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It's common knowledge in poker that one cannot even sit at the table (let alone win) unless he/she puts in the ante and then keeps calling or raising bets to stay in the game. When assessing a credit union's current product mix and value proposition to determine its potential for gaining new business, the analogy is useful.

In poker, a player may think he/she has a great hand with a pair of jacks. However, that player is not likely to win many hands if he/she comes to find the other players at the table all hold full-houses and flushes. In a matter of speaking, the same is true in banking. Certain products allow a financial institution to "sit at the table" and "play" for the consumer's (or member's) business. Think of these products as commodities, the member-expected items that represent the "ante" or the "price" for entering the game in order to have a chance at winning new business.

A Mistake To Avoid

Products that differentiate the credit union-that set it apart-are the "raise" products. The challenge is not to mistake "raise" products with "ante" products, which often means being familiar enough with members to know what they do and don't find compelling. For example, many CU's are justifiably proud to offer a bill pay service. They may have cutting edge technology (required for a "raise" product); they may have speed and excellent functionality (also required for "raise" status). What they may not have, however, is a free bill pay service-which is itself an "ante" product. If a CU's bill pay is not free, with few exceptions, that credit union will be hard pressed to get into the game, let alone differentiate itself or "raise" the competitive bets-regardless of the quality of the bill pay service.

The big flaw with the poker analogy may come from the degree of commitment to the game. If credit unions are in the business to win, then they must truly understand financial consumers' needs. Research-in many forms-is the tool for knowing what comprises the "ante" services vs. the "raise" services, as well as to tell management the extent to which they're in the game. Perceptual research can help a credit union differentiate itself from the rest of the players and win the jackpot-meaning members' and potential members' business.

Neil Goldman is president of Member Research, a market research and consulting firm serving the Credit Union industry nationwide. For further info, call 310-643-6753.

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