I am covering the CO-OP THINK 14 Conference in New Orleans! Again, I am wearing the foreign correspondent hat like I did at the 2013 CUNA GAC. CO-OP's public relations manager, Bill Prichard, was kind enough to extend an invitation and I took him up on it. I am a first-time attendee to the conference and to the state of Louisiana. I'm impressed on both fronts.
As a Canadian with a keen interest in the global impact of credit unions, I have been fascinated with the U.S. credit union service organization (CUSO) model for some time. The closest thing we have in Canada is our credit union centrals which are a mix of provincial trade associations and corporate credit unions. However, the missing ingredient in the central credit union model is competition and it's the competitive nature of the CUSO space in the U.S. that makes it so incredibly powerful for credit unions.
The last two weeks have given me an up-close look at the CUSO model. Last week I spoke in Las Vegas at the CU Direct Lending & Marketing conference and this week I am seeing CO-OP in action. These are both huge organization with a national presence. Both are owned by their member credit unions and both have to work hard to retain those relationships because credit unions have lots of choices for the services that these CUSOs provide. They work hard by conducting research, developing new products and, in many cases, partnering with emerging technology companies. CUSOs give credit unions of all sizes more than a fighting chance.
In CO-OP's case, they have put together an annual conference filled with great content delivered by world-class speakers. The polish, staging and agenda are all top notch. For example, today's A-list speakers were Debbie Millman from Sterling Brands, Welby Altidor from Cirque du Soleil, Gary Vaynerchuk from Vayner Media and Randi Zuckerberg formerly from Facebook. Not too shabby.
But the real power of the CUSO model came through yesterday for me in a small "Evolution Session." A Silicon Valley start-up founder—Rachna Ahlawat of Ondot Systems—showed off a new app that acts like a remote control for your credit and debit cards. Here's a demo video of how it works.
Awesome, right? CO-OP has partnered with Ondot to implement a credit-union-branded version called CardNav by CO-OP to be offered to credit unions. The CU Times published an article yesterday with all of the details.
We keep hearing about the impending disruption of the financial services space. But, in my opinion, this mix of in-house development at scale combined with access to the next big thing is the credit union industry's secret weapon in this race to remain relevant. Credit unions want innovation. Silicon Valley wants access to large-scale distribution. Credit-union-owned CUSOs operating in a competitive environment are the perfect facilitator.
Tim McAlpine lives in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. He is the President and Creative Director of Currency Marketing, an integrated marketing agency specializing in helping credit unions attract the next generation of members. Tim is best known as the creator of Young & Free and co-founder of the CU Water Cooler.