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.


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.

This years Northern Voice 2011 poster

Every year since the start of Northern Voice, the credit union I work for has been part of a group of people and businesess that volunteer and sponsor the event. We’ve been doing it for 7 years and attending the two day conference has always been interesting.

As part of the event we contribute buttons and a poster which has been done by my son (an artist who lives in Copenhagen). A few months before the event we kick around various ideas of what it should look like. This year’s poster has a bit of a story around it.

Derek Miller (Penmachine) has always voiced how much he liked the posters and has contributed ideas of what they should look like. I wrote him back in March asking him for input. He sent a short email with some neat ideas that went off to Copenhagen. Just before we went to print the news came of Derek’s passing away. It was a sad moment to hear that. We never told anyone until now that at the last moment the poster was changed to add some small print on the boat which reads “In memory of Derek”.
In some ways those two characters in the boat express how when we receive news of someone’s death it shapes us — we look forward and we look backward at a point when we really can’t move at all.

A trust fund has been setup for the Miller family by our good friends at Vancity Savings Credit Union

What happens when employees YouTube the boss

I really didn’t think the social media bunch at the credit union would actually go ahead and produce a video about me, but they did. It is humbling to say the least. But beyond the clip it got me thinking — would this have happened 25 year ago? Would it be allowed to happen now in certain credit unions or businesses?

The transparency, or whatever you want to call it, of social media has made some significant changes in various stratas of society and definitely between various demographics of the citizenry. It has a “no prisoners” approach and no matter how much some would love to stuff the Genie back in the bottle it doesn’t look like it will be returning to the old way anytime soon. This morning the Globe and Mail had an article on how the TV networks and cable companies were complaining about Netflix and that they were not contributing to Canadian content. These were the same guys that were trying a year ago to get out of paying for Canadian content and now they use it as a means to try and stop Netflix. They forget to realize that Netflix offers something they don’t – complete choice of what to watch and when to watch it.

Being part of a financial cooperative that creates a culture that gives staff the ability to produce a clip about their boss for the world to see is extremely satisfying. We can talk about transparency, openess, relationships, empowerment or whatever buzz word you want, the fact remains, people have to be able to do something they see as positive, fun, and an extension of what they do in their everyday lives at work. That’s regenerative. That’s intentional. That’s socially responsible and sustainable. That is this new world emerging as we speak. The byproducts are a healthy and well run credit union.

Thanks gang. And by the way I do leave the toilet seat down. Leaving it up is nothing more than a freudian slip.

When credit unions change their names

First and foremost this entry is not meant to offend any credit union. What a credit union chooses is their domain, not mine.

In a recent issue of Business in Vancouver (a weekly business journal produced in Vancouver B.C.) there is a section titled ‘Hats Off’ which lists donations by various businesses to worthy charities. This week caught my eye. Listed were three credit unions. But to the untrained eye they were not ‘credit unions’ they were ‘Financial’, ‘Savings’ and ‘Financial Group’. So what happened here?

In the Lower Mainland of B.C. are a large number of very large credit unions. In fact the total of these large credit unions amounts to an excess of 60% of the total deposits for all credit unions in the province of B.C. It runs into the billions of dollars. The competition is fierce amongst all financial institutions and there is this marketing mantra that says any FI needs to differentiate itself in a crowded marketplace. That mantra has carried into the credit union system by pushing some credit unions to have their names presented in the public arena sans ‘credit union’. This supposedly is the way to be different.

The problem that I see is even if I am not a member of a credit union I do have some remote idea of what it is. But do I know what a ‘Financial’, a ‘Savings’ or a ‘Financial Group’ is? That is even more confusing.

I would ask any group of credit unions to consider what they would do in a similar position. Would you keep ‘credit union’ or drop it? It seems once you drop it you become something entirely different. Don’t ask me what, because as noted, it becomes confusing.


It’s magic!

One of my favourite people in the credit union movement is Denise. She works for the Credit Union Association of New Mexico and has been associated with credit unions for years. Denise tells it like it is.

Her blog post today does just that. When I began reading it proved interesting from the fact that the 4 minute mile was a record broken in Vancouver during the Empire Games in the ’50s. There was a bronze statue commemorating the run erected at the site and as a kid you always wondered about how magical that moment was. Back then those types of events didn’t seem to happen as often as today so they always seemed magical.

The blog post points to something similar. But many, instead of experiencing that magical moment, will begin to sense a moment of dread. The key to exist as a business in this world is to be aware and be nimble. If you aren’t good at keeping your balance with the winds of change you’ll end up falling a lot. And getting up gets harder to do. Being aware and nimble should give you your greatest advantage which is the use of time. The new iPhone and possible iTunes payment system isn’t hard to see as a concrete possibility. It will be used but it won’t have everything that people will want. Those FIs that understand that and are prepared for change will find they will continue to exist.

I tend to see technology as pure technique. This is just another refined technique to be aware of and to see as a possibility to play to. Don’t forget ‘magic’ is a noun, adjective and verb.

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.


Expectations of the CU Water Cooler Symposium

Next week CU Water Cooler Symposium happens in Fishers, Indiana. This symposium has its roots in the Forum Solution Symposium of the past. For me it had been one of the best events in credit union land and next Thursday this new hybrid should establish the CU Water Cooler Symposium as one of the best symposiums ever.

Before anyone attends anything they have probably weighed what it costs versus what they would come to expect from going. Compared to most events here in Canada this event is a bargain. The list of speakers shows people who are working experts and the topics which are near and dear to their hearts. There is no official ‘theme’ but the speakers topics display a large variety of what will presented. How the speakers were chosen, the t-shirt contest, to the type of name tags to be used, shows an open and very workable approach to getting something like this going.

So here are a few of my personal expectations.

  1. To be able to re-connect with colleagues. There are a number of people going who I haven’t seen for a few years. Even though you know key events in their lives from twitter, facebook and blogs it is always neat to re-connect face to face.
  2. Finally being able to put a face and a voice to some avatar on Twitter. You follow people for years and now you actually get to meet them!
  3. Hearing some non-mainstream speakers. Just being able to hear new voices and pertinent topics for a change. So many conferences are almost mainstream in making sure the speakers are vocalizing the ‘flavour of the month’.
  4. The debates. If the past is any indication, there should be some lively discussions around just about anything credit union related.
  5. Social media is in everyone’s mind and it will be interesting to see where everyone is at, beginner, experience or expert.
  6. The last and probably most important. To learn, learn and learn. I never hurts to go with an open mind and act like a sponge.

And don’t forget to make your own name tag!

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!

Basic fundamentals

My good friend Morris over at everythingcu.com cc’ed a tweet to me about a discussion they were having about CUs and Cooperatives. I was reading it and didn’t think there was much to say  until someone writes from the viewpoint that “we need to make money”. That led me to respond.

It does seem a little crazy that whenever the topic of the 7 cooperative principles is brought to light, people will point to what they see as the greatest need –  “to make money” and neglect what the real debate is about. It is like someone asking how you are today and your first statement is “I need to breathe”. Of course we need to breathe but does that end the discussion?

Here is the post.

I think there is an elephant in the room and it never gets invited to leave.IF you read the 7 Co-operative principle on which most CUs were founded years ago they were important in the structure and culture of the credit unions. As the financial industry has advanced somehow those principles have been forgotten, neglected or just unknown.

If one makes a decision about anything there are some fundamentals that act when arriving at that decision. Without the knowledge of these principles then the decision gets hijacked by being made outside those principles. If we bring to focus these absolutes that are a given i.e. we need to make money, we need to compete and neglect to discuss and bring forward how we incorporate these values (principles) in our CUs we do an incredible disservice.

Of course we need to make money, I don’t think that is a principle that needed discussion when CUs started. Of course we need to compete, they started because they could compete. But what about democratic owner control? What does that mean in todays CU? Or the education principle? I think we don’t want to discuss those. Why? To be honest because we have failed to bring these to the important level they need to be, we have been too busy making sure we make money and are moving forward in the marketplace.

I look at a CU like a car. You get it into shape. You tune it up. You keep it working well. But is that all? No you then decide where you want to go with it. What destinations are available and when will you get there. You always pay attention to the operation of the vehicle otherwise you won’t get there. Just remember you have seven places to arrive at and the journey can be exciting and very interesting. Remember we do have GPS to get us where we are going these days! 🙂

The iPad experience

After a week with this device my mind begins to wander in a forest of unknowns about what has happened with the introduction of this little piece of hardware. It is disruptive technology that is not generative from a software aspect but definitely generative to end usage. It fits the bill of ‘thinking differently’. It is something very new and very different.
The first thing you notice is the outstanding clarity of the screen and what you are viewing. Bluntly put those personal pictures in Photos recapture the moment by their excellence of being so distinctive. Reading books (iBooks, Kindle app, Kobo app) is enjoyable.
Ease of navigating on the desktop and in programs is noticeable but you don’t understand why until you start thinking of where you are coming from. Up until now you used the mouse for pointing an arrow. Your hand had to translate to the mouse some sort of direction. With the iPhone you were doing something different but due to the limited screen size it was overlooked. (thumbing is numbing) Now it is the direct pointing of a finger that gets you there. This seems very natural and you experience a different flow when you need to do something. You arrive at the solution without something having to be interpreted (your hand and mouse actions). It is almost subliminal.
There is a lack of software at this point but you can see it growing similar to the iPhone at its infancy. The key is the ability to be able to easily acquire information to digest it. This is core to what this device does. It expands your ease to dialogue and you can see the tight integration of flowing information out to  social media platforms -Facebook, Twitter, Delicious, Instapaper, etc. It may be just the thing that expands your networking ability.
The finger you have is not necessarily the best to draw with. You need a pencil finger and some of us have more of a broom handle finger. Tough to get used to but then again this should change with use and practice.
I got to try it out at the dentist and doctor’s office this week. No more stale magazines! You can get some quality work time in with this device. It really will become more of a portable desktop than anything else you have used before. Remember this is the initial rollout. There are limitations but they are solvable in time. It is here to stay and get better. Rome wasn’t built in a day. (This entry wasn’t typed on an iPad but you can see that it soon will be.)

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.

What is happening to blogging?

Besides myself there are a lot of blogs that are in hibernation at this point. It seems strange but a diet of Twitter seems to have evaporated the desire to write. Taking the bit of thought of many people seems easier than spending time following someone’s complete train of thought on a subject. Are we becoming enamored by small bits of text in a quick series? This will date me but I remember the show Laugh-In. What made is so unique and unusual was the shortness of each film clip. It made a huge impact and had the effect that a one room TV scene became almost obsolete. MTV hit us with even shorter clips to  coincide with each drum beat of music. Now Twitter seems to be the snippet induced mind candy. Yesterday was my 3rd anniversary of Twittering and there has been a evolution in usage and acceptance. At the start was the challenge of how long it would continue, just like blogging and email. The answer probably will always be whatever technology or system we use will continue as long as it is relevant to those that use it. Maybe for some of us we just need to write more.

Valentine’s Day – Chinese New Year – 3rd day of the Olympics

All the Nikon equipment is getting ready and charged up for the trek downtown. There should be a huge crowd in Vancouver today as the sun is shining and it is a typical winter (but really early spring) day here. Looking outside you begin to think ‘Lawnmover’. This is Canada as was expressed during the opening Olympic ceremonies. Of the 5 of us traveling downtown 2 are born in Canada, 1 is born in Canada but is Irish, another is born in Germany and Canadian and one is born in Denmark and is still Danish. Even amongst one’s friends and relatives you can’t be removed from the Canadian multiculturalism. There is something special about that and I think we finally have told the world we aren’t afraid of celebrating who we are. So Gung Ho Fat Choy 恭 喜 發 財, Happy Valentine’s Day and have a great Olympics, eh?

What small credit unions must have – the 3i’s

Over the past few days I have had a number of long discussions with other credit unions and credit union suppliers about where our system is headed and what the challenges are.

First it seems important to realize that though we all call ourselves credit unions there is a difference behind the scenes. There are the large credit unions and the small credit unions. For the most part the size of the credit union is a differentiator in more ways than we might think.

Small credit unions must focus and understand who they are in their marketplace and what they mean to their members. With any organization of limited resources, use of resources must be dictated by need. That use of resources needs to be structured under the credit unions vision both now and for the future. They key to initiate and accomplish the vision is the ability to hold and keep a strong culture based on what I would call the 3 i’s. [Apologies to the Filene Institute for any confusion with their i3 program] Those 3 important i’s are:

Independence. This would mean that the credit union values and maintains its own sense of who it is and how it fits into the cooperative system. It means that by being independent it is accountable and responsible for its own decisions. I think credit unions have become lazy in not attempting to understand vital areas of their operation, specifically technology. They rely on the advice of others and haven’t taken the time to realize the extent and future challenges that may be in store for them when they make decisions about a banking system or switch provider without sound evidence. Knowledge starts first from admitting ones ignorance. The beauty of the credit union system is that most credit unions are willing to share any information if one begins at that humble position.

Innovation. This means keeping a key strategy that smallness brings, the ability to turn on a dime when it comes to creating and producing a product or service. When you see innovation as a strategic weapon you will be amazed at the possibilities available. You turn from the depressing “we can’t do that” to the positive “why can’t we do that”. It is very powerful when your energies are used in developing things your member wants instead of cloning what others already have.

Integrity. No credit union will last when it neglects this aspect of who they are. You cannot operate in a healthy fashion with your members or in the marketplace without this. The trust that you have will disappear when you forsake a culture established on having integrity. Sometimes it can be painful but whatever the loss, the gain is usually magnified by remaining true to who you are.

There are large credit unions that also have these attributes in their culture but because of their size they may not have them woven into their everyday fabric as much as a smaller credit union. Sometimes size diminishes the possibility of such. Small credit unions have less of an internal political life and because of this tend to approach problems differently within the credit union system. You can solve problems easily when the operational issues are solved. It becomes very difficult to finalize anything when politics become so dominant.