Have you ever received notice of an annual conference, reviewed an agenda which seemed like a repeat of previous years, and asked yourself, “Why do I need to attend the same old conference?”
CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council Conference committee co-chairs Amy McGraw and Royce Ngiam intend the 2022 event to be one which will turn “the whole idea of marketing and business development on its head.” The conference will be held March 9-12 in Los Angeles.
Ngiam, vice president of market insights and analytics at Financial Partners CU in Downey, CA, openly admits that “I hate conferences. The only time I go to a conference is if I'm presenting or if there's some other reason to be there.”
His CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council leaders told him that's why they wanted him to be a co-chair of the 2022 conference committee.
“How do you create a conference that you want to go to? How do you create programming and how do you make it exciting enough that you want to attend?” Ngiam was asked. “I said, ‘I don't know, but that sounds interesting so let's take a stab at it.’”
McGraw, vice president of marketing/chief experience officer at Tropical Financial CU in Miramar, Fla., says understanding the best ways credit unions can use technology to continue the goal of “people helping people” is critical. It will be a focal point of the conference.
“The things we used to do, we can leverage because you learn from history, but we're never going to go back to the way it always was,” she said. “We have to continue moving forward, and that means using technology to help us find different ways to connect our members with our financial services.”
“We’ve rethought the conference completely from the ground up,” Ngiam said. “We are very much leaning into the relationship pieces for formalizing some mentor matches. We're also trying to be very inclusive with first-time attendees or solo attendees. We’ve got some programming designed to help collaborations and conversations in very much a safe space. From there, we'll have some pure networking.”
For the first time, the 2022 conference will feature “tracks:”
Each attendee will be able to tailor their experience based on their interests.
“In 2022, nothing is happenstance,” Ngiam said. “We're trying to be as deliberate as we can in terms of shaping the conference, the experience and the learnings, then hopefully carrying those insights forward so each person can customize it for their own needs. Your conference experience is going to be different than mine, but guess what? We’re unique, so you can take as much people time as you want, or you can check out a class and take notes.”
More important changes cited by the committee co-chairs include:
Exhibit hall becomes “Experience Space (Welcome Center):” “Ever since 2020, it became really evident that credit unions are going to have to make their digital transformation fast,” McGraw said. “They're going to have to move very, very quickly and in so doing, we don't want people to forget about the experience of people helping people. How do you use technology so people still feel connected to their credit union? I really like that the Experience Space is going to allow individuals to interact with vendors in a very, very different way than ‘Here's a flyer.’”
More interaction time: “When we were looking at some of the lunch programming, we decided that we're going to have a very short kickoff and then just let everybody chat and catch up over lunch so that they can see each other,” Ngiam said. “Some of our breakout sessions are changing as well. After the lecture, they're going to break up a giant auditorium into quadrants as the attendees work on something. Then we'll bring everybody back together again -- just really a new face of the conference, rethinking the way it goes.”
DEI: The conference will lean heavy into the DEI space, Ngiam said.
“I believe there's a lot of systemic racism built into our system, so how do you have the conversations you need to have?” he said. “When you think about diversity in advertising or marketing and business development, that doesn't mean showing an underrepresented class in your ad. It goes a lot deeper than that. How do we really get to the root of it? We will have some great thought leadership professionals.”
“I can't imagine a stronger force in the industry than a bunch of marketing and business development people together with all of our collective tools and voices,” he continued. “I think we could really have a groundswell there. We have the training and the tools to bring it to market. Our job is literally to amplify messaging to share that story. So out of anybody, we're the ones that have the best chance of making it heard and visible, and that's what makes it exciting because we can act on it. We can take it to market as long as we know how to do it impactfully.”
New experience for first-time attendees: At her first CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council Conference, McGraw remembers “walking into the big, huge room which was the initial meet-and-greet area, and everybody knew each other. They all went into groups, and I'm walking around, and I don't know a single soul besides a few of the council employees that I met.”
“That's one of the reasons we're kind of changing up the whole first-time attendee experience,” she continued. “We're looking at a mentor-type program and an orientation. We are going to have treats and trivia to try to connect people. The focus for those who are attending this conference is that we've all been separated for two years, so this is an opportunity for us to find ways for people to really connect with each other, newbies especially, as well as VIPs.”
In-house technology think-tank: Michigan State University Federal CU leaders will be at the conference to discuss how they utilize all internal departments to create a collective “think tank.” This group reviews different ways to use technology, rather than seeking out a fintech company to lead the process.
“That's going to be such a cool talk about what we can do as credit unions to utilize our existing departments and our membership as little focus groups to see what people are looking for,” McGraw said. “(Deciding internally) what the different fintechs should be addressing to bring into our fold, rather than guessing.”
“There's something at the conference that’s great for everyone, and that brings it back to wanting to create a conference for somebody who hates conferences,” Ngiam said. “How do you make it unique enough so we can appeal to all people? We don't want to tailor it to the professional conference-goer, so we’re bringing in that diversity of thought, diversity of experience and diversity of people, appealing to everybody and making sure everybody gets represented and feels like they truly belong here.”
“It's sort of a reboot,” McGraw said, “where we're literally taking what we've learned up to this point and rebooting the way we think about technology, rebooting the way we think about marketing and business development, rebooting to think of ourselves more as a revenue center rather than a cost center and how we do that.”
“We're reinventing our workplaces and how we interact with each other,” said Ngiam. “We really think that going into 2022, that's the chance for the new normal to set in. The baselines are going to be in place. We get to take a deep breath, really start planning and being a little bit more deliberate, as opposed to a little bit more reactive to the environment. That's why we're excited.”
“I think it's going to be fun, but hold on tight, 'cause it's gonna be a wild ride,” McGraw said.