16 July 2010


There is a reason you keep working for credit unions.

That reason has changed with time, no doubt. But there's a reason.

The people who I love working with, and for, in the movement have reasons that sound a lot like these:

"I believe in what we stand for." Or "I like helping people." Or "I want to make a difference." Or "this is fun!"

This group could help consumers from any desk, laptop, or setting in any industry. This group measures success in terms of impact, not in accountant speak. This group doesn't need credit unions. Credit unions need them.

There are other reasons people work for credit unions. Their reasons sound different. Their reasons are sprinkled with descriptors like "trapped," "stuck," "scared," "it's all I know," "the job market" and "I'm the [fill in leadership position of your choice], for crying out loud."

This group has seen new ideas fail, knows how hard change is, and fights like the dickens to avoid it. This group is toxic and all around us.

My reason for working for credit unions has changed dramatically over the years. "I don't know what all of this credit union stuff is, but this job description sounds like fun" quickly turned into "I believe in what we do." Later, my new "I want to make a difference" reason morphed into "I can make a difference."

I think I have a new reason.

Over the past several years, many amazing opportunities have presented themselves to me. In some cases, I created those opportunities with hard work, sacrifices in my personal life, and a naive insistence that I matter. In many other cases, serendipity gets the credit. Still, the major source of opportunity in my career has been the belief others have placed in me.

My latest opportunity was being able to attend the 1 Conference with the Crash the 1 group. The reasons these young adults "crashed" varied, I'd imagine. They came from all over the globe from credit unions large and small. They came from many different disciplines, education levels, and experience. Most important of all, however, was another attribute they brought: naiveté.

I think this struck me the hardest when I heard Tim McAlpine and Gene Blishen close the Crash event. Gene, after all of these years, is still naive enough to think small credit unions can do huge things. Tim is still naive enough to think he can create a youth movement that will add 1,000,000 members to credit unions in his career. They're not just naive...they're right.

The optimism of some of my favorite people in credit unions has been poisoned by cynicism. The lumps of the last several years have jaded even the most impervious credit union spirits. The same folks that used to ask "why can't we?" are telling each other why "that can't be done." The regulatory and economic environment has created a leadership crisis.

The reason I keep working for credit unions is because I don't want to grow up. The people that believe in me haven't provided me opportunity because of experience, or title, or politics. They've given me opportunity because they think I'm crazy and naive enough to do something with it.

"Crashing" has nothing to do with entitlement, or instant gratification, or unfair opportunity. Rather, Crash is a reminder to the old guard that what we need more than anything right now is inexperience, energy, optimism, and a self-assured belief that maybe, just maybe, we can change for the better.

What is the reason you keep working for credit unions?


Jeff Stephens said...

Matt, this is a nice post--you are a very compelling writer! I just wanted to comment that I think your advice about finding and remembering your reason is spot-on, no matter what you do, whether you're a teacher, an entrepreneur or a credit union person. I've definitely been reminded of that a lot recently, and refocusing on that reason is so critical. Credit unions are great for "reason" because there is something worth believing in, built right into the concept itself.

Shawn Temple said...

The word is "opportunity". That's why I work for credit unions. You've mentioned that word a couple of times in this blog post, and it is an extremely powerful word.

Unlike many industries, opportunity abounds in credit unions. We could all list all the opportunities: for new consumers, growth, literacy, advocacy, etc--but it's like telling Noah about the flood. We know it. We need to deliver it.

You're spot on regarding those people who have become jaded. They have a deathgrip on much of the industry. And it would be easy to become that way. After all, the wrong thing to do is usually the easy thing to do.

I think you're right that naivete may be the best solution. We need more people who are willing to lead this movement into its next phase. Let's consciously ensure that it's revolutionary rather than evolutionary.

Change is coming...and not a minute too soon.

Matt, the Credit Union Warrior said...

@Jeff Thanks for your comment! The people who matter will find a way to do the wonderful work of credit unions with or without them. The challenge is convincing them to stay.

@Shawn Thanks for the kind words! Make no mistake, naivite by itself is inadequate, and not the solution to all of our problems. It is in my view simply the solution to our biggest problem.

Denise Wymore said...

@Matt - I haven't been able to blog post at all this week because I'm still digesting everything I heard, felt, drank, ate, and experienced at The 1 Conference in Vegas.

Thank you for this post. It will allow me to say what I was afraid to say on my blog.

When Gene said "I don't have much time left...." I almost lost it. I feel that way sometimes - and rather than giving up on the movement, like so many have - I feel a sense of panic, like we have to cut-through-the-crap-and-make-some-changes-NOW-damnit!

As Jim Collins (author of How the Might Fall) said in the opening keynote. "Credit unions have a seriously negative trend: an aging membership - and this is NOT a sustainable business model."

Every US credit union in that room knows it - but what are they DOING about it? How many of them paid for an employee under 30 to attend? How many sent someone from that same age group to GAC? How many have a board member under the age of 30?

I echo Gene's advice:

Never give up.

Monica Ginder said...

Great post Matt!

Some may call me naive since I've only been involved in credit unions for a little over 2 years, but in these past two years I've grown so attached to the credit union philosophy. I just have this need to continue to fight for what credit unions stand for. My friends are really sick of me always talking about CU's (and yes, they've told me). But I can see there are so many good things happening, and I really want to help them overcome the bad.

I've found it difficult at times to keep positive thinking around (what with all the regulations and governmental laws), but in my opinion, staying positive, and continuing to grow and learn and adapt is what helps an industry thrive. Sometimes we just need to step back and look at the big picture. Or perhaps just take a giant leap while crossing our fingers.

Emily,Astro Intern said...

This is a great post, Matt. I just started interning at a credit union a few weeks ago and I'm already very attached to it and the credit union way of thinking.

Ron Shevlin said...

Great stuff. Reminds me of something I'm fond of saying when I'm asked why I blog about credit unions so much:

"It's not that I like credit unions, it's that I like credit union people."

Theresa said...

b/c of the people; Amen to Denise and Ron.

Mark said...

When I was hired, I myself had no idea about "this credit union stuff" & how I was going to apply my marketing degree to it. After learning the background of the CU movement & its philosophy, I quickly became motivated and passionate about coming to work everyday. I realized working in the marketing department, I have many opportunities & tools to easily influence the financial (& overall) well-being of tens of thousands of individuals & their families. Whether it's saving a member money in interest with one of our debt consolidation loans because of a ridiculous pay day lender charging 300%, or providing free financial literacy seminars after hours; seeing a smile on their face is my idea of an "incentive bonus". I've found my career niche.