This was the big question posed by CO-OP Financial Services' Chief Marketing Officer Samantha Paxson during her CO-OP THINK 16 kick-off talk.
I'm here at the Hotel Del Coronado in beautiful San Diego with my reporter hat on and will be writing a few articles to sum up my experience over the next few days.
From its humble beginnings as a California CUSO ATM network upstart in the early '80s, CO-OP Financial Services has grown into one of the credit union industry's 800 lb. gorillas. It serves more than 3,500 member institutions (more than half the U.S. industry) with an impressive arsenal of payment technology solutions and a network of more than 30,000 ATMs.
I recently saw The Jungle Book with my kids, so please bare (bear?) with me. The U.S. credit union industry is such a complex and interesting jungle filled with large animals all trying and vying to drag credit unions of all sizes into the future. They co-exist in a quasi co-operative and highly competitive eco-system. On the trade association side, we've got CUNA and NAFCU, and on the mega-CUSO side, we've got CO-OP and a small handful of other huge players. The compelling story to me, though, is how the mega-CUSOs are surpassing the trade associations as the true visionary catalysts of the industry. It's most likely a combination of their large scope, scale and pure monetary resources all centered around needed technology. Simply put, these mega-CUSOs are highly relevant and systemically important.
CO-OP's annual THINK Conference is the ultimate manifestation of this Lion King story. It's grown from a typical AGM and user-group meeting to a festival of deep thoughts. Progressive thinking and provocative speakers from outside the industry presenting in jaw-dropping locations. This is my second THINK conference and, quite frankly, this event surpasses every regional and national credit union event that I have ever attended by orders of magnitude. Top drawer speakers from A (Apple and Amazon) to Z (Zappos) have graced the THINK stage over the years.
So back to the big question being asked this week, "What Does People Helping People Mean Today?" According to CO-OP Financial Services, it looks like this.
This notion of "Purpose + Innovation = Opportunity" is simple and relevant. According to Paxson, "We're in a period of transition and churn that's creating anxious times. Credit unions need to adapt and purpose is more relevant than ever. By concentrating on human-centered needs and injecting purpose into digitalization, credit unions can get out ahead of fintech innovators. Helping people is our purpose (our why) and innovation is the engine (our how). This equals opportunity and unlimited possibilities."
We'll see how this "People Helping People 2.0" theme plays out over the next could of days. For now, CO-OP THINK 16 has my rapt attention.
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, It's a Money Thing, and CUES Next Top Credit Union Exec. He is also a co-founder of the CU Water Cooler.