Saturday, November 16, 2013


Several weeks ago I learned some disturbing news. Back where I grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, the decision was made to tear down the building which served as the parish church and parochial school I attended all throughout my early childhood. Hearing about this and seeing the pictures seemed to suddenly thrust all the precious memories I have of my grade school experience, the Polish Nuns and serving as an altar boy into a dark and stomach-wrenching void.

The last time I felt something similar was when I watched Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia be imploded in order to accommodate the new baseball field, Citizens’ Bank Park. All those memories of going to ballgames at “the Vet” as a kid with my Dad and brother were turned into ashes in a matter of a few seconds. Or were they?

I know I’m not alone in experiencing the kinds of feelings these situations evoke. Such occurrences are common to all of us. They are part of the fabric that is time, and as time marches on, change inevitably keeps up the pace—sometimes in sync; sometimes a whole lot slower. It’s all part of life’s journey and experienced by all of us everywhere without exception.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

International Credit Union Day—How Will You Be Celebrating?

Back on Saturday, October 2, 2010, I published a blog post on this site featuring 12 simple ways to mark your observance of International Credit Union Day. Three years later, it goes without saying that all 12 ideas continue to hold value for any credit union searching for that special way to call attention to their distinguished heritage.

So once again, here are my 12 ideas for making October 17th, this year’s International Credit Union Day, a memorable occasion for your staff, your volunteers, your members, and really, your entire community!

I.      Make your members feel like owners. Host an Owners’ Day Party.

II.     Review and closely examine the definition of a cooperative. Understand the meaning of the business model it describes. Ask yourself what makes your organization a co-op?

III.    Have a meeting with staff to identify the Seven Cooperative Principles and evaluate how your organization embraces each one. Are they posted publicly for all to see?

IV.    Invite the local business reporter to the credit union to meet and greet the staff and your members. This is a great way to help the reporter develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for credit unions and the cooperative difference.

V.      Participate in other International Credit Union Day activities sponsored by your local League, CUNA and WOCCU.

VI.     Develop special messaging to your members talking about co-ops, the cooperative difference, and what co-ops stand for in the community. Display the messages in your lobby, in electronic statements, in your mobile banking application, on your credit union’s website, and on your social media channels like Facebook and Twitter.

VII.    Sponsor an art competition for youngsters of the credit union asking them to draw a picture of a cooperative. Publicly post the images in your lobby and your website. Offer awards to the best drawings.

VIII.   Leverage your relationships at the local chamber of commerce or rotary club to serve as a presenter during the month of October to talk about the cooperative business model and the values and principles on which it is built. As part of this community education effort, talk about your credit union as one of the many organizations built on that model. (If you missed the chance to do it this year, get your name on the list for next October!)

IX.    Sponsor an essay contest in collaboration with the local high school. Offer a grand prize of $1,000. Make the essay topic: How cooperatives and their distinct business model deliver better value to the American consumer.

X.     Host an open house of your credit union. Roll out the red carpet and invite folks from the community to stop in and have a coffee, have a donut and find out what a credit union is all about. Include a local radio station to broadcast LIVE from the credit union branch to further attract public participation in the open house. And don’t forget to invite the public to bring along cans of food for donation to the local food bank!

XI.    Cooperate with other co-ops in your community to create an organized referral effort where each cooperative helps to promote awareness of one another.

XII.   Organize a community day where the staff of your credit union goes into the community to help low-income and underserved families do repair work, painting and cleaning on their homes. Invite your members to join with staff, shoulder-to-shoulder in providing these services on Community Day as a way to mark National Cooperative Month—People Helping People.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Five Simple Rules for Safeguarding Reputation

(Originally published June 3, 2013 with Credit Union Times)

Reputation management—protecting and safeguarding the image and good name of your credit union—should always begin and end with your ambassadors—every employee; from the corner office to the mail room. It's a collective responsibility, one in which we all share.

As a matter of fact, the strength of any credit union's effort to manage its reputation is only as strong as its weakest link. All it takes is one person's fumble and the public perception of your credit union could be severely damaged for days and months on end. And, that fumble is not just limited to getting caught with your hands in the cookie jar. It could be as simple as not responding to a customer inquiry, something tweeted out of emotion or not properly addressing a member who has been wronged by an unfortunate billing error.

Managing the corporate reputation can be a tough assignment because people are more apt to share stories of mistreatment and dissatisfaction. Somehow, telling others to avoid an organization that has wronged them seems to temper the human psyche. It makes one feel better, as if justice has been dealt for the wrong that was committed.

One thing is for certain; always remember that the smallest of grievances can scar your good name just as easily as a headline misdeed. If left unchecked, sooner or later you can count on them to come back and bite you.

Finally, to ultimately be effective, reputation management has to be a continuous and ongoing process. Everyone on the credit union’s team is on stage, not just for the shift but 24/7, so it’s important that everyone be constantly reminded about their role and the influence they exert on the success of the organization. It’s a responsibility we all share—not just to the credit union—but to one another as professionals, as reputation ambassadors, and as people helping people.

Here are my 5 simple rules for safeguarding the reputation of your credit union. Feel free to add your rules to the list as well.

1) Always acknowledge and respond politely and professionally to others.
It's the littlest of things that can make the biggest negative impression. Respond in a timely manner to your e-mails and phone calls. When someone e-mails you a simple question, don't choose to avoid them by simply not responding to their inquiry. Choosing to ignore or not acknowledge a person is a sure way to sow seeds of frustration and disrespect deep within their perception of you.

2) Keep your word.
If you say you're going to do something, do it. There is no better way to undermine your credibility and detract from your authority than by not keeping your word or breaking a promise.

3) Behave as if you’re always on stage.
Whether at the office, behind the wheel or at the grocery store, behave as if you're always on stage. Like it or not, you're a public figure because you are associated with an organization serving the public. They may not know your name but more often they will remember your face from working the teller line at the credit union.

4) Be prudent in what you post in the social media. 
Do you really want to post that political comment? What about Facebook and all the photos of you with a cocktail in hand at all those Happy Hours? They may present you as the life of the party but they can also make you out to be a big lush as well, more focused on partying and drinking rather than on your responsibilities. Really, do I want to trust my money with you?

5) Be present to the other person. 
Make people feel important by giving them your utmost time and attention. Look at them in the eye when you are shaking their hand and being introduced, not over their shoulder at the next person whose hand you'll shake. When attending a meeting, engage those with whom you are meeting. Don't be texting or paying more attention to your e-mail and Twitter feeds.

Now, be sure to share these Five Simple Rules with others. Remember, it’s a responsibility we all share.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Credit Unions—Courting a Destiny of Failure?

(Originally published in January 2013 on CUinsight 

For some time now, I've had this nagging notion that all is not right in credit union land. It's been bugging me to no end and so it's about time I get this concern off my chest.

What I'm going to say may, for many, strike at the very heart of the credit union business model which I so respect. Yet, I realize I'll have to risk arousing the ire of industry associates and friends in raising the issue but, hopefully, they, too, will see the validity of my concern. Perhaps some will even respond by sharing their views for the benefit of us all.

What’s gnawing at me? I’m concerned that credit unions, as financial cooperatives, might be headed toward a destiny of failure. I fear they are moving in a direction that will eventually see them become exactly the same as their for-profit banking counterparts and this prompts me to wonder what is the threshold, which when crossed, determines that the credit union is no longer a “credit union.” Is it merely the charter that defines such an identity or does it depend on something much more pervasive?

For instance, when a couple is given their divorce decree, is it the decree that actually dissolves their marriage bond or was it of the couple’s own personal doing, months and possibly years before such a decree is ever issued?

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Credit Union Difference—One of Principles, Not Profits

Back in mid-March, the Credit Union Times carried a front page story on Chip Filson and his petition for NCUA board members to be motivated by the unique contributions and needs of a cooperative business.

The article included comments from several credit union executives, two of which struck a chord with me. One was Randy Karnes, CEO of CU Answers, who said Congress didn’t create the credit union charter because the nation needed “nice banks.” He pointed to the cooperative principles as the defining element which makes the structure of credit unions different from banks.

Henry Meier, associate general counsel for the Credit Union Association of New York was the second. Henry suggested that those advocating for the cooperative structure to play a larger role in the credit union industry seem to be promoting it for its own sake.

Hearing the comments of both executives took me back down memory lane into the corporate credit union environment. There, as I rubbed elbows with right-brainers and left brainers alike, I began to realize more and more how important it was to find a course of harmony between the cooperative principles and the principles of asset/liability management, if a credit union was to be truly faithful to its “soul” purpose.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Another Tax Break for the Wealthy!

Something is wrong, absolutely seriously wrong in our beloved United States—and I do mean, SERIOUSLY WRONG!

Just a few minutes ago on the radio, I heard the news that Republicans in Congress are putting together their version of a plan to balance the budget. And what do you think that plan calls for once again? Yes, another tax break for the wealthy!

Now, I’m not out to attack the Republicans. As a nonpartisan, I claim affiliation with no political party. BUT, what am I to think after hearing the news this morning that the push is on once again to give a tax break to the very rich? It simply gets my dander in a fluff. What on earth are these lawmakers thinking? Have they taken up residence in the back pockets of the one-percent?

Here’s the reason why I am so miffed when I hear that any politician wants to give the wealthy another break while the middle class along with the downcast and underserved continue to get chewed up, spat out and trodden on.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

3 Lessons From the Vatican: Know When to Hang Up the Mitre

This week, the world will witness an event that has not occurred since the year 1415—a Pope stepping down from the Papacy.

Although we all watched his predecessor grow more frail and disabled during the final years of his papacy, Benedict XVI has decided to spare the world audience the repeat performance of witnessing the same debilitation take hold of him during his reign. He has chosen to abdicate the Papal Office on the grounds that he is becoming unable to measure up to its many responsibilities.

Of course, while some may disagree, reigning as Pope is like night and day in comparison to serving as a credit union executive, volunteer or CEO. Nevertheless, we ought to ask ourselves if there is a lesson we can all learn from Pope Benedict, a man to whom the keys of St. Peter have been entrusted. Can one find in this historic gesture a particularly meaningful take-away.

As I avidly read the news surrounding Benedict’s upcoming abdication and follow the stirrings underway in preparation for a Papal Conclave tasked with electing his successor, I see three lessons of value for all of us who hold a position of influence and leadership.

1) Know your limitations
- Be cognizant of the demands required by the office you hold and be honest with yourself about your personal capabilities in meeting them. 

Today’s world is quite different from the ‘60s of the last century. Credit unions continue to evolve, growing in technology and service offerings as they strive to meet the demands of a highly sophisticated financial services marketplace. Keeping abreast of all the changes in regulations, delivery channels and consumer needs can be, without a doubt, an overwhelming task. And, to further compound one’s effort to meet all these challenges on a daily basis is age and one’s ability to run the race. Age should not be seen as a game-ender. I prefer to view it as a game-changer.

There comes a point when we need to be honest with ourselves in realizing that the demands of the game require a finesse and agility best suited to someone else. That absolutely is not to say it’s all over, rather, it’s simply the recognition that one can accomplish more from the third-base coaching box rather than the batter’s box.

For example, consider any of the greatest pitchers in baseball. For them, throwing smoke was not the same 10 or 15 years into their career. There comes a point when the smoke starts to become a whiff. So then what happens? Acknowledging the realities of the situation, they simply continue the game but in a different manner—becoming a pitching coach, going on a speaker’s tour for Major League Baseball or maybe even sailing around the world.

2) It's all about the organization; not you
- Realize the role you play is that of a leader, inspiring others by both word and deed. It's not about your success and personal record book rather, it's about the team and what's best for it.

In his resignation announcement, Pope Benedict cited the demands associated with the Papacy. Realizing his growing inability to meet all those demands, he concluded that remaining in office would be detrimental to the health and welfare of the church. One surely has to admire him for such virtue.

Benedict may not have accomplished all he had hoped to do as Pope. Some may even view his “record book” as being short on achievements or tainted by all the challenges facing the church. Of course, only time will reveal the actual reasons that influenced his decision to abdicate. However, one cannot deny his role in ecclesial history for deciding to put the Papacy and needs of the church before his own.

If a Pope can step down from office, then one must ask why it is that others find it to be an unacceptable option when it becomes apparent that the required vigor to do the job is no longer present.

3) Finish strong
- End your biography on a high-note. Then immediately start working on a sequel.

Remember Johnny Unitas of the Baltimore Colts back in the sixties and seventies? He happens to be one of my all-time football favorites. He was a record-setting quarterback, selected as the league’s most valuable player in 1959, 1964 and 1967. His overall achievements list him as one of the greatest NFL players of all time.

When I think of Johnny I can’t help but recall his numerous face-offs against Broadway Joe Namath of the New York Jets. My most savory memory however is Super Bowl V, a championship he clenched in the waning years of his career. I remember all the talk back then. Reporters and analysts alike all wondered if Johnny’s Super Bowl V win would be the crowning highlight of his career. Will he now decide to retire? Yes, I certainly remember the chatter because as my favorite football star, I had a vested interest in Johnny and did not want to see him move on.

Instead, what followed was anticlimactic; a sad ending to the career of a player I revered as a legend. I watched as Johnny decided to push on, be traded to the San Diego Chargers in ’73 and after a sad and lackluster year, fade into retirement in 1974. You see, along with my fond memories of Johnny is one that's most sad. It's a  memory of Johnny playing as a Charger and being badly sacked. It was painful.

As we watch Benedict XVI abdicate the Papacy this week, let’s all remember the primacy of the organization which we serve; the role we play in leading and inspiring others; the strengths and weaknesses associated with our humanity; and, the way we want our biographies to sum up our professional achievements.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


This morning as I opened my eyes after a night of blissful dreams, I bid farewell to the holidays and set my gaze on a nascent new year and all that it might unfurl before me in the weeks and months to come. I pondered the lucky “13,” and wondered if life and its many experiences throughout 2013 would be any different from all years both past and to come.

As I got out of bed, and turned on the TV, I happened to catch one of the many commercials currently airing that promote America’s financial cooperatives—credit unions. The spot is part of a national branding campaign cooperatively managed and sponsored by credit union associations, credit union leagues, and food and electrical co-ops. It seems collaboration among all cooperatives has become the new norm, emerging from what many have discovered to be a golden opportunity for growth in both membership and services, coming of course, at the expense of corporations and big banks and the growing anger and mistrust consumers have of them.

Yes, life among cooperatives has changed dramatically. Now when I receive a check from any credit union organization and look at the name of the issuing financial institution, I no longer see the word, “bank.” Credit unions have not only learned to keep their money within the system, they also have come to realize that if they are to promote the value of their model over one benefitting shareholders, they ought to maintain their business checking accounts at another financial cooperative, not at a bank.

Credit unions and cooperatives are also applying the same mindset when it comes to staffing vacancies and selecting vendors. Going outside of the cooperative system no longer makes sense when there are already talented people within the system who bear allegiance to the cooperative business model and who are unemployed and eager to work. It’s no longer acceptable to look for products and services outside of the cooperative business model when there are already CUSOs and vendors within the system that can offer pricing and expert services exclusively aligned at meeting the needs of cooperatives. Why pay more and go outside of the system we now ask ourselves, when the same services or talent can be tapped from among credit unions and cooperatives at a much cheaper price and so many times at a value no one else can offer. 

In this new age of 2013, walking the talk has become the mantra for credit unions. We have seen that by holding ourselves ever more closely to the principles and values we espouse as a business model, we have finally not only discovered our true value proposition but have further developed a reputation for integrity and social justice within the American marketplace. And, it’s that reputation that’s attracting the attention and trust of consumers in ways that are startling Wall Street and inciting a new look at corporate America’s code of ethics . . .

BUZZZZZ, BUZZZZZ, BUZZZZZ. With a nice big yawn, I hit the snooze button and rolled over onto my side pondering the lucky “13,” and wondering if life and its many experiences throughout 2013 would be any different from all years both past and to come.

May all your dreams for 2013 come true! Happy New Year!