“Progress,” credit union pioneer Edward Filene once said, “is the constant replacing of the best there is with something still better.”
On May 29, the organization bearing his name, the Filene Research Institute, celebrated 25 years of striving to do just that: engaging in credit union and finance research and providing a place to test new ideas without fear of failure. Filene’s CEO Mark Meyer tells Credit Union Magazine what the future holds for the “think & do tank.”
CU Mag: What needs was Filene Research Institute formed to fill in 1989?
Meyer: The real impetus behind forming the Filene Research Institute was to prepare for the opportunities that were to come.
Our founders saw that business and finance were changing, and they knew that understanding this change was crucial to maintaining relevance, particularly as credit unions evolved from independent institutions at the state level to a national network.
Survival and growth would require access to solid research and creative ideas that lead to useful, effective tools for consumers/members.
True innovation is always a moving target. Our namesake, Edward Filene, was constantly looking at disruption because disruption is ever present. If you rest on your laurels, your business will lose.
CU Mag: What happens when you put scholarly researchers in the same office with creative innovators? Are there ever any fights?
Meyer: There’s this beautiful, creative friction here at Filene. It’s a very intellectually playful place. We’re changing the human experience and improving lives. People who are part of the fabric of this organization see the purpose-driven nature of our work.
There’s a lot of constructive debate, sharing of perspectives—even some disagreements—but never fights. Everyone shares the same desires and goals, so when there’s debate it’s over the different “hows” of getting there.
It’s an interesting dynamic, but you can’t help but feel the respect and humility shared by everyone here.
CU Mag: What motivates you to come to work every day?
Meyer: We live in incredible, transformational times and we owe it to those who’ve gone before us, who’ve blazed this trail, to push forward and continue to make things better. I look at the cooperative finance model and I know it can, and does, change lives.
A credit union changed mine. My first loan was for my wife’s wedding ring. We were in grad school and no one else would lend me the money. Same with my first car loan: The banks wouldn’t work with me so I went to a credit union.
CU Mag: Where do you see Filene in the next 10 years?
Meyer: Bill Gates once said, “We always overestimate what will happen in the next two to three years and underestimate what will happen in the next 10.”
This is especially true of credit unions. Ten years ago, who could have predicted that our economy would have been brought to its knees by a recession? Or that we’d pay our bills and check our balances with something called a “smartphone?”
I’m a big believer in understanding your roots and your historical context because they serve as a great blueprint for what to do, and what not to do, when you encounter similar changes.
CU Mag: What would Edward Filene say about the Filene of today?
Meyer: He’d say, “Don’t get lazy, and don’t you dare become bureaucrats with the people’s money. It’s their money, and it’s their lives. Your job is to help them make it better.”
Above all, he’d call on us to be transformational leaders in improving the human condition. Now is the time to lead in finance and to show the world it’s not just about the shareholders. We are all people. We are all human beings. Our hopes, our dreams, our fears are all tied to finance.
The finance world can be very cold and transactional. Ed Filene made it his life’s work to humanize this world and to give the working man access to a safe place to deposit his wages and to a fair place to get credit—to achieve the American Dream.