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Not All Change is the Same – Credit Union Edition

Originally published on CUInsight.com

How often do you hear advice suggesting you “make a change” or “step out of your comfort zone”? There’s a reason…consistency might be easier, safer, and reliable, but it doesn’t promote growth. Making a change is good, if it’s in the right direction, for the right reasons.

Yet not all change is the same. And that’s ok. So how do we make sure our diligent effort produces the best (or any) results? By understanding the kind of change you need.

Away Means Different Things

Joe Standing on Rocks
Joe following a 30 year tradition of climbing rocks.

Regular readers know I love to travel, especially to see friends who happen to live in really cool places. They’re no longer off-limits (thank you thank you thank you vaccine researchers and nurses!). Far off places, daring sword fights, magic spells, a prince in disguise!

My last post came from the seaside deck of a Rhode Island home. I had a lot to say about creativity being driven by a change of scenery. Perhaps after all our time stuck in the same environments, variety is a hot topic. Consider this, “change stuff, part 2.”

Since that trip, I’ve done more traveling! Crazy, I know. When in RI, I can count on connecting with kids, participating in impromptu art projects, and riding around in Teslas. Really, it’s a tough life. And the inspiration I get from the experiences are unique.

Last month, I reconnected with one of my best friends. She lives with her boyfriend and foster rabbit north of Atlanta. They’re child-free, big on hiking, RVing across the country, kayaking, boating, and cars that go fast while making satisfying noises.

Young Deer
As seen on one of our trails.

It’s a vastly different environment. Their neighbor even built a Miata race car! (I was able to ride along, which was a blast) We also had the chance to go on longer hikes through nearby National Park sites, see deer, and jet boat around on big lakes. More change, totally different.

You Get What You Experience

Each of these trips provided a separate set of insights. For the former, well, you saw my writeup. From the latter, I had less “downtime”. Whether playing complex and awesome board games or learning how to engineer a solar system into an RV, we were always active.

Turns out, I needed a bit of this, too. Sure, I didn’t sit down on my computer and draft out posts as much (maybe not exactly ideal), but we were tending to bonds built over many years. Had I gone with the same expectations of seeing nephews, I’d have been really disappointed.

It’s a bit like traveling to Disney (which I also did in this span). No one goes there to “relax and settle down for a while”, as much as their marketing might imply you can. Many know the feeling of needing a vacation from that vacation. Still fun, just totally different.

Joe and X-Wing
Stay on target.

Be open to getting the most out of every experience while pushing expectations aside. Now I’m starting to sound like my Tai Chi instructor. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Right Change. Right Place. Right Time.

Each day, I read articles about credit union evolution, digital transformation, and emerging competition. Most of these pieces miss the point, which I touched upon way back in 2016. Exponential change means these ideas are already outdated.

It would be like me traveling to visit my nephews expecting to engage with them as they were during my last visit…18 months earlier. Or planning to do the same things with friends, even though they moved from one side of the country to the other.

Or, what any Disney person can understand: Planning to do a theme park with a set schedule for every attraction, show, and food stop. I point and laugh at those people. That’s too stressful, and it’s just not going to happen. Things will change, and you’ll have to adapt.

Start With Your Need

The best industry articles encourage leaders to focus on the mission, understand their staff and members, and recognize the needs. Individual product choices, marketing decisions, and strategy plans follow from this analysis. (We do the same with potential and existing clients.)

Passionflower and Bee
Keep your goal in focus.

What’s the change you need to serve your need? Sure, credit unions are evolving. So is everything else. How can you best evolve to meet the needs of your members today, tomorrow, and maybe next year (looking ahead really is hard with exponential change)?

For example, tackling your digital transformation is essential. But, deciding to add a chatbot because it makes your service better for “young people” or “on the go” is the wrong approach. Just ask Anne Legg of THRIVE, who specializes in that data side of things.

Looking at your services lineup and coming to the conclusion, “there’s just not enough member choice”…well, that’s likely not a great formula, either. Rick Leander at LFB Holdings understands that more progress can come from subtraction, not addition.

Find the change that gets your institution on the path it needs. Is that from insights gained while watching the sea roll by in the Northeast? Or more literally, found on a trail in a National Park? Maybe the bustle of Disney provides the right kind of change.

Next time you’re looking to make changes at your credit union, approach them from a range of perspectives to ensure they’re both the right things and for the right reasons. Because goodness knows change is only going to continue.

That might seem a bit outside your comfort zone. Perfect, you’re already on the right road.

5G Doesn’t Matter

Originally published on CUInsight.com

Hey again! It’s your friendly neighborhood Credit Union Geek, talking about the latest webs making their way through your community. Silk-free, of course. We don’t need those strands sticking to everyone. This is an invisible new tech that could change everything.

Or it could just be an evolutionary improvement that enables new capabilities for a range of industries. You decide.

Today we’re going to talk about 5G. Some say it will revolutionize banking. And e-commerce. And medicine. Basically, everything!

Others think it caused COVID-19. They’re wrong, just to be clear.

Join me for a few geeky minutes and we’ll figure out how 5G may, or may not, affect your credit union. And how you can prepare!

What Is 5G?

5G Tower

This isn’t a place to go into deep technical dives. Besides, there are people out there far more qualified than I to lead you on that journey. You want to know the basics. Here we go.

Take out your phone. Maybe it’s an iPhone. Perhaps it’s a Samsung Android-powered device. Whatever it is, I guarantee it connects to a cell tower to work. Sure, with work-from-home, we’re using a lot more wifi, but that doesn’t mean mobile providers are sitting still.

Take a look at the top of the display. There’s some signal bars and maybe a network name. Next to it, you might see a “3G”, “4G”, “LTE”, or something similar. (AT&T users probably see “5Ge”, which is a total lie done for marketing purposes only)

Most of the time, our devices are on an LTE network. That’s considered a 4th generation wireless technology, thus, “4G” is the same thing. It’s fast and does a pretty good job of working where we commonly go.

Sidenote: Yes, there are variations of 4G LTE like LTE Advanced, but remember I said this was a basic overview?

Like most technology, LTE was never seen as “the end of the line”. Even while it was being deployed, companies were working together to design the next generation of cellular tech. What came out of that collaboration is what we now call “5G”.

5G cellular technology promises a few things:

Ok, barring that last one, those all seem great. Let’s do it! I’m sure there’s no challenges standing in our way…

Challenges of Implementing 5G

Cell Tower Antennas
A lot of these to climb and upgrade.

Well, I did bring it up.

Like LTE’s deployment before, blanketing a country (or world) in a new technology is a huge undertaking. Even for companies like Verizon which make a ton of money, you’re still talking enormous investments in equipment, people, licensing, and sheer time.

Bottom line: Every single cell tower (and its “backhaul”, or lines connecting it to the world) needs to be upgraded to support 5G. And that’s not all.

5G is actually separated into two general categories, mmWave and “regular” 5G. The latter is mostly a “bolt-on” upgrade to existing towers, using similar frequencies and offering similar range. But they’re also only slightly faster than what we have today with LTE.

The 5G you see promoted by networks as “nationwide coverage” is the latter. Expect the improvements in each of the previous categories to be…a bit.

The big benefits come from mmWave, but it has a downside: Range. Just like an AM radio station carries for what seems like forever while an FM station goes to static quickly, the higher a frequency, the shorter its range. So short, it could only be a city street corner.

Yes, that means you need a cell “tower” (they’re smaller) on every block, and then multiple ones for a building.

Why bother?

Because mmWave 5G is fast. And extremely low-latency (quick response between device and destination). This can enable new uses, from drones to live VR and more. Right now, we are still figuring out what opportunities it opens up.

One More 5G Challenge

Girl with iPhone
Great photos. No 5G.

Your current device doesn’t work with 5G. Unless you have a new Android or iPhone 12, you’ll never experience the benefits of 5G. Sure, you will have a less congested network as other people transition to 5G, but you’re stuck on 4G LTE. Enjoy the “slow” lane, suckers!

Needless to say, from your perspective as someone not involved in the deployment of a nationwide network, consumer adoption is your greatest obstacle.

Ok, say we’re enjoying the iPhone 12 Pro right now. And I happen to live somewhere that 5G mmWave is accessible, plus, I choose not to use my home wifi (that’s probably about the same speed). How can this make my credit union experience better?

Uses for Credit Unions and Members

Finally, why you came to this party! And after all that education, you’re going to hate this answer, but it’s my responsibility to share it with you.

None.

There is no realistic use of 5G now or in the immediate future for credit unions.

“But I keep seeing articles saying how 5G will change the way credit unions operate!” You’re right. I applaud these people for looking ahead with new ideas. Yet none of them are dependent on 5G. I’ll address just a few here:

iPhone 11 Pro in Grass
  • Improved biometrics for security: Position data of a device takes a tiny amount of information to store and process.
    • With an iPhone, you can even see data on every step you’ve ever taken in Settings/Health/Data Access & Devices, then choose your phone or watch.
    • This information also requires permission to share, and how many members will say yes to their credit union seeing their motion activity?
  • Real-time language translation: Your iPhone does this right now, with the option for it to be totally on-device. No data connection even necessary!
  • Facial recognition: The idea is that your system can get a stream from the camera to identify the user and their facial expressions.
    • First, modern iPhones do all this on-device. Today. No need for 5G. Second, people aren’t fond of sending video of them without explicit permission (that’s why your phone now shows a green dot when it’s recording)
    • And third, you’re now responsible for securing member facial data and all the legal/regulatory issues associated. Any volunteers?
    • That’s not to mention the enormous data usage your app would now use, along with members wondering why your app asks for permission to use the camera.
  • Video chat with members: Yeah, you can totally do that right now with WiFi and LTE. Don’t you already?
  • Faster loan approvals: What’s the slowest part of your loan process? The sending of the data, or the processing on your system (or the manual work from your loan officers)? Yeah, sending documents a half-second faster won’t change this.
  • Reduced costs for CU: The perspective here is that you don’t need to build your services for slower devices. This confuses two kinds of performance, data connection and processing ability. 5G doesn’t make a phone load your app faster; a better processor and more RAM does.
  • Serving the unbanked: With 5G, you’ll connect with more rural and low-income people through a fast connection…right? Maybe, someday. For now, 3G loads your app just fine. Look to other strategies to serve the unbanked in your community.
    • This is a whole separate discussion on broadband definitions and expanding access to all Americans. Your credit union can support these policies, but they have nothing to do with 5G.

We could go on, but I think you get the point.

Instead of looking at 5G as this revolutionary change to how you can do business, let’s look at where you aren’t meeting member expectations today. Because that’s the most important path towards becoming a better community financial institution.

Lessons From 5G

Old Black Phone
Really, you’re just phoning this stuff in.

Since we’ve already established that the tech itself has minimal impact on your operation, what can we learn? Well, two things come to mind:

  • Data management
  • Continuous improvement

Data Management

5G is all about moving data more efficiently. At your credit union, your focus needs to be on managing all your data more efficiently. That way, you can access what you need, when you need it.

You’ve probably heard about “data lakes” and “single source of truth”. In fact, our own Learning Library is gearing up to cover these topics in depth. A friend in the industry, Anne Legg, is all about that process. Other connections at Arkatecture help make it happen.

It’s essential to improving your member experience.

Which brings us to the second lesson…

Continuous Improvement

Running Along Road
Just keep running.

Mobile providers aren’t satisfied with “same”. To grow revenues and attract new customers, they look ahead to how they can continuously provide a better service. Sure, a lot of it comes down to marketing, but if you don’t give marketing anything to promote, it’s more difficult.

5G comes at an enormous investment from the providers and chipset manufacturers. Then you have to redesign devices so they’ll work with the new tech. It’s way more complicated than you’d expect, but it continues the onward march of technology.

Yet being able to say your network is faster, you can do more with Verizon (or T-Mobile, etc.) than ever before, and that they are connecting you in new ways has value. And then they deliver on the promise with actionable results (like blazing-fast speed tests!).

5G May Not Matter, But…

So, how are you creating your own “5G improvements” at your credit union? What new ways can members interact with their money, connect with your team, and work towards a more financially free and empowered life?

Sidenote: This gave me major deja vu to the Are You Bluetooth or Wifi? follow-up post from what feels like ages ago!

And what are you doing to bring all your data together so anyone can get the info they need? Yes, whether they are using wifi, a back office computer, 4G LTE, or the fancy new 5G mmWave on the corner of fast and blazing fast.

Your mission is your 5G. And better access for all sounds like a good benefit to me.

It’s not Digital Transformation. It’s Transformation.

Originally published on CUInsight.com

Would this intro keep you reading?

This article will help your credit union advance their progress on digital transformation.

Yeah, probably not. In fact, I bet I lost some of you just with the implication. Doesn’t say much for my last post on digital transformation, eh? Oh well, perhaps you can share with them what they missed.

5 Years in 8 Months

We talk a lot about digital transformation. I get it. It’s something I’ve tried to keep top of mind for over a decade. And the need continues. Especially now.

You already recognize that 2020 moved us 5 years forward in digital expectations. Or 3. Or 10. The number doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that if you were lagging in December, you’re way behind today.

Transformation Loading Window

Are you stepping up to the challenge? Every credit union I speak to or work with is with a passion. They’re taking new member expectations seriously. The transition from branch-focused to ITM, app, and touchless tech is rapid.

So why does the title say it’s not about digital transformation?

Because it isn’t. Digital adaptation is just the most visible component. The rest is harder, but more important to your survival long-term. And yet, it’s what credit unions, at their core, should be best at achieving.

It’s the Mission, Everywhere

You already know all this. I’m just here to assemble it into a single section. To make it easy for reference…and inspiration (I hope!).

Consider this one geek’s manifesto to what he hopes our industry can become. Scratch that, what he knows our industry can become.

Credit unions claim to be a unique form of financial cooperative. Not-for-profit, member-owned, community-focused…you know the rest. So why do most people see it as just another bank?

To be clear, I’m not looking for a new “Open Your Eyes” campaign. I’m challenging you to be what that promotion says you are.

Over two years ago, I wrote a series of articles about the Credit Union Which Could Be. Immediately followed by Member Relationships Which Could Be, it challenged you to imagine, then make real, the best version of you.

So let’s take it to the next level, together.

The Credit Union That Should Be

Astronaut with American Flag on Moon
Think of this like your “moonshot”. And you already have the rocket.

We spent a lot of energy on what could be. After what we’ve seen economically and socially, it’s time to focus on what we should be. For everyone.

  • Making the credit union a place someone wants to work (props to a forgotten post on LinkedIn calling for CUs to become the “cool” new workplace opportunities). To build a career. To help others.
  • Standing up for the oppressed in society, both socially and financially.
  • Living the mission, whether in daily operation, hiring practices, or lobbying.
  • Lobbying. Yes, really. By supporting candidates who are good for members (ie. people), even if they still have more to learn about your regulatory goals.
    • That means not endorsing everyone who pledges to vote “no on CU taxation”.
  • Standing up against predatory lenders, and supporting policies to improve financial wellness, even if those affected aren’t your members. Because 1) they could be and 2) your mission doesn’t exclude people.
  • Providing innovative and traditional services through digital channels, while making your priority be authentic connections. Human to human. Whether it’s through Zoom, a plexiglass divider, or back in the world of “normality”.
  • Understand you are more than a place for people’s money. More than the “cheaper bank”. To be the institution for which people are proud to display their card. And on that point, give them awesome card options!
  • To do all this because they’re the right things to do, not because they may make the institution bigger or more powerful. Because when your shareholders are also members, your decisions must always benefit them.
  • Bring that obsession with societal benefit and inclusion into your core operation.
  • To expand financial access to those who thought they never had a choice…or the option. Because you know financial security raises communities.
  • Taking advantage of digital schooling to contribute your own financial literacy efforts straight into their “classroom”. By getting staff involved, because the human connection is essential.
    • Because when young people understand money, they can make better decisions that help them and others for a lifetime.

Normal Is Anything But

Butterflies Emerging from Crysalis
Change can be a good thing.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t take normal for granted. And sometimes, normal for you is awful for someone else. So we listen, learn, and change.

Because change is inevitable…and sometimes rapid.

The Community That Should Be

The great thing about being part of the credit union industry is that so much of what’s being asked of companies, governments, and people is already part of your mission.

To drive for inclusivity isn’t changing what you believe. It’s just being specific in achieving that goal.

To expand financial literacy, assistance, and long-term policies are all core to the cooperative principles.

As you look at the challenges in society, and the challenges within your own institution, it becomes apparent that the credit union which should be is also the community we want to become.

So get loud. Get active. Share your mission. Make it clear that your goals are society’s goals. Heck, for over two decades, this industry has taken real action to recognize that Black Lives Matter and address inequities in financial access.

The credit union movement was built by women. Yes, all the way back to that special day in Estes Park!

And credit unions work to ensure that who you are and who you love has no impact on your ability to enjoy all possible financial opportunities.

So Is Transformation Just Being True?

Handshake with Cooperation Words

We began this discussion thinking about how transformation was more than just digital. Yet now, it appears we came full circle. What makes credit unions special is that they’ve already made so much of this transformation.

Now it’s time to be authentic to your roots. Spread the word. Listen. And learn.

You know credit unions really are special. From MSR to collections agent to CFO, the mission needs to be top of mind and actionable at every level.

People love working for Apple, Patagonia, or REI (the largest cooperative) because of the culture and how they feel a part of contributing special things to the world. Your credit union is no different.

Be true to your mission and you’ll always be on the right side of history. Plus, you may just become known as the “cool bank” who treats people right.

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