Even If You Could Go Back In Time, Who'd Believe You?

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The scene: Your credit union's boardroom, circa 1993. Present are board members and the CEO.

The scenario: Thanks to the latest fee-driven service from your trade association, you've been whisked 10 years back in time in order to "know then what you know now" and get a jump on what will become known as the online decade.

Chairman Gus: OK, thanks, Wally, for all your committee's excellent work on the new golf shirts, and for all your work testing them. (Everyone laughs.) Now, that brings us to you. You said that you had something important you wanted to share with the board.

You: (excited) Yes, thank you and thanks to all the board. We have an extraordinary opportunity-which I can't really explain right now-but we can get a jump on the future.

Chairman Gus: I already have. I put 10,000 bucks in Encylopedia Britannica stock today. The world will always need encyclopedias.

You: Yes, um, well... What I'm really talking about is getting more of our members online. We...

Vice Chairman Wally: Online! For crying out loud, we just budgeted for another branch to get our members out of line.

You: No, I mean online electronically. (Silence in the board room as you look around and realize you'll be seeing the same faces 10 years from now-if you're not fired tonight.)

Chairman Gus: You want us to electrocute every member waiting online?

Vice Chairman Wally: (Warming to the idea) You know, that just might work. But what about those pesky, micromanaging regulators, they're bound to...

You: Not electocution. Electronic! We'll serve members electronically. Ten years from now-I believe I can say with some confidence-members will be able to do all their credit union business from home, using their computer.

Vice Chairman Wally: (disbelieving) Are you trying to tell us you believe people are going to all have computers in their houses? That's a good one. (Laughing, he adds) And I guess the Florida Marlins are going to win the World Series some time soon!

You: (Still seeking to get the board to take you seriously.) I believe we are seeing, and are going to see, significant improvements in computing power coupled with reductions in price so that every house has a PC. And when they do, they're going to be able to do their banking from home, 24/7. They'll..."

Chairman Gus: (incredulous) Are you suggesting we keep our offices open 24 hours a day, seven days a week? Weren't you here when the personnel committee reported that we're having trouble getting tellers to stay to six just to work the drive-through?

You: Excuse me, no. We won't need anyone here. The computers in people's houses will talk to our computers here, without any human intervention.

Vice Chairman Wally: You may be on to something. I just read that Clinton health plan proposal today, and the only way we may be able to afford it is to have no people.

Chairman Gus: (frowning at you) And just how do you propose we talk to members when they have questions?

You: People will communicate with e-mail. We'll be their trusted advisor, because we won't be sending them any spam.

Chairman Gus: Spam! Why would we send anyone cans of Spam? Is this some type of bizzarre marketing promotion?

Vice Chairman Wally: You know my wife, Peggy, she can really make a mean Spam casserole. You'd never know it's Spam. It's...

You: OK, forget that for just a moment. What I'm trying to say is that commerce is moving toward cyberspace, and we can begin now...

Chairman Gus: Now we're not only open all the time, but operating branches in space? (Heretofore silent Treasurer Bud perks up at the reference, and begins forming the Vulcan "Live Long and Prosper" sign with his left hand.)

You: Cyberspace-it means the electronic environment all around us. People are going to surf (more strange looks from the board; the CEO begins to avert his eyes) the Internet. We must prepare for competition from all the new dot.coms.

Vice Chairman Wally: Dottie Cohm! I used to be sweet on her.

Chairman Gus: Let me see if I can sum up what you're saying: You want us to tell our members to go away-and those that don't we're going to electrocute-at the same time you want us to open 24 hours a day like a liquor store, because people will want to do business with us when they want to, at all hours. As a reward, we're also going to give them cans of Spam and hold some kind of surfing contest.

Vice Chairman Wally: Is this going to take much longer? I told my grandson I'd be home in time to watch the Prince Fresh show with him.

You: (defeated, reduced to blabbering.) Please, listen, the future is right there. Act now and we can sieze it!

Chairman Gus: OK, let's move to to the next item on the agenda. A bank in North Carolina has filed a lawsuit over field of membership. I think we can all agree the bank will lose that. So, moving to the next...

Frank J. Diekmann is editor of The Credit Union Journal. He can be reached at fdiekmann cujournal.com.

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