So your credit union is on a data journey. Congratulations! Wherever you are on this path, know that it’s further along than taking no action. And the insights you’ll gain will help you become a better institution internally and for your members.

A question I keep seeing asked is, “how long will this effort take?” We both know credit unions love their planning sessions. Predictability helps set other goals and focus priorities. Bring that question to a data expert, they’ll probably ask you another: “where are you today?”

It’s the Journey

Joe Winn Black Karate Gi Punch
Motion and stillness. Together.

A martial arts proverb imagines a new student and their teacher. The student asks how long until they will achieve a Black Belt. (As a Black Belt myself, this resonates strongly.)

“Five years,” says the instructor. “But what if I train twice as hard as your other students?” asks the student.

“Ten years,” the instructor calmly responds.

“I’ll train every day, all day; surely I can achieve that rank faster!” exclaims the motivated student.

“Twenty years.”

The moral, as you may notice, is that when you’re so focused on the goal, you miss out on the lessons gained during the journey. The point of gathering, understanding, and acting upon your data isn’t to be “done”; it’s to create a better credit union for everyone.

Science: Awesome. Often Slow.

Microscope and Slide
Think. Test. Observe.

Since I’m an old-school geek, science is an important part of my background and passion. For this topic, it’s also the grounding of what makes it “tick”. Some of you may have data scientists on staff to make sense of it all. Science rules!

It might look like scientific discoveries happen solely through “ah, ha” moments scattered throughout history. Electricity, zap! Density, eureka! Gravitational waves, groovy.

In reality, scientific advances come after a slow buildup of data, followed by a long period of analysis. Niels Bohr took years to determine that electrons “orbit” in stable energy levels. A black hole was only identified in 1971, though they were proposed hundreds of years earlier.

Data Journey: Essential. May Be Slow.

Binary Data Ball
Think. Act. Learn.

Ask Anne Legg, author of Big Data/Big Climb, if you can rush this journey. Like climbing a mountain or answering a question of the universe, you have to plan out the steps to take. And then be ready for slow movement towards insights and discoveries.

Will you stumble into moments of newfound clarity, where a big mystery of your members will suddenly become apparent? Quite possibly! Should you celebrate those memorable insights? Of course!

However, the real, lasting change at your credit union comes from “what you learn along the way”.

It’s an ongoing process that needs continuous attention and motivation. When you’re looking for a quick solution, it’s easy to get distracted and discouraged. Treat it like the scientific research it is. And don’t expect a single moment where your data journey is “complete”.

Make Data Discoveries Your Mission

Slowly, your credit union will discover improved ways to operate, engage staff, empower members, and provide for your community. Which sounds an awful lot like your mission.

Your data journey is the path to your other goals, though only if you take what you learn and implement, beyond just into your processes, but also throughout your culture.

Whether you’re working towards a Black Belt, looking into the deepest questions of the universe, or trying to figure out the best way to grow member relationships, focus on what you gain during the journey.