We Need To Be In The Business Of Hiring Our Own Replacements

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There is an interesting phenomenon that occurs with the introduction of new technology. Technology invites the explorers, the risk takers, to get "ahead of the curve." In a word, technology invites the young.

In the last half century, technology has advanced and evolved more than anything else. It has advanced medicine, improved communication, transformed infrastructure; it has made the world smaller. Technology has pushed cultural change, a new paradigm that puts the young and the tech savvy at the center.

Look at popular professions and you find that the very young are the leaders and the most successful. Olympic winners and popular musicians are all in their early 20s or younger. In science, if you haven't made your big discovery by age 25, you won't ever. Anime always features teenagers saving the world from impending doom.

This isn't because young people are smarter or better prepared than their middle-aged, experienced counterparts. It's because they are more cutting edge, more willing to push the boundaries, and more in tune with the existing social dynamics. Young people have their finger on the collective social pulse. They are quick to react, adaptable and truly the makers of cultural change.

All this going on, and yet we, in credit unions, still hold on to the same old business adages that rely on experience, finesse, and sophistication.

Look around you; the new paradigm is built on collective intelligence, crowdsourcing if you will, rather than experience. It's built on bold and innovative ideas, rather than finesse. It's built on conversational reality rather than the mask of sophistication.

What Does This Mean To CUs?
There are lots of media and marketing firms that speak the outdated language of the old-school CEO, and win business. Credit unions have been flocking to these firms that tell them exactly what they want to hear, in the language they know. But is there really ever a time when being told what you want to hear is best in the long-term?

We need to hear when our ideas are outdated, when our model is unsustainable — because it is. We need fresh voices, new ideas. We need a new paradigm. We need new financial culture, and we need it now. Credit unions must make room for young people to lead the way right now. We must embrace a new financial culture and we must include the social and the technical experts if it's going to work. We must engage our teens.

We can't afford to wait until they reach adulthood to start training them in finance or business. Let's teach them now. Let's put them right in the middle of our business and give them "on-the-job-training" so to speak. Let's make our teen members our marketers. Their peers are our future members, and the leaders of a financially literate tomorrow. Who is better to reach them than our current teen members?

The great philosopher of our time, Ludacris, once said, "Move, get out the way, get out the way, get out the way." This adage is fitting for our credit union movement as we make way for the younger generation to take over. Before we can get out of their way, we have to get out of our own.

Opportunity Lost
I noticed within my own program just how much teens contribute to our national newsletter. At one point, one of our teen article submissions was edited to "sound more teen-like." In the end, all it sounded was immature. We tried to impose our own view of what a teen sounds like onto an article already written by a teen. Our edits dampened the impact of the original piece and embarrassed the teen who wrote it.

We lost the business of that teen's credit union.

Compare that to the current credit union approach to marketing and you understand why we are currently losing the next generation of membership.

Teens are not immature, not irresponsible, not dumb. They are the future of our financial culture, and the key to creating a community of financial mentorship. We need to be in the business of hiring our own replacements, and we will find them amongst our teens.

As a new parent, I notice the tendency in myself to want something better for my children than I have and am willing to sacrifice to ensure their success. Can we as a credit union movement take this approach to ensure the success of a young financial culture in our institutions?

I think we can.

Byron Porter is manager of marketing with Claimyouryouth.com.

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