We could blame the recession. We could blame regulators. We could blame consumers/bank competition/[insert your legislator/president of choice]/Wall Street/each other.
Whatever we choose to blame, I think we all realize deep down the rut credit unions find themselves in has been largely carved out both by and for credit unions. Lip service to our core cooperative principles, an unwillingness to hire (and pay appropriately) top talent, being way too slow to adapt to changes in the competitive environment, misappropriated budget dollars, gross negligence regarding our corporates (from the elected to the electorate), and a hell-bent determination to follow as opposed to lead in the marketplace have much more to do with the predicament we find ourselves in than any external factor. If we are going to dig out of this rut, we need to make a few things happen:
1) We need to reevaluate our staffs (from top to bottom). Do we have the right talent in place to make the necessary improvements to our operations? Are we willing to pay for it? Are we willing to capitalize on this golden opportunity to gobble up the amazing supply of skill in the job market right now? We have some of the best people in the world working for credit unions. We also have some of the least talented and skilled. If your team isn't cutting the mustard, now is the time to make a change. Don't forget to look in the mirror.
2) Work together. Fighting with each other over 6% of the marketplace is asinine. Cut it the hell out. Collaborate. I don't necessarily care if we grow market share at all. I do care, however, if we refuse to capitalize on ways to lower operating expenses. If you are truly interested in serving your members, then you should be tirelessly searching for ways to cut costs. An easy start to this would be eliminating as many duplicative processes/expenditures as possible between credit unions, trades, and membership organizations.
3) Find new problems to solve. Upper and middle class Americans with good credit have extensive access to affordable transaction, savings, and loan products. Done. Problem solved. Just as the world doesn't need another reality television show, coffee shop, or American Idol, we don't need another run of the mill financial institution. Start by reaching out to the 60 million Americans who are either unbanked or underbanked. Train staff to offer the services members need instead of the ones you want them to have. Put yourself in your members' shoes to uncover day-to-day problems credit unions may be able to help with. Launch.
4) Fix your pricing. We price products like we're banks. We're not banks.
5) Cheer up. We're special organizations trying to do special things. One of the best things we have had going for us over the past 75 years is our optimism. Don't lose that.