REI and the credit union spirit

While at the CUES Experience a few weeks ago, a number of great ideas were discussed both at the conference and at other social events.  One such idea revolved around the common bond/affinity aspect nearly all credits unions were founded on and how that seems to be waning in popularity.  Aside from some small, specific examples like Mt. Lehman and San Francisco Fire, most CU’s seem to be chasing the growth for growth’s sake model and going after everyone with a community charter.

During a conversation over dinner, a sporting goods store called REI came up.  For those who have been to an REI, you know that it is probably one of the best customer-oriented store you’ve ever been to.  What makes REI so special?  They are manically driven by their products and their customers.  Their staff uses their product.  They know what works and what doesn’t.  Their staff is very well educated for the department they work in.  When you go to a Sports Authority, Foot Locker, Dick’s, or Joe’s, how many staff members at those stores can show you how to lace shoes differently to compensate for different shapes of feet or know how to measure your torso starting at your C7 vertebrae?

REI staff loves the outdoors, as do their customers.  And it comes through dramatically when they are “selling” product.  Walk into an REI, however, and you’ll never feel sold to because they are just trying to get more people to enjoy the outdoors.

So what makes REI so special and what can credit unions learn from them?

  1. REI knows who they are. Most credit unions do not.  They are outdoor enthusiasts and love to help others get involved.  They don’t try to be everything to everybody.  They specialize in outdoor adventure and that’s it.  CU’s need to figure out who they are if they haven’t already how they can meet the needs of their members.
  2. They have passion. They are passionate about helping people and the outdoors, not selling product. Their employees love what they do, they love what their products have to offer, and the love helping people.  Getting passion for FI products it tough, but having passion for helping people fulfill their financial dreams is a different story.
  3. REI has the co-operative spirit. Check out the email I got from REI when my wife and I first joined.  What’s the first thing you notice?  I see welcome to your co-op, not the REI logo.  The big part of REI membership: their 10% annual dividend.  That makes being an REI member actually mean something.  Not too many CU’s actually pay annual dividends anymore.  Not only are there financial benefits, REI does a ton of charity work and stewardship activities that align with their customers.

Credit unions started as a cooperative venture, but so many CU’s are just converting to community charters and growing because they feel like they have to.  Ron had a great post about our visit to Summit Brewing and some of the things CU’s could learn from them.  Namely why they need a beer.  Summit Brewing and REI make two great examples of companies that CU’s could learn a lot from.  Along the way, CU’s have lost the cooperative spirit and we need to get it back if we want to survive, let alone thrive.

REI Newletter

Customer friendly marketing from Mint

Here is the latest marketing piece from Mint.  It arrived in my inbox last night as a friendly reminder to avoid any fees.  Oh yeah, notice that they do slip a subtle little marketing message in at the bottom of the email.  About a beta product!  If only credit unions were this smart.  Or could design gorgeous marketing material like this.

Trying to get caught up after the CUES Experience

Like Brent mentioned at OSCU a few days I ago, I’ve been putting off writing another entry in my blog until I can make it perfect and in the mean time it’s been like 3 weeks since I posted.  Way to long.

The CUES Experience rocked.  It was the youngest credit union conference I have been to yet.  It was very refreshing to see so many new credit union people and young professionals excited about credit unions.

Kuhlmann from ING gave it to the credit unions.  He rocked.  If a bank can be so focused on their story that they fire customers, why can’t CU’s.  It makes me sad that so many CU’s are going after growth for the sake of growth with community charters and are trying to be everything to everyone.  Stick with your story, but find new ways to make it work!  Your story rocks!  Use it.

NACUSO and Finovate

Hindsight being 20-20, I wish I could have been in two places at once.  We had a MaPS entourage at NACUSO (4 employees and a board member) and we had a great time.  The conference was in the Wynn and very well put together.  Personally, I get more out of the networking opportunities during the days and nights than I do out of the sessions.  NACUSO’s big thing now is the Center for Collaboration and Innovation.  Maybe I’m just being cynical, but it seems many of the large CU’s say they want collaboration but don’t really support that.  They also say they want innovation, but I’ll bet less than 1% of the attendees of NACUSO knew Finovate was going on.

The products and discussions going on at Finovate is where the true innovation currently is in financial services and I feel like so many credit union folks are completely missing the boat.  The NACUSO conference was awesome and I’ll go back next year as long as it isn’t the same time as Finovate.  We’ve got to find a way to get the people and companies at Finovate to interact with CU people.  That may be at NACUSO or somewhere else, but I think the real opportunities for innovation are happening outside of the CU industry at the moment.  NACUSO, Filene, and many others are trying to change that, but right now it seems many of the future-building conversations are happening at BarCamps, Finovate, or elsewhere.