Stick to the Fundamentals and Reignite Your Passion

It’s easy for some to see negative numbers on their balance sheets, or in industry trends, and get nervous about the future.  Credit unions, like most businesses during...

It’s easy for some to see negative numbers on their balance sheets, or in industry trends, and get nervous about the future.  Credit unions, like most businesses during this economic downturn, have had their fair share of hard months on paper.  However, the direction of our momentum in 2011 is vitally important to the credit union system’s success beyond this year.  We each have the power to determine that direction, and it is imperative that we get it going on a positive course.

The epic college basketball championship is almost upon us, and I grew up living and breathing Kentucky Wildcats basketball, so I will use a sports analogy to make my point.  Winning teams don’t let the numbers on the scoreboard dictate how hard they play the game.  Winning teams have true passion for the game, the purpose to win, work together as a team (cooperation), and have a positive attitude until the final buzzer sounds.

Playing a basketball game is analogous to being part of the credit union system.  Stick to the fundamentals and your odds of winning are vastly increased.  While the fundamentals in basketball deal with agility, ball handling, teamwork, and speed, there are only a couple of fundamentals at the core of credit unions.  Those are cooperation, serving our member-owners and those who are underserved better than anyone else, and doing business the right way as governed by our not-for-profit structure.

There may occasionally be some flashy “slam dunk” plays like social media and flash mobs that woo the crowd (I’ve seen credit unions do some great stuff with each), but a sustainable winning record can only be achieved by sticking to the fundamentals of our credit union philosophy.


Passion for the game should come from the vision of wanting to serve your members fairly, and better than they could ever dream to be served elsewhere.  I tell my employees all the time “if you don’t truly believe that we are the best financial institution for our members, then we’ve got a problem.”  Not only that, but I encourage them to have a conversation with me about their perceptions of the credit union.

If you have a good product, and truly operate by the credit union philosophy of people helping people, and the passion isn’t there on the part of your employees, then you either have a failure of leadership or you need new people.  You can’t make someone have passion.  And everyone on your team needs to have it.


We all have a common purpose – to serve our members and our communities.  Helping people better their financial situations is the crux of our industry.  Our mission statements may say different things, but we are all here for the same reasons.

There needs to be a purpose behind everything your credit union does – whether it’s from an operational standpoint, marketing, or even human resources.  Clearly define your credit union’s purpose.  Stop trying to be all things to all people.  Focus on what sets you apart and make sure everything you do is a reflection of that differentiator.


An important component of our future success is to remember and embrace our cooperative structure. While our tendency when the economic and political landscape gets tough is to have a laser focus on our own credit unions alone, I believe that now is as important as ever to remember that we are all part of something greater: a regional, statewide, and national credit union system.

Getting involved in political advocacy is critically important.  So many credit union leaders pass on political advocacy, leaving it up to other credit unions and their trade associations to handle.  No voice means no chance at representation.  The only way to affect change for credit unions is to get out there and fight together.


Article originally posted in the March 2 issue of CU Times

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