While the credit union industry has evolved tremendously over the years, its underlying principles remain the same. Chartered to serve those without access to the banking system, early credit unions united the resources of many to expand financial opportunities for all.
Our mission of “people helping people” has since transformed the lives of millions and continues to resonate with the modern consumer today. In fact, according to recent research by the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), credit union membership in the U.S. is growing at 3.1 percent annually, its fastest increase in 21 years. Today there are 6,397 credit unions nationwide, representing 103.3 million members and with assets of $1.2 billion.
As an industry we are vast and growing, even as individual credit unions continue to focus locally on communities. And more than any other financial institution, the credit union brings consumers the best of all worlds – the flexibility of a smaller footprint, and the ability to scale by uniting with other credit unions.
Communities Are Powerful
Credit unions are by definition community-focused. Not only are members your clientele, but they also comprise your governing body and drive decision making at the highest levels. This involvement gives you deep insight into your members’ values and behaviors so you can create a business model that speaks directly to their needs and preferences.
This is a very different paradigm for consumers than what they find in commercial banks, which cannot match credit unions’ ability to personalize the member experience. Remember also that, while there to serve customers, banks first and foremost answer to their investors and are in business to drive profits – not help people.
Strength Through Agility
As a credit union you have agility, and that makes your organization dynamic. Consider, for example, that many larger financial institutions have to check with a corporate office half a world away to adjust their strategy. By contrast, you can nimbly respond to changes in technology and market dynamics, and then empower members with the products and services most important to them. Your ability to act swiftly and deliver innovation in a timely manner sets you apart.
Scale is a Business Term – But Here’s What It Means to Members
Agility is powerful, but so is scale. Consumers today have very high expectations that can only be met through scale.
To your members, scale translates into freedom, efficiency and convenience. It means that all of your resources are there for them anytime, anywhere. Whether accessing a branch network or ATM, banking online, making a mobile payment or seeking service and support, members expect the experience to be speedy, seamless and engaging – and at their fingertips.
Through collaboration, credit unions can pool their resources to serve members at this level. And that is exactly what credit union service organizations (CUSOs) provide – a structure for collaboration. If credit unions are “People Helping People,” CUSOs are “Credit Unions Helping Credit Unions.”
Help Lead Innovation as Part of a Network
Credit unions can help drive innovation when they are part of a network utilizing and providing feedback on products and services. CO-OP Financial Services, for instance, works closely with thousands of client credit unions, visionary technology leaders, experienced analysts and other industry experts to benefit partnering credit unions.
These relationships bring a comprehensive view of the industry to credit unions that helps them intelligently grow their operations. Because significant resources can be applied to the process, this collaborative effort uncovers both the most innovative new technologies and those that benefit members the most. And a shared cost structure makes it affordable for credit unions to deploy innovations that truly enrich the member experience.
How to Be There, No Matter Where
Consumers today are on the go, and this has implications for credit unions. Because our industry remains focused on serving local communities, many credit unions only operate a few of their own branches. Achieving the geographic scale members require has prompted credit unions to join forces. In combining ATM fleets and branch resources into broader networks, credit unions successfully provide their members with nationwide access points that can exceed even the largest commercial bank.
Expand Your Service Reach
The sun never sets on the world of commerce today, and consumers expect service on-demand, 24/7. The importance of meeting this expectation cannot be underestimated. According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, news of bad customer service reaches more than twice as many ears as praise for a good service experience, and it is six to seven times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to keep a current one. A CUSO can offer the around-the-clock call center services your members require while spreading the costs among partnering credit unions.
The Art of Right-Sizing
As a credit union today, you hold many unique strategic advantages. While your strong community ties bring forth a more meaningful service proposition, you can also stand hand-in-hand with other credit unions to achieve the scale your members value. You can be “right-sized” all the time, no matter how fast you grow – an advantage that many large, global banks wished they had.