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January 23, 2013

People Are Lending Directly to One Another…So What Are We Doing Here?

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by Ron Daly 

Today on CreditUnions.com, I was drawn to an article titled "Beyond the Home Loan: What can credit unions learn from online crowdfunding platforms?" [Here's the Full Article.]

While the article doesn't spell out the overall lessons, there are a handful of examples. Good enough, I suppose, because it got me thinking - what are we missing? 

Credit unions, as best I understand them (and after 30+ years in the business, I can honeslty say I do), were created to give members a way to lend to and borrow from one another. They were created as an alternative to the system. Now, for consumers, it seems like we're just another part of that "system". 

Bank customers and credit union members know that good loans go to good paper. If you're trying to buy a home or a car and you have a good credit score, you won't need to look for too long to get what you need. But if what you're trying to do is create a movie about Linotype machines or start a small business selling weirdly-shaped candles, you'll likely go wanting. And for the people who have rough credit, quick, high-interest loans with fewer strings mean more than "relationships" with a bank or credit union. 

As far as peer-to-peer finance and technology goes, you're crazy if you don't go read "A Game of Leapfrog" by Brent Dixon. 

From the article, originally published on the CU Watercooler

But meanwhile, many credit unions still don't even offer online account opening. We're saddled by regulations. We're a weighty, slow-moving beast. We make excuses.

Consumer finance is not just begging for disruption, it's experiencing it. In a few short years, many traditional institutions will be passed over. Leapfrogged. It's easier to build than reform, and people are building.

So, what can credit unions learn from peer-to-peer finance today?

  1. Time to Re-evaluate the "People Helping People" Message -

    Everyone I talk to in the industry loves that phrase, but how many credit unions are interested in the proof of it? When a person lends to Kickstarter, they get a "thank you" in the form of a gift - maybe a version of the product the borrower is developing or a branded package of swag with the up-and-coming product or company logo. What's the "thank you" gift new members get at your credit union? A letter? A free pen? 

    Better yet, where are the booklets and brochures with member success stories? Show me the story of a member who joined and went from broke to flush thanks to the credit union. Show me the small businesses that have benefited from the CU's guidance. Those stories have got to be there. Otherwise, my fees and interest are going toward nothing, as far as I can tell.

  2.  Partner Big, Lend Small

    According to the CreditUnions.com article above, services such as Kiva and Fundly use proven tech platforms like Paypal and Amazon to process payments and securely move money to and from borrowers and lenders.  Why can't credit unions partner with tech providers for everything they need - better online banking and account opening, smart phone apps, tracking of the loan process, etc.?

    It's not that they can't, it's typically that they won't...or don't want to. Even when vendors provide all the due-dilligence and proven testimonials and case studies, credit unions will still look for ways to doubt results. Who does that help? Not the member, certainly, and not the loan portfolio.

    And look at the amounts certain people are requesting - $300? $500? They'll go to a payday lender before they walk through your front door, how is that a good thing? It's not because the money isn't expensive - the rates on these small, short-term loans are outrageous. But people see fewer barriers to entry. They don't know they're walking into a trap. Shouldn't being more accessible be a goal for every credit union?

  3.  Never Turn Away From Your Social Missions

    People value charity, philanthropy, benevolence - not because they're "trendy", but because they're the right thing to do. We know hundreds of credit unions that partner with great causes but rarely explain the depth and their level of involvement. Why shy away from talking about things like Credit Unions for Kids? Share the good news with more than just a parting shot in your newsletter - make it a cause that you champion, not just "support".

  4.  Play the Game, But Play to Win -

    Sure, LendingClub and Prosper.com are growing enterprises. But are they human enterprises?  Can they really lend and handle deposits the way you can? Are those prepay debit cards celebrities seem to love so much really a better alternative? The answer to all three of those questions is "no". 

    You can provide deposit insurance. You can provide security. You can provide convenience. You can do it all and, if you do it well, you can show everyone that you're not "just another bank" - you were facilitating "peer-to-peer" before it was cool. And you're still here now.

It's not just lending that's being overtaken by "the people" - it's debt forgiveness, too. The Rolling Jubilee raised half a million dollars, bought up thousands and thousands of dollars of debt from banks, and forgave it. These "gifts of forgiveness" went out to average consumers, bogged down by medical or educational debt, and told them their debt was forgiven in its entirety. 

Your average consumer now knows that there are multiple ways to manage one's money - there's the bank, there's the credit union, or there's "none of the above". 

We USED to be the way people loaned money to one another...now, we're a hinderance. We get our "people helping people" status back by being adaptable, affordable, approachable, and dependable. 

Let's get to it.

 

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