The Right Question

Questions are the foundation of my Next Top Credit Union Executive project. There are questions in class. There are questions for homework. There are questions during hybrid coaching. I admit this nerdy truth to you: I keep a small notebook and when I hear a really good question I write it down. 

The right question can elicit profound results.

Although still considered “young” by some standards, I have been in the credit union industry nearly fourteen years. That’s long enough to observe and comment on some trends. Waaaaaay back in the last millennium when I worked at the Washington Credit Union League, we had almost 200 credit unions it the state of Washington. There were well over 10,000 in the United States. Today, we have less than 120 and just over 8,000, respectively. I’ve watched credit unions merge to better compete, shut down due to mismanagement, and convert to bank charter as a result of perceived regulatory constrictions. Yes, overall membership numbers have increased even though the number of credit unions has decreased. Regardless, I’m concerned.

I’m concerned that we are asking the wrong questions.

Several years ago the question we asked was, “What are we going to do when our Boomer CEO’s retire? Who will fill the leadership gap?” Today the question seems to be, “How do we attract the Millennial generation into our movement?” 

I wished we asked: Why would anyone want to work at a credit union right now?

Credit unions seem to have lost their mojo in the public’s eye. We get lumped in with the banks too often. It’s disheartening to read how media and consumers see us as something we are not. If you need evidence, read the article headers and public feedback from the proclaimed “government bailout” of our industry this week.

I’m in law school currently so I hear plenty of lawyer jokes. For the first time in fourteen years I’m starting to hear banker jokes, too. Or comments like, “it’s not like I plan to be a banker when I get out of school…you know what I mean?”

No, I don’t. But I worry what that implies for credit unions.

For every misinformed comment out there, there is an opportunity for a credit union advocate to step up. Create that positive buzz. People want to believe in something. Especially now. Consumer trust in media, politics, and advertising is at an all-time low. 

It’s not about the Boomer or the Millennial. It’s about our value proposition to all employees.  We need to do for employees what we do for members. We quantify how much members save by joining credit unions. But can we explain quantitatively or qualitatively why a job seeker should choose a credit union?

I believe we can. Through working out the kinks in my NTCUE project, I think there are opportunities to change the way we do business. We can take “people helping people” to a whole new level. We start by changing the conversation we have with employees. When each employee can be connected with their purpose and align that purpose with credit union philosophy, passion thrives. Both passion and pessimism are contagious. The trick is fostering an environment in which more people are part of the cure instead of the disease.   

Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

The small group to start with is employees. The right results will follow.  


Regional Finalist – West