Four Hands, 88 Keys

‘Treat your customers like lifetime partners.’

December 4, 2012

A friend and I will perform a piano duet next week at a holiday recital.

It has been my privilege at various times to partner with others at the piano. I have played both primo and secondo. Whether one plays treble or bass is of no consequence, however, as both parts are equally important. Together the partners make beautiful music as they anticipate one another’s actions, cooperate in close proximity at the keyboard, listen to one another’s contributions, and defer or predominate as the piece requires.

If the duet is correctly executed, the audience appreciates and enjoys the give and take of performers. The performers appreciate the value each brings to the mutual artistic expression. The task, by definition, cannot be completed in solo fashion. Cooperation is vital. Practice makes perfect. The partnership requires input, diligence, trust, and respect on both sides for success.

Your credit union has many partnerships, too, although some may not come readily to mind as such. You partner with individual members, your staff, the community, select employee groups, vendor providers, small businesses, and likely many others.

“Our success has really been based on partnerships from the very beginning,” remarked Bill Gates.

As you peruse this week’s research, honestly consider the balance of your partnerships, and realize that “it takes two.”

Treat your customers like lifetime partners. –Michael Leboeuf

Home Equity Loans Make Comeback Fueling U.S. Spending,” says Bloomberg. Loans associated with real estate are rebounding in the wake of record low mortgage rates and brighter days on the job front.

“After six years of declines, lending for [home equity lines of credit] will rise 30% to $79.6 billion in 2012, the highest level since the start of the financial crisis in 2008…Originations next year will jump another 31% to $104 billion.”

Consumers are most inclined to use these credit lines for home renovation and repair. Such spending for 2012 is projected to increase to $120.7 billion, up from $114 billion in 2011.

More loan-related news can be found in the “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit” by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Here announced, “Non-real estate household debt jumped 2.3 percent to $2.7 trillion. The increase was due to a boost in student loans ($42 billion), auto loans ($18 billion) and credit card balances ($2 billion).”

Other items of note:

“Economic activity expanded at a measured pace in recent weeks,” according to the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book. The recent hurricane was cause for weaker conditions in the East although “consumer spending grew at a moderate pace in most Districts.”

Further, “Credit standards and credit quality were somewhat improved, on net, since the last report.” See this resource for district-specific economic activity reports.

Another credit crescendo? “TransUnion: Credit-Card Delinquency Up in Q3.”  Here it is noted that U.S. credit risk is edging up and “the national credit card delinquency rate, or the ratio of borrowers 90 or more days past due, increased slightly to 0.75% in the third quarter from 0.71% a year ago.”

TransUnion also reports that average credit card debt per borrower is up 4.91% from last year, to $4,996.

How do you interact with your members regarding their needs for credit? Will your efforts lead to lifetime partnerships?

A partner in the business will not put an obstacle to it. –Ethiopian Proverb

How are your employee partnerships faring?

Think about “Using Return-to-Work Programs to Improve Profits and Morale” as reported at

Absent employees bring indirect and direct costs in the way of wages and benefits paid, lost productivity, and disruption of customer relations. But return to work programs can help get employees back on the job with workplace modifications such as work area adjustments, assist-at-work plans that allow part time employment during an employee’s recovery, a change in employee duties, or the employer’s willingness to allow flexible hours or locations.

Do you know “How to Help Your Employees Be Fearless?”  Recent survey results reported in this Inc. article reveal employees have many fears, including:

Solutions to calming these fears include lesser reliance on policies on the part of the employer and greater attention to value principles like respect, trust, and gratitude.

Also on the topic of employee partnerships, read that “U.S. Workers Least Happy with Their Work Stress and Pay” as reported by Gallup. “Overall, just under half of American workers, 47%, are completely satisfied with their job, while 42% are somewhat satisfied, and a combined 11% are either completely or somewhat dissatisfied.”

Continuing challenges in the American job market lead most workers to be grateful to hold a job regardless of the unhappy aspects of it. Still, “for the good of individuals and the health of the economy, it is important that workers feel encouraged and connected at work.”

Employers, too, however, have an expectation for employee behavior and when things don’t work out they might want to know how to “Bounce Back from a Bad Hire: 10 Tips.” 

Among the suggestions, disillusioned employers will learn they should “incent them to go,” take time to make hiring decisions, use effective interview techniques to determine a candidate’s style, and incorporate trial periods through “temp-to-perm” situations.

Differentiation is an important part of partnerships. Sometimes the musician playing treble rests as the bass takes the melody.

But one partner cannot exist without the other, either at the piano or during the course of everyday business. We each bring proficiency, but good partnering, it seems, may also require a degree of humility. It’s not always easy, but important to keep in mind.

In the words of Michael Eisner, “It is rare to find a business partner who is selfless. If you are lucky it happens once in a lifetime.”

Do you make beautiful music?






Lora Bray is a research librarian at CUNA.