Trust Is a Lofty, Worthwhile, Strategic Goal

Trust resonates better with members and the public than any other CU characteristic.

March 22, 2011

Several marketing surveys conducted during the past 10 years have affirmed that “trust” resonates better with credit union members and the public than any other characteristic of credit unions.

Member ownership, one member one vote, and the phrase “It’s Where You Belong,” all have some value and recognition factor, but “trust” is the concept the average member and consumer most easily and readily grasps.

It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. In a time when trusted icons, elected officials, and institutions become headline news when their actions and shenanigans are exposed, people are becoming more cynical and distrusting, in general. Trust:

  • Is difficult to earn and easy to lose. Once lost, it’s tough to regain. A cooperative system and cooperative financial institutions should have the advantage in gaining trust, but it doesn’t just happen because we want it to.
  • Builds over time by demonstrating honesty, real concern for each party’s welfare and success, and value. Simply saying “You can trust me,” without tangible demonstration just won’t work.
  • Doesn’t require total agreement on all issues nor perfect performance. It does require a confidence that your interests are importantto others and that when you can’t get what you want there’s a valid reason why.
  • Requires a mutual “assumption of good intentions” by both parties. This simply means that when a mistake is made or something is overlooked, the other party assumes it was due to an honest mistake and not intentional. This basis takes the specter of dishonesty, meanness, spite, and disrespect out of the equation and allows a long-term trusting relationship to flourish.

The credit union system is made up of organizations with a common mission. Much of the leadership of the various components comes
from other organizations within the system.

The system of a strong national advocate with a network of state advocates working with and for thousands of credit unions has worked for more than 75 years and must continue to work if the system is to see another 75. 

To hold this complex system together, there must be trust between the components. They don’t always have to agree, but they do have to trust the integrity, common mission, and “good intentions” of each of the other components of the system.

A credit union is of, for, and by its members. Although it provides financial services that aren’t unique, its structure is unique, as is the ability of the users—members—to ultimately hold the organization and those who run it accountable.

Any type of co-op must gain the trust of its members to be truly successful. Regardless of structure, you must earn and then nurture trust to maintain it.

Credit union leadership can gain member trust by providing consistently good service with products that are value-priced and efficiently delivered, and that reflect quality and accuracy at all times.

Staff should know how to recognize members’ needs and how to package products and services to fulfill them. Apply “assumption of good intentions” here. Members can make mistakes and misinterpret rules and services. Good communication and counseling are keys to helping educate members about the credit union’s regulations and services.

The concept of trust is most appealing to members, and attaining trust from the majority of your members is a lofty and very worthwhile strategic goal.

Trust creates loyalty, and loyalty leads members to want to transact every possible financial service with their trusted credit union. It also leads to a willingness to come to the support of the credit union when it’s threatened.

Isn’t this the goal of every credit union?  

JOHN FRANKLIN is executive vice president and chief operating officer for CUNA in Madison, Wis. Contact him at 608-231-4266.