Thoughts From The Emerald City to The City By The Bay

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Random thoughts while making the drive along the Pacific Coast Highway from Seattle to San Francisco last week...

First, how is it you can fly 3,000 miles in six hours, but the last 100 yards of the luggage and rental car seems to take about eight? ... If you want to hear some interesting insights, a holistic approach, if you will, on how a credit union's very "being" should be woven throughout its physical facilities, marketing messages, personnel, and all else, sit down and talk with Mark Weber of Weber Marketing Group in Seattle sometime.

Branding is the much-discussed but seldom well-executed piece of the Strategy Pie, and the company does plenty of branding work. But there is more to connecting with a member than a nifty brand message or a logo (and if your brand is "friendly service," well, good luck with that). Weber, whose firm has grown to offer consulting on mergers, name changes, retail branch merchandising, and, of course, marketing, has recently partnered with a number of site, construction, and facilities experts in a new entity called Momentum, which provides a package of such services to a credit union, and which Weber describes as a "facilities facilitator."

"The issue is are you serious about raising your facilities to differentiate your brand?" observed Weber, who added that one of the most difficult conversations to have with boards is to recommend the closing of a branch. We'll have the full text of the interview and insights with Mr. Weber and members of his team in an upcoming issue.

Also while not Sleeping in Seattle, I had a similarly interesting discussion just a few blocks away from Weber Marketing Group with Dan Cook, president of Pemco, which has also been seeing phenomenal growth in card services. One big change, observed Cook, whose office view of Lake Union is one of the better postcards you'll ever see, is that credit unions that want to grow and manage a robust credit card portfolio must have the talent in-house. Credit card portfolio manager can no longer be one of those "slash" jobs, i.e., teller/loan rep/card manager. The talent can be developed in-house, said Cook, but it's primarily being hired away from banks. More on that to come, as well...

Credit unions have certainly raised their profile in recent years, but perhaps not as much as they might believe. On the 1,000-mile-plus drive from Seattle to San Francisco, I was frequently pointing out the small and mid-size credit unions in many of the small towns. That led another person riding along with me to observe, "You know, until you pointed them out, I had never noticed them before."...The best reason to visit Oregon, besides the spectacular scenery, is the opportunity to show your kids what a full-service gas station used to look like. Still, no matter how often I'm in Oregon, or New Jersey for that matter (the only two states that don't permit self-serve), it's hard not to feel that you're somehow inadequate as someone two decades senior to your grandmother shuffles out to pump the gas for you. And attention Californians: for what you're paying for gas, you ought to be getting the full service of Oregon...and an air freshener...and complimentary detailing...and a bottle of wine...and a set of tires...

While in San Francisco for the CUES Annual Convention, which is subthemed "Marketing and Technology for Directors," more than a few of the board members on hand skipped the Sunday morning sessions at the Hilton to attend the Gay Pride Parade, which was just blocks away on Market St. and which drew an estimated 350,000 people. You just haven't seen an expression on a face until you see a credit union board member returning from his or her first Gay Pride Parade...

Dan Pink, the author of the book "A Whole New Mind," which suggests the next breed of business leaders will be right-brain workers rather than traditional "knowledge workers," told credit unions at the CUES Annual Convention that their biggest problem isn't right brain vs. left brain, but not using their brains. "A lot of non-profits, including credit unions, are constantly being told 'You gotta be more like a business, you gotta be more like a business, you gotta be more like a business.' But a lot of businesses are trying to infuse into their operations the kind of meaning that you have. I think you guys are ahead on this. Businesses and individuals are in a search for mission and meaning. A lot of for-profits are running scared because a lot of talented people want to work in a place like yours where there is an intrinsic motivation."

To make his point that people of all types want to pursue passion, he observed, "You won't find anywhere in America a sculptor who spends his weekend helping people to do taxes-for fun." What credit unions must do, he added, is better "tell your story."

One more thing...if you didn't notice, in the new Pixar movie "Cars" one of the antagonist race cars is sponsored by "Hostile Takeover Bank."

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

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