While the future of financial services will be marked by continued commoditization, credit unions can differentiate themselves in the eyes of consumers “if they’re brave enough to live their difference—in practice, not just in philosophy,” says Rhonda Sheets, founder/CEO of Support EXP, a performance optimization consulting firm.
One thing that won’t change in the future, she says, is consumers’ demand for high-quality products, great services, and fair prices.
“In the past, consumers were willing to pay a premium for great quality and service,” Sheets says. “What’s different now is customer expectations are even higher, and credit unions are scrambling to create and deliver better products in an increasingly homogenized industry.”
Sheets, who has worked with credit unions since the 1980s, recalls the days when many credit unions were located in trailers the parking lots of manufacturing plants. Yet many members would put “I Love My Credit Union” bumper stickers on their cars.
“There was a true organic connection, and that’s what made credit unions different,” Sheets says. “That connection can still differentiate credit unions in the future, and drive their success as major competitors in financial services industry.
“In fact,” she continues, “the only thing that will prevent commoditization is the experience members have in dealing with their credit union. How to make this a reality in the midst of growth is the real challenge.”
While credit unions have experienced strong membership growth, Sheets believes this has made it harder to maintain a unique identity.
To do so, credit unions must rely on leading indicators to optimize the member experience.
“A balance sheet is a lagging indicator,” Sheets says. “Asking members where they’re experiencing friction when they do business with you is a leading indicator” that can identify why members leave.
“The way to secure the future is by coming so close to members that you can practically read their minds.”