Comics and Credit Unions

Posted on June 9, 2011


My father was a high school English teacher who hated the fact that I wasn’t reading books for the fun of it. Never mind that I was barely beyond Dr. Seuss, he became determined to change me for the “better.” The heart of his strategy was very simple: bribery.

What started as getting out of chores quickly shifted to something more fungible: straight cash money. $5 per book read – Dollar, Dollar bills, ya’ll! (obligatory Wu Tang Clan video below)

The cash worked, at least by the letter of the agreement. I only read those books tied to the cash incentive and I learned that studying the pictures was enough to thwart his post tests. It didn’t take long for my father to realize that there was no cooperation here, just mercenary behavior at its worst. Neither party was benefitting from this relationship.

Desperate, my father reached down to my level and sacrificed a bit of his own ethos. He decided he hated me not reading more than he hated me reading comic books. That day forward I was pumped and excited and devoured comics from day one. Before the end of the year, not only was I reading novels but my father was reading comics. We had both gotten what we wanted and more by acting cooperatively – not by being dragged kicking and screaming or by simple request. It had to be something we both valued.

As an aside: I may not read comic books any more, but I am also not ready to give up my geek card. I still know the differences between Marvel and DC comics, namely that DC is far superior.  Cut to Marvel fanatics rushing to trash this, explaining that Wolverine would win in a fight versus Batman. And yes, it took .25 seconds to get over 1 million links on Google searching for Wolverine vs Batman, even a Yahoo answer link.  And for those unable to grasp what this fight might look like here is one of apparently dozens of Wolverine vs Batman YouTube clips…

Bringing it Back Home
I suggest there is a lesson here for credit unions: you can’t get members to do what you want by just asking them or using incentives they don’t value. There needs to be something their membership gives them that Bank of America can’t.  A good illustration is mortgages. If your credit union only underwrites mortgages to sell in the secondary marketplace, what extra value are you really giving to your members? The same pricing and guidelines used for everyone by every financial institutions isn’t a membership benefit and so is not sustainable as a long-term policy.

Credit union employees also usually state the tried and true membership value of “better rates on loans and deposits.” With TARP money and the fact that banks can charge such high interest on low credit borrowers, banks can offer rates for good and great borrowers so low credit unions can’t match. Therefore, credit unions have to get creative.

The key to being creative and creating value is the same as it was for my father: reciprocity. By sacrificing a little in profits, we can gain members. The credit union movement was built on this, our creed being: “Not for profit, not for charity but for service.” This means we have to offer products that stand on their own fiscally and in the marketplace, but also build our members up rather than take advantage of them when they are down.

The Filene Institute has done a wonderful job with their research and their i3 group creating products and services that match this philosophy. We are implanting one by the end of the month that gives a premium deposit rate if the member does their part in getting their auto loan with us. It’s cooperative banking at it’s best: both parties contributing to the success of the other with interest income for the credit union and the member gets a high yield deposit product as well as a defined path to becoming a saver for life.

That is what I love about my job and what I hope to talk more about in this blog: new and interesting ways to offer competitive products that prove cooperative banking works. Next up on our plate is a young professional credit card, called the Copper Credit Card. We hope to make this a credit union brand as it provides a great hook for credit unions to use to grab younger members and it helps guide young borrowers through their first use of credit. 

Question and Challenge:

What have your credit unions done to offer products that benefit members as much they benefit your credit union? And, if you can’t find one, what are YOU going to do to fix it?

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