Putting the Orthodoxy Up for A Recall Vote

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Last week, it was my great privilege to attend the Partnership Symposium in Indianapolis. The Symposium, jointly sponsored by Forum Solutions and Trabian, focused on innovation in a Web 2.0 world.

The place was screaming with about 150 innovators and big thinkers. Frankly, I’m not sure how I ended up there, but like the high school geek who somehow finagled his way into the cool people party, I decided to stay pretty quiet … hope I wouldn’t be asked to leave … and bask in the glow of reflected coolness. (My plan was almost thwarted when I bombed out at Guitar Hero in about 15 seconds.)

In the aftermath, I’ve thought a lot about what exactly the Symposium meant to me … what it means for our industry … and what it means for this little splotch in the blogosphere. In short, I think it comes down to this … the orthodoxy is up for a recall vote.

In the Big Picture, the Symposium gave me great hope that credit unions will work through this “Dark Night of the Soul,” … this identity crisis if you will … and we will thrive well in to the future. Many of the attendees (and presenters) were under 35, love the credit union industry, and they’re sharp as tacks. If this sampling is a snapshot of the young leadership in our industry, WOW have we got a bright future! (I’m talking about folks like Robbie Wright, Matt Davis, Tim McAlpine and anyone with “Trabian” on their business card.)

But some orthodoxies will have to be challenged if we are to thrive, including the idea that you have to grow or go away. Who wrote that memo? You know, the one that says consolidation will continue as the little guys get tired of having too much regulation and not enough scale.

I like the way Gene Blishen of Mt Lehman Credit Union in the Fraser Valley of Canada frames it. Mt Lehman is small, they’re here and they plan to stick around. Check out their web site, which says it all. (For the record, I met Gene at the Symposium and he simply rocks.)

In Gene’s world, a merger isn’t a bow to market forces … it’s a death in the family. All that love, sweat and equity gobbled up by in many cases an unknown (to the member) organization.

As an industry, shouldn’t we view the death of that member relationship as a bitter failure? And as an industry, should we not figure out how to keep that from happening unless it’s absolutely necessary?

In speaking with Gene, its clear to me that small credit unions can do just fine by ignoring the prevailing conventional wisdom and instead paying attention to the needs of their members.

The folks who decreed that mergers and scale are the future are a lot smarter than I am. And you folks may be right. But you’re going to have to prove it to me.

Can small credit unions thrive, or should they throw in the towel? Who among our smaller CUs is getting it done?

And if we have to have an orthodoxy on this issue, can we have people like Gene write the memo?

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3 Responses

  1. My take on the Symposium was similar. It made me realize that the gravity of the movement is still alive and well. There, sitting in a beautiful auditorium in Fishers, Indiana, were 150 great, young minds who could have applied their talents to any industry imaginable. Instead, they were drawn to credit unions.

    Status quo is unacceptable to these young people, and I feel more certain than ever that the future of credit unions is sound.

    Great post, Jeff!

  2. Wow. Wish I could’ve been there. Next year?

  3. @Warrior – Thanks for your feedback … it was great to be there with you, and to represent NC!

    @Christopher – I hear that something is coming up in Fishers in Q1 of 2008, although no announcement has been made about exactly what as of yet.

    I enjoy your posts on the Nexus blog, and look forward to connecting with you down the line!

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