Five Questions Your Credit Union Should Ask About 2009

The year 2009 is almost at a close. What a year it’s been!

As credit union executives, we should spend some time reflecting on 2009. Here are five questions to your credit union should ask about 2009.

(1)    Are your doors still open?

Unfortunately, many credit unions took such great losses that they are no longer with us. While your credit union probably experienced significant financial challenges in 2009, you should keep this year in perspective. With the current economy, we are playing a game of Survivor. So if your credit union is still serving its members, then you’ve had a successful year.

(2)    Did you move the technology ball forward?

Significant advancements continue in the technology area. Because 2009 was tough financially some of your technology initiatives were perhaps put on hold. You can’t do that much longer. Hopefully you were able to offer your members some new technology treats, such as mobile banking, text alerts, live chat support, etc.

(3)    Did you leverage your members’ trust?

The banking crises left many consumers bitter and angry towards their banks (which they weren’t that pleased to begin with). This presented a great opportunity for credit unions to tell our story of safety and soundness. Did you spend time this year letting your members know that your credit union was not part of the financial problem, but that you are a part of the financial solution? This was a great year to steal (so to speak) some of your members’ money they had elsewhere.

(4)    How are you communicating with your members?

Social media is certainly one of 2009’s biggest stories. Twitter and Facebook adoption continues its upward trend. And now credit unions are jumping on the social media bandwagon. Keep in mind social media is really just a tool to enhance your communication efforts with your members. Hopefully in 2009 you developed some of these new avenues to better reach your members.

(5)    Did you react or overreact?

Let’s be real: 2009 was challenging on many fronts. No one could have predicted U.S. Central’s collapse and the ensuing domino effect that took place. But how did your executive team react to the financial crises? This is perhaps the most difficult question to ask. If you reacted, you probably took quick action to make loans during Cash for Clunkers and also took advantage of the banks’ negative press. However, if you overreacted you might have gone into a shell and pulled everything back (stopped marketing, cut training, etc.). Hopefully you put yourself in a better strategic position with how you handled 2009.

What other questions do you think credit union executives should ask ourselves about 2009? How would you answer the above questions?

Who’s Got Your Back Helps You Build Deeper Relationships

Who’s Got Your Back Helps You Build Deeper Relationships

One of the best business books I’ve ever read was Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi. So when I saw Ferrazzi had a new book (Who’s Got Your Back), I immediately picked it up and began reading.Whos got your back

Ferrazzi’s book is both inspirational and challenging. While he touches on mentoring, he really takes relationship building to the next level. In other words, this is not just a book about mentoring.

The book’s central premise focuses on something Ferrazzi calls the four mind-sets: generosity, vulnerability, candor and accountability. He delves deeply into each of those issues and how focusing on them in your professional relationships will build better teams, improve your relationships with fellow workers and make your organization better.

Here’s how he defines those key mind-sets:

(1)   Generosity—the commitment to mutual support that begins with the willingness to show up and creatively share your insights with the world.

(2)   Vulnerability—letting your guard down so mutual understanding can occur.

(3)   Candor—freedom to be totally honest with those you confide in.

(4)   Accountability—action of following through on the promises you make to others.

I especially enjoyed the sections on vulnerability and candor. I learned the importance of doing both those things with my co-workers. In fact, I plan to focus on both those issues next year with my team. I know that if I’m vulnerable and candid with them they hopefully will return that and in turn we’ll build a stronger team. It may be tough at first but in the end, Ferrazzi says we will reap the rewards.

One of the best things about Who’s Got Your Back is the practical advice he gives. In fact, there is even a sub-section titled, “Eight Steps to Instant Intimacy.”

Some people may be turned off by all this talk of intimacy, vulnerability and candor in the workplace. However, I think if you truly commit to applying these principles you’ll build a better team and working environment. And in reality you’ll build a better organization and a better you.

Ferrazzi believes in the philosophy that business is about people. In fact he says, “actively reaching out to and helping others gives us the opportunity and permission to take a relationship to a deeper level.”

If you are looking for a book to start the New Year, I would highly recommend Who’s Got Your Back.

Putting Love in Your Brand

What products do you love? Not like. Not respect. Love. Do you love Starbucks? Do you love Walt Disney World? Do you love your credit union? More importantly, do your members love your credit union?

The most successful companies today put love into their brands. Love is certainly touch-feely compared to traditional marketing topics like ROI, sales, and MCIF. However, it is just as important.

A recent Gallup survey showed that a customer who is “emotionally connected” to your place of business is likely to spend 46% more money than a customer who is merely “satisfied.” So use that statistic for your number-crunching CFOs who think branding is overrated.

So how do you get this love thing going? Here are three simple steps to put love into your brand:

(1) Find your most passionate members and listen to them.

They will tell you all you need to know about your credit union. Some credit unions today use their own members in their marketing messages. This is a much more powerful way to communicate your brand.

(2) Put your brand through the love-respect axis.

Go to This is a great site that explains brand love. There is a respect axis that focuses performance, trust and reputation. And then there is a love axis that focuses on mystery, sensuality and intimacy.

(3) Start telling stories.

Don’t just talk about your product benefits. Show how your brand is part of an experience, an adventure or a dream. Instead of selling the features of a home equity product tell a story about how a member financed their kids’ education with a home equity loan from the credit union.

Putting love into your brand takes your credit union to the next level.

Revealing Interview Questions to Ask

Pepsi Max has a great commercial about a funny job interview. My favorite part is when the applicant screams after the first question. Hopefully you’ve never had someone yell in one of your interviews. However, you’ve probably seen a number of them sweat.  To get the most useful information you don’t want to avoid asking all those generic (and boring) questions (what are your strengths, what your weaknesses, tell me about yourself, etc.)

Instead, here are six questions that can better reveal a candidate’s true character.

(1) What is the last book you’ve read?

I absolutely love this question and ask it every time. What people read tells a great deal about them. You can also find out if they have a passion for business and their profession. For example, if one candidate answers with the latest vampire novel and another candidate says a trendy business book you have a good idea about which one to choose.

(2) Tell us three things about our organization.

This shows how much research they’ve done. You want to hire someone who does their homework before the interview. If they haven’t spent time learning about your organization then that tells you they won’t be as dedicated to you as you’d want.

(3) What is one of your greatest professional failures?

Several years ago I got a job because of how I answered this question. When I asked the seasoned H.R. veteran who interviewed me why that answer was so important, she said, “Because you gave a specific answer. You’d be surprised at how generic people answer that question so they can paint as positive a picture of themselves as possible.” Her comments stuck with me now that I manage (and hire) people. Let’s be honest: we’ve all failed. So with this question I’m looking for honesty and specifics.

(4) No one is perfect. What should your references be telling us about your areas of development/improvement?

This is close to a generic question but I like it anyway. It gets to the “weakness” factor in a different way. Plus, it gives you a specific question to ask a reference (they said in the interview, that an area of weakness/development they have is __________. Did you see that?). It also lets the candidate know you are going to follow-up with their references.

(5)    What are two things you’ve learned in life?

In a recent interview the applicant was giving surface level answers but I felt there was something more to him that I just wasn’t getting. So I asked him, “What are two things you’ve learned in life?” He then recounted a story about a recent difficult situation he had to overcome in his life. His answer wasn’t glib—it was insightful and helped me see his true character.

Those are a sample of interview questions to ask the next time you are hiring someone.

How about you? What is one of your favorite interview questions (one you’ve either asked or been asked)?

Top Five Myths You Hear Credit Unions Say

“Myths which are believed in tend to become true.”
—George Orwell

I’m fortunate to consult with a number of credit unions all across the country on their strategic planning sessions and branding efforts. No matter the credit union’s size, location or field of membership, similar issues tend to bubble to the top. And in some cases, the statements heard are just myths—and a pushback. In other words, let’s dig deep and do some real examination.

Here are the top five statements I’ve heard recently—and to be honest, challenge.

(1) We compete on service

Do you really compete on service or are you just saying that? Who says they don’t compete on service? I have yet to see a billboard that says, “Our service stinks, come join us.” While in the past we might have run circles around the banks when it comes to service, the reality is that service standards in the financial sector are increasing dramatically. Banks know they have to excel at service now and are committing large dollars in this area. The standard to truly compete on service is much higher than you think it is.

(2) We can’t afford to do __________________

Insert your own project, new product, technology, marketing idea or anything else that gets pinched in a tight budget. Let’s be honest: the truth is you probably can afford to do the initiative, you are just choosing not to do it. So don’t blame money: blame your priorities. If you really want to accomplish your goal then you might have to tweak other areas.

(3) We need to reach the Boomer market

No, you don’t. In most credit unions, you actually have to get younger. And that means forgetting the Boomer market and going after Generations X & Y. These two generations are the ones that are borrowing now and probably have the potential to be the most profitable. You can’t be all things to all people. You must select and choose your target markets carefully. That may mean less of a focus on the Boomers.

(4) We have to reduce the training and marketing expenses because of the budget

Every year is a tough year on the budget. But if you continually cut the training and marketing budgets in the short term, you only harm your organization in the long run. Stephen Covey said it best, “If you have to cut things out you just cut people; you cut training and development; kill the goose that lay the golden egg; for a short term period of time you improve your profits. But then you’ve liquidated the human resources…in the long run you have to live with the consequences of a dead goose.” The truth is you don’t have to cut training and marketing; now is the time to invest in these key areas.

(5) We have a sales culture in place

Do you really have a true sales culture in place or do you just give it lip service? When was the last time you fired someone because they weren’t meeting their sales goals? A true sales culture uses the word accountability a great deal. Sometimes in the credit union world we are just too nice. A true sales culture will involve mystery shops, sales training, manager coaching, goal accountability, coaching the coaches, and many other elements. If a true sales culture is in place, your product penetration per household number should increase every single year.

The bottom line when it comes to issues like how you compete, what projects you are prioritizing, which markets you are reaching, what budgets you are cutting and how your employees are behaving is that we must be honest in our evaluations.

So dig deep and don’t just believe a myth.