From Birth (Of An Idea) To Death (Of Your Career)

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Have you ever done a focus group, closely documented and responded to the feedback, and then had a product or service flop?

"We do focus groups, but we never ask if people will buy it," said Mark Meyer, Director of Innovation with the Filene Research Institute. "What people say they will do and what they actually do are often different."

As any of the attendees at The Credit Union Journal's Best Practices conference will attest, there was so much good advice, so many great ideas and so much to learn from the credit unions who put the "best" in "practices" it was impossible to capture all of it, including many of the thought-provoking comments made by Meyer, who described Filene as "your think and do tank."

In this issue we provide part II of brief synopsis coverage of the event; to glean everything, make sure you're in attendance when we meet again in 2007.

In the meantime, here are a few of the other observations, advice, lessons learned and quips that were heard from the podium, the audience and the hallway:

* Mark Meyer noted of a recent wedding gift registry program being pioneered by some credit unions that are part of Filene's i3 Institute that many couples are marrying later and have already accumulated a lot of "stuff." "In a wedding, somebody's stuff is going to lose. And it's probably his." On a more serious note, Meyer said that rather than be intimidated by the likes of banks that count assets in hundreds of billions of dollars. "You hear that we don't have the resources to compete with the Bank of Americas, but you have an advantage in that you are swift and nimble to market."

* A TV-buying tip from David Faleski, VP-marketing with Coastal FCU, which has created an in-house video-marketing unit: "If you're going to bring video monitors into your branches, remember that Plasma screens and CRTs burn in if the image is left in place for any time."

* Carol Sundberg of Delta Community CU, which has introduced an online service to show members its "touchpoints" beyond branches, said, "The big issue is perception of convenience and whether true or not, it's perception vs. reality."

* Bayer FCU has turned around member service and employee turnover with a program it calls "Dare to SOAR." But COO Christine Martin reminded, "It's important for buy-in to get the people who are going to have to deal with the changes to feel comfortable with the changes." Outlining how his credit union made a Best Practice out of a core system conversion, Ben Mannahan, VP-project management at Tinker FCU, recalled that the change was transparent to members, with the exception of bill pay users, who noticed changes. "The credit union heard about that," he recalled.

* Judy Whitcomb of the $4.5-billion Alliant Credit Union pointed out that "at every meeting I go to I hear build branches, build branches, build branches. But that's not what Alliant Credit Union is about. We focus on managing expenses and return to member. We are not interested in being the PFI because we are not as convenient unless members are comfortable with the phone and electronic services. We make it up with great rates." When it comes to new hires, she added, "We look at talent. Can they really connect with members?"

* As an aside, when Daniel Catamusto of Franklin Mint FCU asked how many on hand had heard of the HLPR program, the $1-billion effort being championed by CUNA to get people into their first homes, just one hand was raised. Later Catamusto got more than a few laughs when he asked, "What do your branches smell like?" In this case, he was referring to the little things FMFCU does, such as concentrating as much on scents as cents.

The buzzword of the CU Journal conference? "Woo." More than one speaker said they were working to "woo" members.

* Suzie Cook of DuPont Community CU, which won a Best Practice for its very successful credit card promotion, said that among the very few new accounts it had to write off was that of a local bank branch manager who ran up his balance and then declared bankruptcy.

* James Moore of Ent FCU observed that despite how they may be perceived, most "techies" drawn to IT actually aren't avoiding resolving problems; rather, they're so eager to resolve glitches and challenges they take on too many. "IT folks can't say no," Moore said. "They accept a lot of projects and no priority is given to them."

* Bob Vedder, VP-Retail Media with Newground, closed out the CU Journal conference with one of the most entertaining (and simultaneously provocative) graphics I've seen in a while. Vedder showed a tombstone with his own name on it and the epitaph, "He would have done some really cool stuff but his boss wouldn't let him." Mr. Vedder then went on to demonstrate that that's unlikely to be how he's remembered, as Newground is always involved in some cool, cutting edge retail stuff.

How will your epitaph read? Want to do some cool stuff? Make sure you'll be in the crowd when the Best Practices conference is held again in 2007.

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

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