Action Items: Free (or near free) Ideas for Credit Unions

Two weeks ago, I got on my little soapbox and wrote about how credit unions and the blogosphere are stuck on inactivity. In the spirit of helping to resolve that issue, I’ve decided to launch a new section of the site called “Action Items”.  As you may have guessed, it will include things that almost any credit union can do as most ideas will be free, or darn close to free.  If the idea is highly technical, I’ll try and include as many details and instructions as possible.  If the idea needs a CPA, then the same promise will apply. I’ll do my best to provide as many details and instructions as I can.

Most everyone as heard of SMART goals before.  In my experience, no product launch, job, home improvement project, or run will succeed with them.  So here is my SMART for Action Items:

Specific: CU Innovators will provide actionable items for credit unions of all sizes to digest and implement within their organization.

Measurable: Each idea must have metric on which to be measured against, ie reduction of budget, increased website traffic, or added efficiency.

Actionable: Credit unions of all shapes, asset sizes, and hair colors should be able to accomplish each idea.

Realistic: All ideas, concepts, or products must be grounded in reality.  For example, not all credit unions could send someone to a BarCampBank, mainly from a budget standpoint and depending on the location of the BarCampBank.

Time-bound: We’ll strive to produce an idea every two weeks, or roughly 25 ideas for 2010.  Credit unions must also be able implement said idea with less than one day of actual work. Committees, debating, and political maneuvering don’t count.

I know every so often I get hit by a blinding flash of the obvious and say something along the lines of, “I wish every credit union was doing this” or “Wow, it can’t be that simple, can it?” If that ever happens to you and you see an idea in action that you think ever credit should do, let us know.  Email us at, we’ll do some due diligence, and then see how we can get more credit unions to do it!

You can find the new section of action items for credit unions under the Blog link on our main navigation.

Beer Summit Part 3

Back in December, Keith Leggett posted an article on his blog, Credit Union Watch, about non-member business lending. To summarize the post:

The reporter was shocked that credit unions were funding business loans to nonmembers, as this seems to contradict the raison d’etre for credit unions as membership organizations.

He then stated a few statistics from the call report picking the top 10 CU’s with non-member business loans, otherwise known as participations. In my response, I stated:

By selecting large CU’s, their participation numbers will obviously be large, but it effectively gets your alarmist point across. I’d bet you a beer that their %’s are inline with the industry.

Keith then did some more follow up work about my comment, posted at Beer Summit Part 2. As is common with statistics, they can be sliced and diced so many ways that nearly every point can be made with the same data, as Mark Twain also believes. That being said, Keith is correct. The top ten credit unions in terms of total business participations do have a higher concentration of participations against assets. However, the numbers simply come down to how you want to look at them.

Simplistically, this is simply a sign of a more advanced business lending credit union. These top ten credit unions use participation loans differently then the rest of the industry according to their investment needs. In an effort to compare credit unions based on the similarity of their philosophy on business lending and investments, I took the list of 700 or so credit unions with business participations and further split it out based on those credit unions who have the majority of the business lending in participations. This cut the list in half, to 366 CU’s, and I believe this is a more accurate representation of credit unions using advanced business lending techniques. Advanced, however, does not necessarily mean that the credit union is taking undue risk. On the contrary, CU’s who participate more than they actually lend to their own membership recognize that they don’t have the internal expertise and controls in place to appropriately lend funds to their own members, even when lending internally may give them a higher rate of return.

These are the top ten credit unions of those who do more participations than their own business lending. Of the 366 credit unions I mentioned earlier, 84% of their business lending portfolio comes from participations. Of these top ten below, only four (Patelco, Western, Langley, and Keypoint) are higher than the industry average.


By simply looking at two factors, one can never come to an appropriate assertation on a given situation. Just because a credit union has a lower average age than the rests of the industry doesn’t mean that they are the best at social media or have the coolest technology.  Nor does having more CUSO’s than the average credit union make you riskier just like having few branches doesn’t make you less popular in your market.

Getting back to the point at hand, I believe credit unions should be able to utilize business lending participations with other credit unions as an alternative form of investment.  The creditor is still a credit union member thus overcoming any objections in my book. Additionally, these participations are included in all Risk Based Net Worth calculations so these activities are not putting an undue or hidden stress on the financial strength of the credit union. I would agree with you however, that lending to a real non-member would be beyond the scope of of the Federal Credit Union Act and ancillary regulatory measures and guidance. I understand the stance the ABA and the banks they represent take on this situation as it is coming straight at a major portion of their income. I’m not sure if you lean towards Keynsism or Marxian economics, but I believe the more competition in a given industry, the better the options for the consumers.

So Keith, I owe you a beer. I’ll be in DC for CUNA’s GAC conference the week of February 21st.  If you’re in DC, I’d love to meet you for dinner or drinks one night that week and I’m sure some other folks would love a lively debate.

Who knew monkeys could be cool

As I mentioned in my last post, all of my email subscribers (thanks Mom) will be treated to a new, and way better, email version of this site.  Previously, we were using Feedburner to deliver email, but we moved to MailChimp last week for this blog as well as any jobs we do for our clients.  I’ve used ConstantContact and PoliteMail in the past, but I love everything that MailChimp can do.

I’ve moved the list from Feedburner over to MailChimp and also added the option to get emails as we post them or to get a weekly digest edition.  If you’d like to get an special edition of this blog emailed to you as it is updated, please subscribe here. And if you’d like to update your preferences on receiving email from us, simply click the link of the bottom of the email. And if you have any problems pop up or any questions, don’t hesitate to let me know!

I also have an extra copy of The 10 Faces of Innovation from Ideo laying around my office and at the end of the week, I’ll pick a random email subscriber to mail it to. So make sure you sign up!

Change of venue

Back in September, Nexcentri, the CUSO I worked for out of Tampa, and I parted ways. Over the last few months, I’ve had the opportunity to take some time off with our new baby, Mason, as well as experiment a bit with the direction that I wanted to take my career. I’m torn between the camaraderie and sense of family when working at a credit union or CUSO and the flexibility and opportunity for success, or failure, that working for yourself can bring. Ultimately, I’ve satisfied the entrepreneurial cravings within and decided to give the credit union industry something it really needs: another consultant.

I know, I know, we need another consultant telling credit unions what they need to do like credit unions need another impairment.  However, I’m focused on two very specific niches that are often overlooked.

The first niche is centered around idea development within credit unions and CUSO’s. I’ve spoken with many credit unions over the years and they basically fall into two categories, one that needs some help with generating innovative ideas and another that has many innovative ideas, but can’t give them the attention they deserve.  Basically, I’m helping grow (or plant) ideas from their infancy and assisting them into adulthood. Currently, I’m helping a CUSO on the east coast take an idea they’ve been brewing up for the better part of a year and develop it into a full fledged product that they will offer their customers. Everything from financial analysis and models to market research to delivery to the customer.

The second overlooked niche is in regards to conferences. We all love BarCampBank’s and believe that they would be greatly beneficial for the credit union industry to experience, but there has been no solid effort put forth to introduce the broad industry to them. I aim to fix that problem with The CUIR. The Credit Union Innovators Roundtable, The CUIR, will bring BarCampBank/unconferences to the credit union industry and introduce it on a larger scale. Directed towards leagues, associations, boards, and trade groups, The CUIR is a conference service that meeting organizers can use to bring a new flavor to their event. Imagine if your the annual meeting of your credit union was actually a BarCamp! Hopefully, by introducing the unconference to the credit union industry, we’ll be able encourage more innovation and collaboration, as well as the real key to success, execution.

One of the things that I’ve been harping on lately is the lack of executable concepts that float around the credit union industry. If we truly want credit unions to be successful, we have to give them actionable items that can impact their membership. Those may be ideas for new checking accounts, some new NSF thing, or a new technology product. Whatever the case may be, CU Innovators is here to help credit unions execute.

CU Innovators is currently looking for two more clients, credit unions or CUSO’s, to assist in making their ideas come to fruition.  If you’ve got a nagging idea or project on your plate, get in touch with us on our contact page, hit me up on Twitter,  or you can always try telepathy, but no promises.

United Van Lines wouldn’t move my website cross-country for me, so we’re in the process of moving everything from the Life and Times of a Credit Union Employee over to CU Innovators.  The RSS feed will automatically update, so don’t worry about having to re-subscribe. However, if you are a little anal like me, the new feed is here.  Also, if you are an email subscriber, you’ll be seeing a few changes as well (for the better), so if anything funky happens, let me know!

I’m not gettin’ any action

… from any of the credit union blog-o-sphere lately.  Matt is one of my great friends in the industry, but his recent post on “Steve” is another example of what seems to be wrong with the majority of credit union and bank blogs.  All of this theoretical talk about how we should serve our members, what our core purpose is, why don’t we have a national marketing campaign, etc, etc.  I care about the Steve’s of the world, and more importantly the national trend for lack of personal responsibility, but more important to me is what can credit unions do to succeed.  I don’t want them to think about hypothetical situations or what-ifs.

For the industry to be successful in the long run and not get regulated out of existence, we need to succeed in our niche and do it very well.  I’m part of the credit union blog-o-sphere and I care for everyone in it, but we need to do a much better job at creating actionable items for credit unions to “take home” with them.  We need to cross NBC’s The More You Know campaign with blog posts and white papers.  I want the readership of my blog to read a post of say, “Wow, that is something we can accomplish at our credit union and I’m going to do it.”  McApline’s 30 things in 30 days series is one of the closest things I’ve seen to this.  It provides credit unions with examples and a road map of what to do and how to do it.  Granted, not every CU is going to implement a private, white-label CRM, or use internet video, but the series does provide some of the nitty gritty details that are need to get my job done.

Nitty gritty is not fun.  It is not sexy.  It is not the latest social media trend or technology.  It is, however, the foundation of a credit union, without which a CU never exist.