Credit Unions Not Immune to Timeless Trends

Don't #GiveUp!

By Frank J. Diekmann,

Maybe you’ve heard by now–the world is going to hell. Some days in a handbasket. On other days it’s the lone option to high water. And on especially bad days, the world is headed as south as south can get on a highway.

It’s the great irony of the arc of human history: for the most part each generation has lived steadily better lives than the generation that preceded them, yet by the time you’re squinting at the small print it’s a time-honored tradition that you must complain about the whippersnappers/hippies/millennials behind you who are Just. Plain. Ruining. Everything.

The credit union world is not only NOT immune to both these timeless trends, credit unions ARE these two trends. The CU community isn’t just going to hell, according to some, it’s in a handbasket AND on a highway—and if your pulse has ever beat in the same zip code as a credit union meeting, I think you know the blame is on the M words who are driving the bus.

Frank Diekmann did an excellent job facilitating the March 10 Underground Collision in Washington, DC. We'll be in San Diego April 14! Sign up here to keep up-to-date on the Underground!

So, let me just jump in and say it—it’s time everyone in credit unions went to hell—and often.

Why bring all this up now? There is this subtle whisper in the credit union community that things aren’t what they are supposed to be, that problems are going unaddressed, that that which needs to be said is being silenced. To tap this market and sound edgy, conferences bear provocative names such as “Elephant in the Room” and “Reality Check.” All of it is meant to get to the soul-baring issues “they” won’t talk about, although I’ve been reporting on credit unions for 30 years and have yet to find out who “they” even are.

It’s funny, but all the things that are supposedly never being talked about are pretty much ALWAYS being talked about in credit unions. Any of these sound familiar?

  • The Cooperative Flame. The debate: it’s Burning Brighter Than Ever vs. It’s a Candle in an LED World.
  • Volunteer Board Members. The debate: Seasoned Veterans Who Bring Perspective Vs. Old White Guys Who Don’t Understand Modern Markets (or a Changing Membership) and who see #MeToo and hear “pound me too” and have no idea what that means.
  • The Words “Credit Union.” The debate: Obsolete Vestige From Mill Workers More than a Century Ago That Doesn’t Resonate With Today’s Gig Generation, vs. The Concept of a Union of People Extending Credit to One Another Has Never Been More Relevant. (BTW, memo to Millennials: as the generations before will tell you, the limelight never lasts long, and one minute you’re a “prime” demographic and the next a low-value, has-been cohort being ridiculed in some fresh-out-of-college, know-it-all’s PowerPoint. So, enjoy your market appeal while you can.)
  • No One Knows What a Credit Union Is. This is a real fave of mine. As some will argue with great conviction, not a single American can be found who has even an inkling what a credit union is, and these people will pontificate on their thesis even at the very same time CUs are setting a record for membership, with four-million people joining the little man under his umbrella in 2018 alone. To address this “problem,” CUNA is currently looking to spend $100 million over three years to raise “awareness” by getting consumers to “Open Your Eyes” to a credit union. One-third of the U.S. population now belongs to a credit union—I dunno, but it seems like an awful lot of people have their eyes pretty wide open and are pretty “aware.”

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What paves the Highway to Hell? It’s the opposite of what many seem to think. It’s uniformity. Agreement. No hands raised with uncomfortable questions. Disagree? Then I think (ironically) the unanimous votes in the Supreme People's Assembly in Pyongyang will appeal to you.

There is something pretty important people don’t understand about credit unions, just as they don’t understand it about democracy itself—what so many see as weakness is a strength, what the critics see as a fault is a virtue.  Democracies are supposed to be messy and fractured. Toes are supposed to be stepped on. Egos bruised. Instagrammers unfollowed.

So, here’s to making a mess of 2019 and every year afterward in credit unions. Thanks to the sore toes, let’s continue the journey with a limp or two. And where should we begin? Well, if we’re on the way to Hell, underground, of course.