A new credit union service organization (CUSO) has entered the market aiming to serve small credit unions.
LiFE Federal Credit Union, a $24 million asset institution in Denton, Texas, originated CU Evolution in early 2018. Family 1st of Texas Federal Credit Union, a $14 million asset institution in Fort Worth, joined the ownership in May.
The CUSO’s mission is to facilitate the growth of credit unions to ensure the movement continues to evolve and thrive. To learn more about the CUSO and the challenges facing small credit unions, CUNA News interviewed CU Evolution CEO Deke Alexander, President Howard Bufe, and Branding & Marketing Director Bryan Schmidt.
CUNA News: What are some of the top challenges small credit unions face?
Bufe: The rapidly changing environment of the financial services industry has placed a significant weight on the shoulders of small credit unions. They need to change, enhance, and evolve. Collaboration, in several formats, is critical to the sustainability and viability of smaller credit unions.
Alexander: Small credit unions often lack encouragement and empowerment. They also face challenges related to development and capacity.
Credit union boards can get stuck in a rut. We have seen dramatic increases in performance when boards encourage and empower leadership and staff to think critically, solve new problems, and try new things.
Schmidt: From a branding perspective, small credit unions often stop short with only the development of a logo. Yes, branding has a lot to do with your appearance, but it also informs your voice and the first impressions of your credit union. That’s absolutely worth investing in.
CUNA News: How do you think small credit unions need to “evolve” or transform?
Alexander: Evolution is a byproduct of a decision to take on risk. It’s not about taking on risk blindly.
Our team helps credit union boards see the potential in taking on calculated risk. An organization will not grow unless its leadership is willing to develop a spirit of empowerment from the board level down to entry-level positions.
Bufe: We must adjust to the way people live life and handle their finances today. We must identify different stages of the member journey and discover new ways to support them along the way.
What are the delivery channels our current and future members desire? Are we truly making the best decisions for our members, not what we think is the best for them?
Schmidt: Small credit unions need to go beyond “people helping people.” It’s a great sentiment for the industry, but every small credit union is made up of people helping people.
It’s a difficult way to differentiate one credit union from another. What kind of people are you, and who are the people you’re helping? Small credit unions need to transform their brands and marketing strategy to be more reflective of who they are uniquely, and more importantly, who they serve uniquely.
CUNA News: How will CU Evolution assist small credit unions?
Alexander: Importantly, we don’t develop a plan and leave. We walk with the credit union’s leaders in the implementation of that plan.
Bufe: CU Evolution will play a servant’s role in the success of our member credit unions. Small credit unions are our heart and soul. We have a passion for the mission of small credit unions and the thousands of members they serve. We want to lift some of the burden off the credit unions we serve.
Schmidt: My hope is to save struggling credit unions. We don’t want to see them simply survive, however. We want them to thrive.
I want them to have hope, to know there is help out there, and to believe that it’s not too late.
CUNA News: Why are you personally drawn to this work?
Alexander: Each of us have been a part of the movement for years and have a specific affinity for small credit unions. We know the struggles, and we know what determines success.
Our staff understands that every small credit union has a story. These are special, people- and community-centric non-profits working hard to improve the lives of their members. They are vital to our nation’s economic health, and we want to ensure they will be around for centuries.
Bufe: We all must have a purpose in our personal and professional lives. I see a giant purpose in what CU Evolution does.
There is a huge need to help small credit unions; you only have to look at the financial performance ratios to reveal that need. We are passionate for small credit unions and a giant heart to serve them.
Schmidt: Graphic design, branding, and visual communication are great passions of mine. I do it for fun when I’m not working.
I love to help people, and that’s an area where I can help people the most. There’s just something about helping a small business find its identity within a community.
I love to see the transformative effect a brand can have on a business, it’s staff, and the people it serves.