America's CU Conference preview

Gladwell: CUs are David to Banks’ Goliath

CUs should use their size to their advantage in a financial services arena that’s as unsettled as ever.

May 17, 2013

What credit union wouldn’t want the brand dominance of Apple or the financial resources of Goldman Sachs?

How about the real estate dominance of McDonalds with a footprint in every city? Imagine a marketing budget in the eight figures as the norm.

That’s the world of America’s behemoth companies, but certainly not credit unions.

Guess what? Credit unions may have the advantage says Malcolm Gladwell, best-selling author, famed New Yorker reporter, and keynote speaker at CUNA’s America’s Credit Union Conference (ACUC) June 29 to July 3 in New York City.

Gladwell is best known best for turning conventional wisdom on its head. He does just that in his soon to be released “David vs. Goliath,” a book he previewed for CUNA in conjunction with his upcoming (ACUC) keynote session July 1.

“I am interested in the idea that a lot of our intuition about what an advantage is and what a disadvantage is are wrong; that we confuse those two things,” Gladwell says. “We can make a list of things that help us or hurt us. I think the wrong things are on the list.”

Bigger isn’t always better and being powerful in a marketplace doesn’t ensure future success. Large, leading companies, he says, “innovate less. They have less of a need to talk to their customers. They are less nimble. Prestige can limit you. People who are No. 1 in a marketplace have a smaller degree of freedom.”

Should you, for example, go to the best college you get into—or to the one where you’ll best thrive?

“Harvard is a great place to go to college if you are in the top third of your class,” Gladwell says. “If you are not, you are absolutely better off at a good school where you can thrive and be confident and compete successfully.”

Credit unions are David to the banks’ Goliath and it’s time to embrace that, Gladwell says. Credit unions should use their size to their advantage in a financial services arena that is as unsettled as it’s ever been.

Consider the example of Emil Freireich, who developed a promising treatment for childhood leukemia. He “had the courage to try things that no one else had the courage to do.”

Freireich wasn’t trying to belong to a club of famous people. “He wasn’t,” Gladwell says, “bound by anyone’s conventions. True innovation comes from the marginal people who push innovations into the center.”

Gladwell will take his unconventional approach to prestige and power to ACUC in July. Credit unions seeking that extra motivation for bringing courageous innovation to their markets can’t afford to miss it.





PAUL GENTILE is CUNA’s executive vice president of strategic communications and engagement.