Frankly, An Award Recognition That's Long Overdue

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In all of Global Credit Union Land-136-million members spread across 91 countries-there is just one, lone, solitary point upon which all credit unions everywhere agree (unless you count the fact most agree they don't agree). And it's a universal truth I've heard 'round the globe, from Portland to Prague, Cincinnati to Sydney: people just don't know what credit unions are.

By "people" I don't just mean those uninformed, yet-to-come-to-their-senses "non-members." I mean members themselves. The very people who have entrusted you with their money. They may know they've got a better deal at this thing called a credit union, but would you be willing to put up a week's salary that the average member could articulate what makes their credit union unique? And it isn't just the member and potential member broken down on the shoulder of the Information Superhighway; many employees, especially those on the front line, aren't much better informed about their employer, and I'm not sure I'd want to place a lot of bets on board members-the living embodiment of credit union uniqueness-being particularly articulate, either.

Indeed, the Massachusetts Credit Union Association is hosting an upcoming meeting built around the theme, "The Greatest Story Never Told."

For that reason, I'm officially pulling back the shroud on the first-ever "Frankie Awards!" That's right. A Frankie for frank talk. I know that you're thinking two things about now: Frankly, it's about time, and to be even more frank, that's a heck of a name for an award.

But as admirable a moniker as the new Frankie Awards may boast, the purpose is even nobler. The goal is to recognize those of you who have effectively communicated who and what you are-and to get those who haven't done so to ask themselves why not?

How do you communicate to your members, non-members and even your own employees what it is that makes you unique? How do you explain what a credit union is? How it works? How do you answer you address the core questions of why someone should do business with you, especially since it's a place at which members do their "banking?"

Where do you offer this explanation? In your marketing materials? On your website (and negative Frankie points if finding the explanation of what the credit union is requires drilling down through three or four pull-down menus, as if someone might actually do this). In your member newsletter? (And every newsletter should include a description of what a credit union is). Perhaps you have a plaque on the wall that asks, "Do you know who owns this building?" Have you found a particularly effective means of conveying the concept to high school kids and other groups?

Perhaps at some point in your career you had a mentor or former boss who really crystalized it for you. Maybe you heard a speaker or a volunteer who said something about credit unions that you'll always remember and that you've sought to incorporate into your current efforts. Maybe you read something a Filene or Bergengren wrote that you found to be timeless and still relevant, and you still use it today.

Accomplishing all of the above isn't easy, especially since the Frankie's will recognize those who keep it brief. "A democratically operated, not for profit, cooperative financial institution." You may well be of the opinion that those words are among the finest language ever to appear in articles of incorporation, but it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it? I mean have you ever heard anyone saying they really like doing their credit unioning down at the ol' everyone-is-equal financial cooperative? (And if you have heard someone say this have you actually loaned them money?)

So how do you explain to the initiated (and they are few) and the uninitiated what it is that makes you you? I invite you to submit your examples of Credit Union 101 to me at fdiekmann cujournal.com. From there a highly respected but seriously grizzled team of analysts-primarily consisting of well, frankly, me-will review the submissions and pick a winner or two. To them shall go the Frankie Awards.

Frankly, we're looking forward to it.

In this issue on page 37 members of the Filene Research Institute i3 Group (incidentally, I'm forming an i2 Group for narcisists within credit unions) have unveiled a new "MatriMoney Wedding Gift Registry Program" in which couples who are getting married can register for cash gifts to be given them by well-wishers (or those just happy to get them out of the house). While I have no doubt the program will do well-it's currently being piloted at North Island Financial Credit Union in San Diego-I'm calling dibs on a similar program I plan to franchise that I believe will do even better-"Ali-Money."

For years CUNA has dutifully totaled up each year how much the average credit union member (and even bank customer) saves thanks to the benefits of credit unions. According to CUNA, it's about $149 per member household per year. But I'm not sure the financial amount resonates with everyone, so I'm proposing a new slogan for credit unions: "Membership. It's worth 50 gallons of gas per year."

Frank J. Diekmann is Editor of The Credit Union Journal.

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