Lemmings

Credit unions are lemmings.  Nobody ever wants to be the first one to do something.  Then, slowly, as some credit unions adopt the new technology/process/whatever more CU’s start to follow.  Pretty soon it is a mad rush because nobody wants to be the last.

From Wikipedia:

…groups will reach a cliff overlooking the ocean. They will stop until the urge to press on causes them to jump off the cliff and start swimming, sometimes to exhaustion and death. Lemmings are also often pushed into the sea as more and more lemmings arrive at the shore.

We always talk about being innovative but save for a few exceptions, CU’s don’t like change and don’t want to innovate.

11 thoughts on “Lemmings”

  1. I totally agree (though I think you could apply that to most industries). The hard part is that it takes more than 1 or 2 risk takers and visionaries to break out of that R&D (Rip off and Duplicate) cycle. The Board, managers, etc… Sometimes the hard part isn’t coming up with the great new idea, it is trying to get everyone else convinced of it. Any thoughts on overcoming that obstacle?

  2. You are right on the money. For as much time as CU’s spend talking innovation, strategicly planning innovation, they very rarely do something innovative. If it is planned it is hard to be innovative. The vast majority of CU’s simply are set on being conservative, even if they talk a different game, they want proof that something works, before they are willing to do it themselves.

    It could keep them safe in a time of economic stability OR it could lead to their down-fall. I guess we will have to find out.

  3. There aren’t a lot of innovators in the CU industry, which is a problem. But I recoil whenever anyone implies all CUs need to be innovators (not sure if that’s what you’re suggesting).

    A credit union should innovate if innovation is part of that CU’s brand strategy. But if you’ve got something like a “Value” driven brand, you can’t afford R&D.

    Regarding change… Once an innovation is out there, I think CUs are much faster than banks to adopt it. Comparatively speaking.

  4. I totally agree with you Robbie. Sadly, I have way too many previous personal experiences to back up your theory.

    Currency Marketing has been serving credit unions for 18 years. We have completed thousands of projects for credit unions of all sizes. In all of this time, we have worked on only two projects with no restrictions or demands to see previous examples of the approach we were presenting.

    1) Redfrog for British Columbia’s Envision Financial and
    2) Young & Free for Alberta’s Common Wealth Credit Union

    The ironic part is both of these projects have been more successful and have added more new members than any of the other “best practices” that we have been hired to employ. And the really sad part for us, is we have pitched dozens of concepts as good or better than these two examples.

    I won’t give up though! I’m a sucker for punishment I guess.

  5. Robbie,

    Way to stir it up!! Credit unions weren’t ALWAYS lemmings though. In the beginning, they were owned and operated by their member/owners which meant they were uniquely qualified and invested in creating innovative products/solutions for the co-op.

    Then as they grew both up and in most cases away from their sponsor group, they became “financial institutions.” They hired management people from outside that group, and the trend began. Rather than focusing on a “target” they focused on the industry.

    And so..the cliff is nearing……but the sky is so blue…..

  6. Quite true Denise, we weren’t always this way. (Actually I can’t really say “we” because I wasn’t there when CU’s weren’t lemmings.)

    In talking to the guy who founded our CU it’s clear that he was quite the innovator. When every avenue he took to establish payroll deduction for his new little credit union ran into dead ends, he invented a way of drafting members’ bank checking accounts. It worked great for years until payroll deduction was finally available through the SEG.

    I’m sure there are countless stories like this of how CU’s innovated in the past. As CU employees we really need to dig them up and talk about them. I mean think about what makes a great and lasting culture. A BIG part of it is things getting passed down from generation to generation.

    But as much as I agree with this comparison to lemmings, let’s do get some measure of swimming instruction before we jump off the cliff! That’s another post about how many credit unions operate!

  7. Not just CUs, not just other industries, but *people* as a rule don’t want to innovate. It takes energy. Time. Even work.

    I do like the idea of not being lemmings, that perhaps each CU and person needs to be doing their own innovating–falling off their own cliff!

  8. Trey brings up a great point.

    Sheep or lemmings on 12seconds.tv

    I’ve always loved the phrase “sheeple”. That is another great analogy for how CU’s act most of the time. Oh, the NCUA doesn’t like it so we can’t do it. Oh well. Oh, ABC CU just announced they can fix portions of HELOC’s. We have to do that too before they steal our HELOC portfolio.

    PS Trey, nice wallpaper.

  9. Robbie, gotta love it when you get worked up.

    There is a book out there ready to be written about why CUs are lemmings. Fear, ignorance, laziness, the list is endless.

    The crap we go through, not in our own house, but with outside CUs and suppliers, when we want to move forward with something is unbelievable. They will listen to a research company, or some plush consultant, or assume something but will they ever walk up to the counter and ask a member what they want to see? No way, because you never ask an owner what they want do you. You might get a simple answer.

    And of course we can’t be innovative because our core processor cannot do that and we don’t have a bucket of money to pay for it to be developed. Excuse #4563.

    It reminds me of a professor in Denmark. At a class session I asked the question as to why it couldn’t be done another way. He didn’t answer but later in the class came up to me and said “This is the way we have been doing it for hundreds of years now, we aren’t going to change.” So no our CU can’t do that because this is the way we have been doing it all along. Excuse #7601

    Before I go totally negative I will offer this. There are a lot of creative people out there that I have encountered in the last year (the BarCampBank bunch and the Twitterers). Meeting those people was like a breath of fresh air. Getting together with them occasionally is my lifeline to some sanity. Look at Trey and his office. It breeds creativity. We just need to remember we live with a bunch of non-innovating CUs. That won’t change. We change ourselves and when we do that watch out. The system comes into its own and we become what our members need and what they want. Someone once told me our biggest enemy is ourselves.

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