One Person's Ideas For Getting Inside The Brain

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It isn't easy to cut through the noise. It's a loud, loud marketplace after all, and the cacophony isn't much less of a din inside most organizations, either.

But PSCU believes it has some noise reduction headphones, if you will; or, more correctly, believes it is its own business model–and that of credit unions themselves–that is really the true differentiator among all those shouting for the consumer to look at them.

The former PSCU Financial Services, a 34-year-old CUSO in St. Petersburg, Fla., is now just PSCU. It's new tagline and brand are a simple word: "Forward." CEO Mike Kelly says the company is living that word through the "relentless pursuit of better ways."

The Key Word Keyword

In a world increasingly defined by keyword searches, it is that word, "Forward," that Kelly said sums up everything that PSCU and credit unions themselves need to be about in order to not just survive but to avoid someday putting on those 20/20 hindsight glasses and seeing what might have been.  Credit unions, he believes, have an inherent but frequently underutilized advantage in being heard amidst all the noise in their ability to act collaboratively.
After all, CUSOs such as PSCU embody just such collaboration, he notes.

"The baseline for us is that consumers want to consume," Kelly told me during a discussion at CUNA's recent GAC. "But if you're not in the channels in which they want to consume, then you are not going to win. We think that, plus consumers' impatience with anything that takes more than seven seconds, positions us well."

Kelly said PSCU is working to identify those credit unions that really want to innovate and then line-up with them.

"The status quo is the enemy," he said, before acknowledging that many credit unions lack the resources to do much to fight the status quo, which is precisely whey they form and own CUSOs such as PSCU.

Killing The Status Quo

To that point, Kelly said there are two groups of CUs: those that have ideas and which say they want to lead the charge, and those that for any of a variety of reasons look for PSCU to lead while they closely follow.

"We think there's too much navel gazing," he said. "Innovators lead and invest in order to stay ahead of the curve. We've been here for 34 years. It's a great business. But to make it another 34 years means killing that status quo." When Kelly says PSCU has a real "energy and a passion," fittingly, he says it with great energy and passion. Pointing to some of the other large, publicly-traded, for-profit companies in the GAC exhibit hall, he observed, "What we can do as a CUSO is different from those traditional companies. We can move at a faster pace. I've yet to meet a credit union that was really not for profit; you've got to have profits that flow back to the members."

Kelly said that so many of the companies that are featured on the covers of magazines like Fast Company, such as Foursquare and Twitter and the like, are all actually trying to "get to where we already are. We have excellent bricks and mortar and online offerings; we are poised to compete and prosper. The time is now."

A Call To Action

That new brand, "Forward," applies inside the organization as much as it does outside, said Kelly, who called the new brand a "call to action."

It's easy to talk innovation, of course, or to buy any of about a billion business books on Amazon with "Innovation" in their names, the irony being there isn't anything innovative about that at all. Kelly said he recognizes that, and believes PSCU is already showing real innovation in its markets. It currently is beta testing a "Mobile Container" where consumers can place all of their loyalty programs, and have access to home banking, a mobile wallet  and more. It's "innovation lab," he said, has generated three solutions: a PSCU Service Availability App, a Portfolio Performance Benchmarking App, and that Mobile Container.

He said it is also rolling out new analytics for credit unions in the B2B space, allowing CUs to more easily check on systems availability, for instance. In addition, it has introduced a "Credit Union Experience Team" it said will be the "hub of the service model," and which will "consult with credit unions on product and portfolio growth solutions based on individual needs."

Transactions Beget Transactions

One area where credit unions will have little choice but to innovate is payments. No one seems quite sure who the Payments Piper will be, but many worry that it won't be them. PSCU said the backbone of its new strategy is "MoPRO," short for "member owner payment revenue optimization."

Every CU, said Kelly, needs to ask itself if it "wants to be a funding source or a touchpoint in the payments transaction. A good transactor is good for 100 to 125 transactions a month. Small transactions beget big transaction. If I'm not in your brain for small transactions I'm certainly not going to be in your brain for big transactions. It's not just about credit and debit. It's about much more. Maybe you are just a brand in a wallet. But you've got to be in the brain when they want to consume more."

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at

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