CU Water Cooler

We're Not Sexy and We Don't Know It

Andy JanningComment

It wasn't her fault, of course. The assertion that set me off was well-meaning on its face, and it wasn't even hers. She was checking her iPhone in the middle of Starbucks, trying to figure out why 25 new emails had assaulted her before the foam disappeared into her latte.  

As she scrolled and squinted and typed, she commented how one of her colleagues passionately opined that credit unions should work harder to make their branches like Apple stores. Places where members could linger and lounge, try out the products, and have long meaningful chats with well-trained professionals about any nuance in the product and services brochure.


This colleague wanted the branch to become a destination that members would visit frequently, refer copiously, and buy from religiously. Bake that piece of Apple pie into the CU culture, this colleague's logic went, and untold profit and market share and member loyalty would tumble forth. 

I've been hearing this earnest encouragement from consultants and colleagues and conferences and leaders for years. All of them have been telling CUs to play the branch innovation/marketing/branding/profit MadLib game that begins with "Your CU should operate more like _______________ (insert wildly popular yet completely unrelated business name here)!" Disney was a popular fill-in for a while, as was Pike Place Fish Market. Then it was Starbucks. Now it's Apple. Soon it will be something else. The common theme is a yearning for a CU’s branch environment to become an attractive destination for its members.

Even though this mindset has been thoroughly debunked by folks much smarter than me, most notably The Financial Brand and Brett King, it's still Kardashian-esque in its ability to ignore its own irrelevance and delay its own destruction. 

"Banking is desperately unsexy"


The resistance can be traced to one hard and ugly truth we've been ignoring: banking, whether CU- or bank-flavored, is desperately unsexy to virtually all of our members/customers. Tim McAlpine said so. And in an age when our finances are accessible in our fist and a typical laptop is 3,000 times more powerful than the computer that guided Apollo 11 to the moon and back, it's not even the errand that Denise Wymore once labeled it. 

Banking has become - and really has always been - a road upon which members must travel to get from where they are to where they want to be. And members want their branch visits like the road they drove to get there: fast, direct, and uncomplicated, with almost no unnecessary waiting, invasive advertising, or ridiculous detours.  

If we embrace our inner unsexiness, focus more on fast and less on fluff, be ourselves and not Apple, then what does that mean for the branch experience? 

Kill Your TVs

While I have absolutely no hard data to support this, my experience tells me that the shiny flat-panel TVs hanging in your lobby are pumping out some combination of a) local or national headlines, b) weather, c) trivia, and d) generic Marketing-approved product promos complete with shiny happy stock photo prettiness.  

The problem: the member tsk'ing and sighing in line isn't watching any of it. What's worse, he can get all of that info already on the smartphone he's been using to impatiently text, tweet, and Facebook his entire universe about how much he hates his wait.  

A solution: Stop spreading someone else's news. Use your TVs to tell your branch guests about the stories they can't get anywhere else. Play video testimonials from real members about how your CU helped them build a better life. Ask a few employees to talk about why they love working there. You don't need fancy video equipment, software, or Hollywood-level cinematography.

A testimonial recorded at a member's arm's length could bring many more much closer, and an Instagram-ed photo of your members and/or employees actually enjoying their CU ride looks eleventy-billion percent better than the dreck you downloaded from iStockPhoto. Make celebrities out of the members who made you successful.  

Stop Begging for Business

More CUs are adopting a sales culture, which basically means that everyone in the branch is cross-selling to everything with a heartbeat, with the goal of boosting services per household and overall profitability. This culture is fine and necessary, but...

The problem: If we accept the CU-as-road metaphor, then the 15-second sales pitch you've coached/begged/counseled/incented your front-line staff to spout as part of your "100% Presentation" sales culture mindset is about as effective and embraced as the guy knocking on your car window begging for loose change at a stop light. Sure, some pitches may yield the occasional checking or loan, but most of them will be carefully ignored or openly resented by both the member and employee.

A solution: Ever watched a NASCAR or IndyCar race? Each of them feature a group of highly stressed and incredibly focused people hurtling around a tiny corner of the universe in a massively expensive piece of equipment they can barely afford in the hopes of avoiding catastrophe long enough to finish one race only to start another…which pretty much describes the members who pay your salary. They're too busy to listen to you, moving too fast, and feeling too stressed to focus on the future. They want their money and their sucker, and for you to leave them alone. 

When Jeff Gordon, for instance, makes a pit stop during a race, his crew chief isn't casually leaning into his window to take "just a few seconds of your time, Mr. Gordon" to tell him more about how his car needs new tires and more gas. He certainly isn't giving Mr. Gordon a brochure and a business card in case he needs help navigating the traffic on the track and avoiding wrecks. He knows the pit stop must be fast and efficient, and only for the purposes of getting his driver back in the race with a chance to win. Any in-depth info will be shared with the driver in real time, on the track, in short bursts, and just when the driver needs to know.  

Instead of hitting up every member with a product or service during every transaction, have each MSR take 5 minutes before the branch opens to identify 5 members from the previous day who might benefit from a particular product or service. Have them create a personalized communication piece that shows exactly how the product/service can help that member's unique situation. Gift wrap it and send it to the member's house. Better yet, give it to the member the next time they visit the branch. In that package, include a small gift card to a merchant from whom the member made a purchase in the last 30 days. 

Imagine the look on a member's face when you give them their $20 of lunch money and a personalized gift bag. She'll ask what it's for, to which you'll say "it's just for you; something I thought would help you out." She'll be surprised. She'll be curious. She'll want to know more. And every other member in line will want what you just gave her. 

Now that's sexy. 


The president and founder of NO NET SolutionsAndy Janning is an eight-time state and national award winner for overall excellence in organizational development, a popular speaker at conferences and events across the country, writer, and voiceover artist. He delivers proven leadership consulting results through the “Leader Effectiveness Training” program and offers a wide variety of workshops and webinars to improve your parenting, speaking, serving, training, communication, and leadership skills. To learn more, and to find out why he occasionally runs with scissors, visit and follow him on Twitter at @andyjanning.