Special Guest Author: Jimmy Marks, Creative Media Director
Jimmy was in attendance at one of the most talked-about, blogged-about conferences of the year, the CU Water Cooler Symposium in Fishers, IN. We asked Jimmy to recap some of the bigger takeaways from the conference and to share them with you, our readers. Here's what he discovered.
You can always read more about Jimmy on our company blog or the sister blog, Click.Connect.Communicate.
The CU Water Cooler Symposium first came to my attention early this year. Organizer/Editor/All-Around CU booster Matt Davis called me up to talk about it. Months later, it was a reality, and tickets were really for sale. I got my ticket, I booked my plane, I packed a bag and I headed for beautiful Fishers, Indiana and Forum Credit Union.
When I got there, I expected people to behave a certain way. Anecdotally, it seemed the crowd had an average age younger than that of most CUs, but that's not difficult seeing as most credit unions have an average age of around 48 (fact check me, Internet). As a young person working in and around and for this industry, I assumed our topics wouldn't drift too far away from marketing and creative discussions and the discussion of social media.
I was only correct for about two hours.
After that, the conversation turned to sales, credit cards, business analysis and planning, banking (yes, the word "bank" did get uttered and no one had a freakout about it), advocacy and the future of the credit union.
A few things about the conference itself I really liked:
True Dedication - Everyone that was at the CU Water Cooler Symposium ( or CUWCS, as it was abbreviated for Twitter) wanted to be there. It wasn't some shlubby marketing conference or biz. dev. conference that someone got forced into attending...everyone wanted to go. Some so desperately that they paid their own way and bought their own hotel room. That's dedication. And while some folks had to sneak away to catch an early plane home (it happens), I'd wager a good 70 - 80% of attendees stuck it out to the very end. Again, that's anecdotal, but it seemed that many stuck around.
Make-Your-Own Name Tag - Because you might be the person that hates name tags and doesn't want people knowing who you are. On the other hand, you might be the person who wants everyone to be your friend (guilty). It saved the conference from having to print name tags and let people get creative.
Talkback Sessions (and, at times, talk DURING sessions) - Crowd participation was a big deal. Many people wanted to air their feelings at the conference and they did. Some waited patiently to say their peace, some jumped up and shouted. All were welcomed to talk and encouraged to share.
Open Laptops, Open Minds - Everyone was blogging and writing and tweeting and emailing throughout the conference. You couldn't stop us (or me, for that matter) from chiming in and writing in and commenting online. As the editors pointed out, we blew up Twitter.
Canadians! - Yes, we got cross-cultural at the CUWCS. Lots of our neighbors to the North came down to share their experiences and concerns. Vancity's Bill Corbett gave an AMAZING talk about culture creation and nurturing, one that left me hoping for that same fire to spread down here in the states. By the way, I'm an honorary member at Mt. Lehman CU in the mystical, far away land of British Columbia. Thanks, Gene Blishen (who's everyone's favorite guy in CUs - a great guy with a true passion for what a credit union does and is. He's like Dumbledore, but if Dumbledore cared about interchange fees and board member involvement).
Yes, the atmosphere made a big difference. The conference itself, a series of talks about credit union issues, was the real draw. Mostly because the people speaking were all describing different parts of this great, gray elephant and how they relate to the larger whole.
I'll try to sum up every great thing I learned, but I'm sure you'll want to object/interject/add-to/throw on more. So, there's a comment section that serves that very purpose. Put your belly on the bar.
What I learned around the Water Cooler:
- There are two kinds of social media users in the CU-sphere - the players and the parrots. The players are people who are actually doing things and use social media to broadcast and discuss those things. The parrots are the people who squawk about social media like that's actually doing something. The cold, hard truth? It isn't. Better banking practices and better business acumen will matter in the long run, not followers or friend counts or retweets. Relevancy is important, but nothing is more relevant to members and potential members than a CU that knows its business and can provide solid, secure technology to keep up with an increasingly mobile and time-pressed population. Watch any and all videos of the talks by Robbie Wright, Ed Brett or Robert Falcone, watch them - you'll be amazed.
- Apathy is over! (If you want it) - Jason Lindstrom of Belvoir FCU gave a terrific talk about advocacy and the role of the member in saving the CU from extinction. He drew parallels between the members of an organization like AARP and the members of a credit union and pointed out that CU members should be just as passionate about saving credit unions as the people whose jobs depend on their continued presence. But they're not. What will it take to wake up the member and convince them it's time to take up a CU's cause? Silence won't work. One of my favorite quotes from The Simpson's springs to mind: "We've tried nothin', and we're all out of ideas!" Jason also made me a little misty at the start of his speech - a talk from the heart beats the tar out of a sales pitch. Keep that in mind.
- True collaboration starts with an acknowledgement of faults and shortcomings and a rejection of envy to make services better - Jon Hernandez is the CEO of Mattel Credit Union. And Downey City Employee Federal Credit Union. And CalCom Federal Credit Union. Why? Because he's good at his job, those CUs wanted him and he's willing to help all three get their groove on in the LA communities they serve. He works with three different cultures and three different boards to make these credit unions run as they should. They don't get snippy with one another, according to Jon, and he doesn't feel pulled in all directions. He wants all three to succeed and gives each a share of his time. And there are still some CUs that don't even collaborate internally? Mind-boggling.
- Sometimes, asking is all you have to do to get something going - Ondine Irving (pronounced "on-DEEN", not "AHN-dine") asked Suze Orman to look at the deals CUs were offering on their credit cards. Orman did. Then she talked about Ondine's organization and website on Oprah and CNN and so on and so on and so on. Ondine, feeling lucky, asked Suze to speak out on behalf of the NCUA, which Orman did. No one from NCUA ever contacted Orman to talk about what the NCUA is in relation to deposit insurance. It was Ondine that made the difference. Because she asked. Talk about your "net promoters", huh?
- Maya Bourdeau should be cannonized in the CU Marketing World as Our Lady of Realistic Expectations - This talk, I can say quite honestly, breathed new life into me. In one thirty-minute session, Maya Bourdeau laid to rest the ideas that:
Maya Bourdeau is a very interesting lady who sees a lot of the flaws and shines light on them to try to make the industry better at promoting itself. Here's a copy of her report, go get it. Very good stuff.
- Credit unions should expect people to be eager to switch from a bank to a CU (TRUTH! they shouldn't expect them to want to switch whatsoever)
- Credit unions should tout the values of membership in advertisements (TRUTH! people don't understand or care and won't respond well to the process of explaining it in print, so don't lead with "member", "non-profit", "co-op" - talk about what you do for people and don't make the text any harder to read than you would for a ten-year-old).
- One credit union can create an ad that will inform non-members about the CU difference (TRUTH! they can't, it'll take a national concerted branding effort, so we need to get off our duffs and work on that).
- Credit unions should bash banks (TRUTH! They shouldn't. It makes non-members feel bad about banking with a bank and it tarnishes a CU's reputation. So knock it off.)
- You'd be surprised how many businesses are actually co-ops - Like Cabot Cheese in Vermont, for example. Paul Hazen of the NCBA gave a great talk on co-ops and how big an economic impact they actually have. Go here to learn about the NCBA and what they're doing for co-ops. And why it SHOULD matter to you.
- Storytelling is important - What's your story? How succinctly can you tell it? Do you have "inside jokes" you could tell to/with your members? Paul McEnany had something to share from way outside the CU comfort zone. And maybe the best part, as far as I was concerned? The fact that overgeneralizing about your target market can alienate a whole group of consumers that actually might want what you're selling. Who have YOU cut out of your member base because you thought they wouldn't want you around?
- "Your sons and your daughters, they're beyond your command"...but not beyond your guidance - These few years have been trying for our industry. We have to move forward with an eye toward change and a desire to survive. We need to foster a community that's nurturing of young talent and respectful to the veterans. We need to stop looking at each other as "young know-nothings" and "old fuddy-duddies". That approach will kill us from within. Young credit union members and employees want to be involved more than you think, and older folks have a lot to offer to the generation that's CERTAIN they know everything. Let's focus on training a generation of people that will keep the mission on the rails and start promoting it like their lives depended on it. Let's stop approaching it like we hate each other.
- Forum CU is an awesome conference site with an awesome staff - It's a beautiful place with a very friendly, very helpful staff of people. If you get a chance, swing by and get a tour. Worth your time. Which brings me to my last point...
- If this happens again and you don't go, you're crazy - sure, it's around a whole year away, but keep an eye on their website and listen in on the podcast for your opportunity to attend next year. If you're unconvinced thus far, let me remind you that some of the industry's biggest credit unions, CUSOs, media outlets and talents were in attendance. Almost everyone was kind and very easy to get along with. Some folks were an absolute blast to meet in person. It was a steal at twice the price. So go.
How did you feel about the CUWCS? Tell us about it in the comment section.