Development Educators Find Solutions

What does development mean to CUs?

September 1, 2011

What does development mean to your credit union?

Graduates from the National Credit Union Foundation’s Credit Union Development Education (DE) program explored that question during their recent hands-on workshop.

“Development definitely has a domestic element,” says Lois Kitsch, program manager of the National Credit Union Foundation’s REAL Solutions program, in a new report on the program, published by the Filene Research Institute.

“To me it means understanding who your members are, and providing products and services that enhance their lives and move them on a path to self-sufficiency and asset accumulation,” she adds.

During their workshop, participants looked for solutions to these “imaginary” case studies. Here’s a brief summary.

Plan a new CU in Iraq.

The country faces an unstable economy, virtually no middle class, limited democracy, ongoing security issues, illiteracy, corruption, tribal factions, Islamic financial regulations, and a lack of trust of outsiders.

Solutions: Develop a middle-class membership of oil workers, their families, and related select employee groups using appropriate products. The credit union would be blessed by local leaders, and would adhere to Islamic lending standards.

Promote CUs as cooperatives.

This aligns with the United Nations’ “Year of the Cooperative” campaign.

Few credit unions advertise themselves as cooperatives, however, and few would invest resources in a program.

Solutions: Take a long-term view: Gain a million new voices by 2017. Request small contributions from many credit unions, and create a rewards card program promoting the slogan “Cooperatives Cooperating Make Cents.” Offer rewards for on-time payments, and 1% cash rewards to stakeholders.

Promote and enhance literacy programs.

This is especially important for young adults. Young consumers love reality shows, spend a lot of time playing video games, prefer simplicity, and buy into branding.

Solutions: Launch a youth-oriented campaign, using channels popular with young people, and a brand message targeted at them. Start a tiered program to help young adults transition into new programs, with incentives for wise financial behavior.

Make up for lost interchange income.

This is a result of the Dodd-Frank legislation and its regulations.

Solutions: Consider new payment options, recapture loans and credit cards, and position the credit union against banks using fees to make up for their lost income. In a more serious situation, credit unions could gain a low-income designation to receive supplemental capital, create third-party partnerships with outside vendors, and consider shared branching.

Reverse stagnating CU growth and an aging membership.

Solutions: Target the large Hispanic population to augment membership. Design a program to transition the credit union from a product-driven culture
to one driven by member services and needs, such as CUNA’s Creating Member Loyalty.

Preserve a small, slightly unstable CU  considering merging with a larger one.

Solutions: Pursue partnerships that enhance the credit union’s ability to serve the underserved; increase membership via advisory boards or ambassadors, new member groups and services; and add ATM/branch locations.

Download the Filene Research Institute brief at And visit for information on the next DE workshop.

LIBBY VERTZ is an intern in CUNA’s business-to-business publishing department. Contact her at 608-231-4096.

Next: Embrace Employee Innovation

Take an enthusiastic and structured approach to harnessing innovation among your employees, says Consider this framework:

  1. Foster a workplace environment that engages employees at all levels. Encourage employees to go above and beyond their job descriptions, making them aware of new opportunities in the company and in their jobs. Then explicitly tell them you are seeking innovative new ideas.
  2. Establish methodology for exploring new ideas. “Organization” was ranked one of the biggest challenges in exploring innovative options, according to the Innovation and Commercialization 2010 McKinsey Global Survey. Then, fund and offer developmental support for those innovations.
  3. Put selected ideas into motion:
  •  Listen to ideas from staff and volunteer networks.
  • Review selected criteria, such as scalability, cost, and capacity for execution.
  • Create a business case. Individuals whose ideas are selected should draft a business plan. Reviewers should consider this an application for funding.
  • Conduct market research. Have innovators commission market research to explore demand for selected concepts.
  • Develop and test. Create a prototype to demonstrate the concept works. Limit funding to encourage bootstrapping, and focus on the concept alone.
  • Launch. Work with the innovator to identify the best way to deliver the chosen programs. Oversee the transition and success of the program.