$#!? Credit Union People Say, and Why They Shouldn’t

My credit union experience spans 27 years, and during that time I’ve seen and heard a lot of things. For the most part, working with credit union leaders is a pleasure. Occasionally, however, I hear something truly ridiculous. This article is my short list of the most detrimental of these phrases:

“That’s not how we do things around here.”

To me, this phrase is the worst of the worst, and the one I have probably heard the most. It’s almost always associated with a discussion about change. I’ve heard it come from the lips of tellers, CEOs and board members. Here’s what they really mean: “Your idea sounds great, but…we really don’t want to change.” This anti-change attitude blocks creative thinking, progress and growth.

“Quality service makes our credit union different and better.”

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this one. Now I’m the first to stand by quality credit union service, friendliness and advocacy. I believe, overall, that credit union employees do these things better, as evidenced by the annual credit union versus banks satisfaction survey. But credit unions relying on service as a primary differentiator are at risk. Even though banks have a lower ranking nationally, the local “credit union versus bank” competition may not be as clear-cut. I urge credit union leaders to shop at a local bank to find out firsthand how their service stacks up. I love to laugh at bankers as much as the next guy, but they aren’t stupid. Banks hire for excellent service. I know, because I have lured many excellent people away to my credit union. Unfortunately, for most credit unions, quality service as the only differentiator is not rewarded with robust growth or profitability.

“Employees are our greatest asset.”

This one is sure to set a fire under some of you. I know, I know: there are scores of credit union leaders that believe employees are their greatest asset, AND treat them as such on a daily basis. I love these credit unions and I’ve had a chance to work with many. However, I’ve also had the unfortunate experience of interacting with managers who communicate that employees are their greatest asset, but their actions are not congruent with their words. Tell-tale signs that this phrase is just lip service include:

  • Employees don’t have the tools they need to do the job. This could mean non-functioning equipment in a remote branch office, or a lack of necessary training. Our greatest assets deserve all the tools they need to exceed expectations.
  • Star performers have limited growth opportunity. Managers lack the discipline to replace or relocate underperforming players.
  • Managers rarely take action on employee ideas or suggestions. This is an innovation-killer. It’s easy to ask for team input, but it takes careful consideration and implementation of the resulting ideas to demonstrate that employees are a credit union’s greatest asset.

“Small credit unions won’t be able to survive.”

I hear this frequently and it really ticks me off. I don’t like the generalization. It’s true, and sad, that we are going to see many smaller credit unions disappear during the next couple of years. It’s also true that we are going to see mid-sized and larger credit unions disappear. Singling out small credit unions minimizes the incredible results many have achieved. I work with smaller credit unions across the country, and I can proudly report that many are experiencing phenomenal growth and profitability. Most importantly, it’s usually these credit unions that are making the greatest social impact in the community. Just like successful small businesses, these credit unions have successfully differentiated their value proposition and, as a result, increased their relevancy.

“Compliance and regulations will be our downfall.”

I have to admit that I occasionally utter these words, but it’s usually in response to examiners or legislators regarding regulatory oversight. I absolutely agree that the regulatory burden is significantly impacting credit unions’ ability to grow and prosper, but I believe that the greatest challenges facing credit unions today are differentiation, competition and growth – not compliance.

“I’ve just got to survive a few more years until I retire.”

I’ve heard friends say this in jest and know they are kidding, but I’ve also heard it said in all seriousness. It’s hard to imagine the potential negative impacts associated with this line of thinking. The next few years are going to separate our winners and losers. How disappointing for those members and employees who are counting on a focused, engaged and inspired leader. If you use this phrase in jest, I hope you will consider the potential message it might send to others. If you honestly feel this way, my advice to you is simple: snap out of it and recommit yourself. Focus on leaving your credit union in a better position. If you can’t snap out of it, get out. Work with your board to find someone with the drive to take on the challenges of the day.

It’s easy to talk, complain and make excuses. We all have mouths, and most of us are very accomplished at using them. However, most of us fail to realize the impact our words have on others – and our own outlook.

This is my small list. What’s yours?

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