CU Water Cooler

It's Not Extraordinary If It's The Norm

Matt MongeComment

We’re all trying to figure ourselves out, aren’t we? Individuals are “finding themselves,” young leaders are finding their way (or maybe they’re not, depending how you look at it), groups are figuring out who they are or who they can’t be, organizations are figuring out their identitybrands are trying to communicate an organization’s essence, and movements (or systems, depending how you look at it) are trying to find their soul.

The thing is, try as we may, we still very often end up looking or sounding or acting or trying to be just like dozens of others. Don’t believe me? Check out this list of bank and credit union taglines. 

A couple years ago at the CU Water Cooler Symposium, Ed Brett said something that continues to resonate with me. During his talk that year, he essentially said that credit unions have to be “better bankers than bankers.” In other words, at least one potential differentiator is being better at our business. Profound, yes? I think culture is another of those differentiators, but the fact remains that we have to continue to improve at what we do.

In his most recent post here at the CU Water Cooler, Brett said something that a friend and colleague of mine have talked about several times in the last couple years. It’s not enough just to be good at what we do, or even just a little better than our competitors at what we do. We have to be “differently better.”

Many organizations stand out not only because they’re good at what they do, but also because of how and why they do what they do. They’re an obvious example, but take Vancity, for example. Sure, they’re good at the whole banking thing, but the thing I think I appreciate most about the fine folks of Vancity is the clarity they seem to possess about their values and purpose—their mission. They’re not just good at what they do; they’re doing things differently.

I’m being admittedly over-simplistic, but that’s partly why people choose to do business with one financial institution over another. It’s not like there’s only one financial institution on the planet that has the products and/or services that yours does. Heck, there are probably several—dozens, even—in your communities that have them. And yet, people choose one over the others. Why? Because on some level, for some reason, they think something is different, and that thing appeals to them.

Everyone talks about member service, and that’s fine; but really, what does that mean for you? Say, for example, we stripped the interior of your building of any verbiage containing the name of your credit union. Then, we blindfolded a group of people from the community and walked them into your credit union and had them walk around, talk to people, and even conduct business. Would they be able to notice a difference between you and any other financial institution? Think I’m being silly? I often am; but about this silliness I’m serious. And I’m not alone.

We’re tempted to say service is what makes our respective credit unions different and better than our competitors, but sometimes it’s neither. We’re notthat much better at service than everyone else. We’re not that much friendlier than other financial institutions. I don’t mean that to sound harsh at all; it’s just rare that our respective credit unions are noticeably different and better at service than everyone else in the market. If extraordinary service were the norm, it wouldn’t actually be extraordinary, would it?

What our service can be is different. It can have a certain feel to it, as Umpqua Bank has shown us. Service is an outgrowth of your culture, and is the living, breathing, talking part of your brand. We’ve got to ask ourselves what it is that actually makes us different than others. Not even necessarily better (though that helps). Different.

It’s important to note here that I’m not saying that one way is necessarily better than another. Some credit unions might hang their hats on well-thought-out services. Others on efficient, quick, streamlined, no-frills service. Others still on the environment in their branches—maybe it’s extremely polished and professional, maybe it’s casual and fun. Neither is necessarily better than the other, but they are different.

So what’s different about your credit union? What’s really, truly, markedly, noticeably different about your credit union than what someone would find at other financial institutions in your community? What makes your credit union and service unique? 


Matt Monge lives in Kansas City, Missouri. He is the Chief Culture Officer of Mazuma Credit Union, but he also does speaking and consulting work on the side to help other organizations with what he's passionate about: developing awesome culture, organizational identity and leadership.