Among i3's First Ideas: Untapped Borrowers

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There was a lot of talk about innovation at CUNA's Future Forum, but members of the Filene Research Institute's i3 think tank shared ways that they are actually making innovation happen.

The i3 group, which stands for ideas, innovation and implementation, is made up of credit unions' up-and-coming leaders, typically younger people a level or two down from the CEO. "CEOs are great people, but they're not always the people who get things done, who actually do the doing," said Mark Meyer, director of innovation at Filene. "We went down one level to the underlings who carry out the CEOs' and boards' marching orders."

The 26 chosen for i3 have already begun working on what they call "quick hits." "These are projects that we knew we could move along in four months," explained Denise Gabel, VP-strategic direction at Spokane Teachers CU and a member of i3.

One such quick hit: lifestyle lending. Taking a cue from reality television shows like "Extreme Makeover" and "The Swan," the i3ers realized there was a market for unsecured loans for medical procedures that aren't covered by insurance, such as for cosmetic surgery.

"The average nose job costs about $10,000 to $15,000," noted Jeff York, CEO of CoastHills FCU, who became a member of i3 prior to his promotion to CEO. "But it's not just plastic surgery. Think about the cost of fertility treatments or adoption. That's why we call this lifestyle lending."

The i3 team worked with Toledo Area Community CU to develop a program offering loans for these types of needs, York related.

Intergenerational lending was another quick hit i3 investigated, working with Government Employees CU of El Paso and its credit card vendor TNB. "Credit unions do a good job of lending to people, but what about lending to families," asked Pete Paulson, EVP of Corporate American Family CU.

Paulson played some of GECU's radio and television advertising, showing how the credit union marketed its Family MasterCard with a tagline of "unconditional love deserves credit."

But intergenerational lending can go beyond credit cards. "Let's look at a parent's credit rating when we're making an auto loan to the son or daughter," he suggested. "Or what about homeownership. We can make it easier for families to gift money to their adult children when they need that first downpayment. We can make a home equity loan to mom nd dad so they can give those funds to the child and the child uses it for the downpayment. Now you've got two loans instead of just one."

Filene is looking to add another 10 people to i3 this year, and interested parties can get more information-and the i3 application-at the Filene website at "If you're willing to try some of these things, that's another way to get involved," Meyer added.

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