Light Bulb Moments

What lessons can CUs learn from Thomas Edison?

January 21, 2013

Thomas Edison  is known as one of America’s most prolific inventors and a successful businessman. He was a persistent man who, like all of us, faced periods of adversity and challenge, both personally and professionally.

He was nearly deaf, and his personal relationships were strained at times due to his relentless entrepreneurial spirit. He experienced moments of economic hardship.

“Failure,” too, presented itself not only with necessity for repeated attempts to project success, but also with presentation of inventions ahead of their time. The electric voting machine that was not well received by reluctant legislators is one such example. Inventors don’t always find immediate triumphs.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work,” he said.

We should recall Edison’s stick-to-it philosophy when we encounter a troublesome career moment, face a situation that seems to have no solution, or struggle to get a project to completion or acceptance. “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

‘There are no rules here—we’re trying to accomplish something.’

Thinking outside the box is important not only for inventors, but for anyone who hopes to reach a goal. Research this week identifies opportunities.

Look for hidden gems in new venues. Banks, for example, have been slow to use Twitter, says Bank Investment Consultant. “In order to have a more meaningful impact on customer relationships—and perhaps attract prospects, as well—banks and credit unions that are serious about using Twitter as a relationship-building tool should monitor Twitter for questions and comments about managing one’s finances. Responding to the financial management-related tweets gives financial institutions an opportunity to show how they can help their customers better manage their money.”

Marketers need to develop tweeting schedules and “integrate their tweets with other channels such as their banks’ mobile banking and PFM offerings.”

Did you know “Advisors Targeting ‘Orphan’ 401(k)s Can Reap Big Rollover Rewards?”  Orphaned assets, which sit in 401(k) plans that get left behind and neglected when mass affluent professionals switch jobs, offer a huge opportunity to savvy advisors. In fact, “10% of mass affluent advisors moved their money last year, to the tune of $750 billion, while 27% of mass affluent investors admitted to holding anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000 in dormant assets” in the orphan accounts. “Advisors with effective client-education programs stand to add considerable sums to [assets under management] if they hop on this trend.”

Have you considered prepaid cards for the teen market? See “Can Bieber Make Prepaid Cards Cool?” 

Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber endorses a SpendSmart card from card issuer BillMyParents. Such prepaid cards allow parents to monitor spendy youths. “Teens spend more than $200 billion annually…but most parents want to place curbs on all that buying.”

Another consideration: “Financial institutions have their own reasons for pushing prepaid, including recent federal legislation that limits in some cases what fees they can earn from traditional debit cards—but not from prepaid ones.”

‘I readily absorb ideas from every source.’

Other research findings this week present springboard theories.

Causes and Consequences of Recent Bank Failures”  by the U.S. Government Accountability Office says failed banks analyzed in its study in part “were largely driven by credit losses on commercial real estate loans. The failed banks also had often pursued aggressive growth strategies using nontraditional, riskier funding sources and exhibited weak underwriting and credit administration practices.”

Further, “The acquisition of failed banks by healthy banks appears to have mitigated the potentially negative effects of bank failures on communities, although the focus of local lending and philanthropy may have shifted.”

There are two “potential explanations for the ‘stickiness’ of age 65” for retirement, according to “Sticky Ages: Why is Age 65 Still a Retirement Peak?” by Boston College. They are Medicare eligibility and workers’ lack of knowledge about their future Social Security benefits.

This in-depth study suggests “Medicare eligibility persuades more people to retire.” And with regard to claiming Social Security benefits at 65, “some individuals are unable to accurately forecast their retirement benefits. However, our analysis suggests that there is no relationship between this confusion and the age 65 peak for claiming Social Security.”

How Much Protection Does a College Degree Afford?”  A Pew Research study finds “a four-year college degree helped shield recent graduates from a range of poor outcomes…including unemployment, low-skill jobs, and lesser wages.”

Important findings:

  • 21- to 24-year-olds with only high school or associate degrees experienced “considerably more severe” declines in earnings and employment;
  • Higher employment rates enjoyed by college graduates were not “driven by a sharp increase in those settling for lesser jobs or lower wages”;
  • Education-seeking shares of nonworking grads during the recession did not change during this time; and
  • Unemployed college graduates had better luck finding jobs during the recession than those without a degree.

Will the Jobless Rate Drop Take a Break?” speculates the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Projections for labor force participation show “recent participation declines have largely been due to long-term trends rather than business-cycle effect. However…some discouraged workers may return to the labor force, boosting participation.”

This circumstance may create an unemployment rate that “stops falling in the short term.”

Consequences of a stalled unemployment rate will affect both psychology and policy as unemployment measures are a gauge of economic progress. Potential exists for significant disappointment, affecting consumer confidence and spending in ways that may impact economic recovery.

Edison was a skilled marketer and might have considered “7 Marketing Metrics Worth Obsessing Over.” As you plan your strategy, think about some of the metrics suggested here, including the percentage of leads converted, the percentage of business you obtain through referrals, the percentage of business from repeat users, and the cost to acquire new consumers.

Thomas Edison demonstrated an incredible work ethic and dedication. He never gave up in pursuit of his objectives. But goal setting, he suggests, is imperative. One needs to have a purpose.

“Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment, and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.”