 

If you are ever in Winnipeg visit the WAG. It is an exceptional place.

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The visit to SXSW

Well I finally attended SXSW and it was everything I imagined, some more so than others. There were disappointments but it wasn’t with the venue or what was being offered. There were speakers that one expected some sort of intelligent discussion or debate about a subject and it was apparent that wasn’t to be. There is a group here and it is worth pointing out that they are a minority who are chasing money. They are looking for the next big Twitter or piece of hardware that they have developed or are developing or are cash investors. You hear the money subject a number of times but that isn’t what SXSW is about. There is a world connected by the internet and a lot of it is here.

 

When you get away from the main floor of the convention centre you realize all the world is not made up of billionaires or wannabes. There were some pretty passionate presentations that cover so many topics. It was like sitting in front of a TV and trying to decide which of 300 channels to pick. One definitely has to scour the list of presenters to get the best picks or you will miss out. The places are all alive with a constant hum of people moving about and talking about everything. 

 

What did I like best about SXSW? The huge variety of subject matter, it really was incredible. You could only touch a small percentage of it. There were people here who by themselves would be the solo drawing card keynote speaker at any conference. There were a huge number of tech companies sponsoring just about everything. It took a few days to get used to the vastness of what was going on but when you did get a better picture, as always, it was time to go.

 

My sidekicks in this adventure were Tim McAlpine and Matt Davis. They added to the experience at every moment. It wouldn’t have been as good without them. I wouldn’t do anything much different the next time I came. More preparation in choosing the subject matter for sure and hopefully a hotel room closer to downtown. If you enjoy technology, music and food there is no place like it.

The age old question of how many CU’s in the future

Jeffry Pilcher at FinancialBrand.com has written an excellent article on the credit union industry outlook. I would recommend you read this but more importantly read the comments because they are the key as to viewing how individuals perceive the result of this information.

Here in B.C. we have already gone through a “shrinkage” of credit unions over the last 20 years. In 1992 when I came back into the system there were 107 credit unions, now there are 44. The larger CUs have an 80% + total of the BC system assets at large. That is held by fewer than 10 credit unions. And yes we heard the ‘economies of scale’ proposition put forward at least 1,000 times in the last 20 years in all its hues and colours. But what really happened to those credit unions? What is the unknown cost of this ‘shrinkage’?

I believe the key component to loosing credit unions is their own belief that they are no longer relevant to their membership based on criteria that they inherited from outside sources. They begin to drink the wrong coloured Kool-Aid. They are so preoccupied with the ‘system’ template on how to run their organization they forget to leverage their strengths and develop and reinvent themselves in this very different financial world. By following the Pied Piper of ‘bigger is better’ they forget the culture they have and the history they have come from. To put it bluntly, they just give up, ignoring the wealth both financially and culturally that their credit union has established in their community. 

There is nothing wrong with numerous credit unions in the same market. We all agree on the free market concept. What is neglected is that as credit unions we must align some strategies as financial co-operatives. No credit union is an island. At the same time individual credit unions must develop strategies that are dynamic and relevant. Those strategies must come from the source of collective wisdom of their membership. The direction that they set will be unique, growing and vital to their own ongoing future. 

Listening, formulating, innovating, creating, respecting, and working towards a common vision is not easy. It is work. The end result will be a credit union that does not worry about how many CUs there will be in the future as you will be too busy maintaining that relevance with your membership and also contributing to the health of the credit union movement.

The cost of loosing CUs is huge. There are too many ‘funerals’ and not enough ‘births’. I believe smaller CUs are sometimes the conscience of the movement. Being smaller also gives a huge advantage for innovation and quick time of delivery for products and services. There is a role for both smaller and larger CUs to tackle our aging and declining membership base. What I have seen recently in the BC Credit Union movement has given me a new direction and a very positive view of the synergy used by both ends of the spectrum. It begins with discussing our cooperative nature and respecting our strategic differences.

 

What is in a name

I had one of those phone call interviews from a credit union magazine this afternoon. There is some hesitation to do these as a number of times in the past what has been said has sometimes been printed in a different fashion.

The question was about the use or non-use of the name credit union. This has been a long ongoing debate amongst credit unions in B.C One can understand, purely from a marketing sense, how removing ‘credit union” from you name can give you a stonger marketing differentiation. But in doing so it also can imply that those cooperative principles on which your financial cooperative follows are maybe not as important as they should be. I know that remark will bring some strong comments forward but much of who we are is in our name.

The key to me is that sometimes “credit union” as a name was changed because one hadn’t reflected or understood what it meant. The name was changed for marketing purposes, it did not change you as an institution necessarily. I think what was more a challenge was dropping the hands and globe logo from signage and printed material. That is the only real common identifier for credit unions worldwide so removing that could suggest some negative connotations.

What I am seeing now is a return, by some, to the credit union name and more usage of the hands and globe logo.

NorthernVoice 2012

This was the first year since Northern Voice started that I hadn’t attended both days. The venue had changed back to downtown after being out at UBC for a number of years so just getting to know the space took a bit of effort. The weather always adds its character to the event.

What I found this year, as with every year, something unique. It was a much smaller group of people and it was set amongst various shops and a new and growing community. There were 3 rooms for the speakers which were very different and lent themselves to adding to the presentations. It was more a smaller community setting. All of the presentations I attended were excellent.

Maybe it was the proximity to the speaker or being in downtown Vancouver with all its cosmopolitan attitude or whatever but one thing was for certain, there was a passion and energy in the presentations that was so noticeable. Whatever the topic it seemed the 45 minutes disappeared too quickly. There was abundant laughter, caring, interesting wordsmithing, and a uniqueness of expression. The first Northern Voice was radical in the newness of the technologies (blogging, flickr, etc). Now we have ample internet communities to share and they have become very mainstream. The speakers challenged us on how to use these ‘tools’ for the communities we purpose. They spoke of caution in their predominant use and the constant need for other platforms to appear and challenge the behemoths. The radicalness was not in the instruments but on how they were used and the results that were accomplished.

Northern Voice 2012 showed me that we have, ever so subtly, moved to this second plateau of cautious usefulness. No one is declaring the means to any end is the only way. What they all said so passionately is that as we build communities we have so many workable examples of means that fulfil our necessary and desired ends. The toolbox is looking pretty good these days, much better than the past. We just need to voice our passions, follow our dreams, and continue to be pioneers in this ever changing world.

Northern Voice. What a great name. The conference epitomized there was a new Voice and it was once again coming from the North. Thanks to all the volunteers, speakers and sponsors. It really was a memorable event.

Acedia

I started reading a book awhile ago by Kathleen Norris called Acedia & Me. She expands and defines in terms of our modern day what acedia is. It has been often understood as spiritual sloth. What it means to most would be the serious malady of being unable to care. After Christmas this seems to be something we all are aware of.

Acedia has a clinical cousin called depression. Norris traces acedia’s path through history to expose the damage to not only our own lives but also to our culture as we become desensitized by never ending distractions and our loss to care about anything that is really important. She finds that “restless boredom, frantic escapism, commitment phobia and enervating despair” that we have problems with today are “the ancient demon of acedia in modern dress.

This is not a new concept. It is first encountered in the 4th century by the Christian monk Evagrius Ponticus. This is what makes the challenge so interesting. How can a 1600 year old concept be so relative in today’s world? We are so enamoured in the newness of the modern age that our view of history and what it has to offer is so easily forgotten. We should realize that the paths we currently walk are not always ‘new’ but sometimes very worn with previous travellers.

What happens when you hang around a water cooler

Coming back from the CU Water Cooler Symposium in Indianapolis on Saturday I began to try to piece everything together. If you have never attended, it is an event that really stretches your outlook on what the credit union movement means to so many different people.

There was an underlying theme that we needed to pay attention to our membership and move away from the constant rehearsal of paying attention to ourselves. The culture of each credit union should be directed by the board who are representatives of our membership. That being the case our cultures are dictated by our members. We need to be inclusive but not necessarily homogeneous. We include everyone in a common bond but that doesn’t make us ‘all things to all people all of the time’.  And in this lies the difficulty.

By having a common bond it made credit unions easier to be part of the free market system. Are those that use credit unions understanding that a free market association creates challenges for us to remain a financial community of sorts. If they are only there for the “free chequing” what does it matter that credit unions have a social conscience?

The Symposium allows everyone to think and discuss issues that are relevant today and tomorrow. But we tend to get bogged down in the ‘good old days’ stuff and need those dialogues to bring us forward, screaming and kicking, into the future. The credit union I work for supports this event because this is one of the few remaining places where we can discuss the emerging culture of credit unions. We can begin to formulate what this will look like.

We do need a Manifesto or Accord sometimes when the dust settles. I would offer a few points.

1. The movement needs to reconcile that it is multi-generational. All contribute to the end result.

2. Credit Unions are formed with many dimensions. It is not all marketing, not all management, not specific to one domain. We are defining a new language for what we are and what we do. That takes time.

3. We are generalists that have been formed from exceptions not norms.

So just wait until next year when we go at it again.

Finally, Paris

We arrived Saturday night and spent an hour or so lost in Montmatre trying to find the parking garage. Being in the backseat and not driving made the incident stress free.

Yesterday was spent walking around the Sacré-Coeur Church along with a lot of tourists. On the way back there was an organ grinder in one of the squares. He pushed through this long folded cardboard sheet as he wound the handle which produced the most wonderful sound and music. It must have taken a lot of effort to keep that wind going in the small bellows to get the accordion like sound. But the notes were many and the pieces complicated which made it so interesting.

After supper (Normandy Brie, paté, fresh bread, proscuitto, etc.) we walked around the Cimetiere de Montmartre and ended up having crêpes Grand Mariner and Noisette. Of course we sat there for over an hour watching everyone.

Paris is a city of people, history and of course food. You can’t help but be amazed at the selection in the stores. Being in an apartment gives us the advantage of buying and trying out everything we can see. And this morning just after 10:00 am the church bells were ringing. Sacré-Cour has one of the heaviest bells in the world. The bell itself weighs 18.5 tons and the clapper 1,900 lbs.

Glasgow – Day 1

We got into our hotel room yesterday in the late afternoon and slept for a bit. It was 29 hours door to door and doesn’t get easier it seems. The weather was perfect for a walk into town to get supper. We took the pathway along the river into the middle of town and ended up eating at one of the oldest restaurants in Glasgow called Rogano. The menu looked good and we both had plaice (which is a right-eyed flounder). It is a common dish in Denmark and I haven’t had it for years. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t fresh. For what it lacked the Guinness made up for. The walk back was in the dusk and it was beautiful.

This morning we had a great buffet breakfast and I got to try the black pudding, haggis and square sausage. All of it wasn’t bad but with the haggis it must be an acquired taste. After breakfast we registered and signed up for a credit union visit on Tuessday to Dalmuir Credit Union. We noticed that we are getting a ‘wee dram’ at the end of the visit. Tonight is WOCCU’s grand opening and reception.