Underground Collisions – Top of the World

 By Sue Mitchell, CEO of Mitchell Stankovic and Underground Founder

Times are changing and although all people have access to a social media presence, not everyone has access to industry professionals at all levels. This side-by-side engagement is what the Underground Collisions provide our invited guests – equal voice in topics that are often kept for closed door sessions within a select group. Thought leadership. Strategic influence. Downright fun!

I’m excited to share a few highlights from the Underground Collision in Washington DC at the Top of the Hay Adams overlooking the White House to San Diego and the top of the Grand Hyatt overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean. You may note an irony in this statement. Underground voices from penthouse locations. Yes, it is all about the feeling of empowerment when you belong and can make a difference – you are on top of the world!

Authentic dialogue at each Underground Collision begins with a topic, a 5-minute kick off by a select few thought leaders, and then group discussions that are #MixedUp to ensure networking with credit union executives, volunteers and business partners. Who knows what will be talked about? No scripts here.

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#What’sUp Washington, DC, with the transition of leadership within credit unions asked Brandi Stankovic. A key challenge and opportunity for the future is recruiting new volunteers and retaining talent. Are we mentoring? Are we allowing opportunities? Is there a succession plan that encourages all generations to work together toward a common goal? Time to get out there or get out of the way for future generations to engage with their social mission voice.

#SpeedUp and take a little risk when starting new initiatives. Jennifer Oliver, Shazia Manus and Cliff Rosenthal shared stories on how the Community Development Fund started and maintains its relevancy, the analytics needed to support decisions that minimize risk while maximizing opportunities, and #PopUp branches that facilitate member engagement.

#BreakUp was all about the widening gap in credit union asset size and the importance of staying together as a system. Lucy Ito, Dwayne Naylor and Scott McFarland all determined that we must look for new ways to collaborate, start new credit unions like Dwayne’s all-digital Civic FCU, and engage consumers if we are to sustain a cooperative spirit. Scott asked the group, “Could we rally 500,000 members today to march for their credit unions?”

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#LiveUp to our credit union mission was a key reminder that it is all about the members. Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon don’t have the trust and relationships credit unions have earned over many years with their members, but they have money that can buy them time to figure it out. Credit unions must ensure every conversation starts and ends with member, whatever that means for your membership.

#What’sUp, San Diego? Why didn’t credit unions come up with PayPal, and how can we all work together to find solutions rooted in credit unions? Sarah Canepa Bang pointed out that Americans on average spend $1.22 for every dollar earned, and anywhere from 40 to 70% of Americans are living pay check to pay check. She challenged attendees, 'What are we doing about that?”

#StartUp new CUSOs, new credit unions, look for ways to build the cooperative spirit while adding to the bottom line. Vic Pantea and Jack Antonini shared that there is more talk about de novo credit unions and a process in place to get started with free core processing. Focus on member service, employee satisfaction and growth will come.

#TimesUp for talking. Time to start walking together as partners, united for common purpose! Mike Joplin noted that CUSOs can go outside the industry and forge relationships with fintechs, like he did with Lending Tree. Samantha Paxson advised CUSOs to not be so fixated on competition, and instead focus on what members need so we can be better prepared and “relentlessly, stubbornly optimistic” in tougher times.

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#ShakeUp your perspective and distinguish between sustainable business ventures and bubbles just waiting to burst. Chip Filson offered a paper that challenged the NCUA’s actions regarding credit unions heavily invested in taxi medallions, and Bret Weekes noted that medallion losses were more than a hit to the reserves – members lost everything. While everyone is complaining now, medallions supported members for 40 years, so we have to be better judges of when to get in and when to get out of certain lines of business. A related, contemporary topic discussed was serving marijuana businesses. In the United States 33 states allow cannabis for medical purposes, plus Washington, DC and four out of five US territories. Katrina Skinner stressed that personal opinion regarding marijuana services may vary, but the key concern is for the people carrying cash in backpacks and businesses with banking needs. “The genie is out of the bottle; now how do we make it safe?”

We wrapped up San Diego with Randy Karnes #ThinkingBig about what credit unions and CUSOs can do for their members. He challenged the group to step back from a tactical position and think strategically about how we can cooperate on a larger scale. Look for new ventures to be announced from Randy regarding CUSO national efforts such as scholarships, think tanks, de novo efforts and more!

The Underground Collisions have a simple goal. Create an intimate environment for real, personal dialogue to serve as a catalyst for cooperative relevance. It is about collision of ideas, challenges and opportunities for the credit union industry. Some people engage. Others are voyeurs. We say what we believe and ask others for their thoughts. Most people like to talk about disruption, but few people really want to change or be questioned. How about you? Please let me know what you think…