Credit Union Geek

Marketing, Strategy, and The Force by Joe Winn

Tag: power

Thinking Outside The Grid

Originally published on

A lot happened at the most recent CUNA GAC. Though I couldn’t attend, it was apparent even to this distant observer that an attendee couldn’t possibly experience it all. Unless you had two years to do so! Between the sessions, round tables, keynotes, and Hill Hikes, interviews took place for a variety of industry publications. I wouldn’t fault you for missing, oh, 90% of them!

One of these segments was shared by LSCU (the League of Southeastern Credit Unions, no affiliation). In it, they discussed disaster plans with Ted Koppel, namely, power grid failure strategies. As you know, a branch going down is an inconvenience. Imagine if an entire city was dark for days. What services fail first? How do you manage member funds? Do we fall back to a cash (or seashell)-based economy?

You would be correct to say the primary concerns center around medical care, providing clean water, and distributing food to the community. But what about after that infrastructure has emerged? How long can you operate on battery backups and satellite phones if only overloaded mobile cell towers (usually on trucks) are available?

The discussion raises interesting questions and requires, wait for it, outside the “grid” thinking. Being an environmentalist, my first thought is focusing on adoption of solar and other self-sustained energy sources. These can substantially increase your capabilities during a utility outage, while fostering a community-based energy economy (think local farming, except your product is electricity). Plus, reducing emissions from energy production benefits everyone.

Your goal in building disaster resilience is to ask the right questions, ahead of time. But what if the “disaster” isn’t in a loss of power or something your crisis team cooked up? The other side of thinking “outside the grid” is to look at problems from a new perspective. Instead of considering how you can deal with a situation, imagine what you can do to avoid falling in to it entirely. How can you be, “off-grid”, as it were, to the issue?

Think of any challenges that arise throughout your member experience. Yes, coming up with simple ways to address them is important, but is it possible to eliminate the problem from ever occurring? I’ve seen a lot of credit unions using a graduated rewards program. However, none of them offer easy access to a chart showing what I need to do to be considered “Bronze”, “Platinum Plus”, or “VIP Gold”. I know these loyalty systems are tempting, but maybe you’re approaching them in a way which creates complexity no matter how well it’s planned. When the original iPod was released, a famous parody video emerged showing the packaging had Microsoft’s marketing team designed it. Sure, their final product told the customer a lot more, but, in reality, did it? Was the simplicity a crutch to be overcome or a victory in messaging on its own?

You’ve heard consultants suggest “outside the box” thinking. That’s so cliche. Who’s thinking “outside the grid”?

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Are You Bluetooth or Wi-Fi?

Two wireless technologies have helped shape the modern world: Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. The former is best characterized by the Borg-like headsets for hands-free use, and more commonly now, in-vehicle communication. I use Bluetooth headphones at the gym to eliminate any cords which could get in my way. My phone pairs to the car anytime I drive, routing music, Siri, and calls to the stereo system. Bluetooth is awesome for so many reasons. It’s very low energy; your tiny headset can stay on for days before needing a recharge. It is easy; enter range of a paired device and they connect immediately. And with the newest version, known as Bluetooth 4.0 or Bluetooth Low Energy (LE), you can sync fitness devices that keep charge for months or years at a time.

However, Bluetooth has a number of weaknesses that keep it from being the sole wireless tech. It is relatively short-range, about 30 feet on average. It’s also slow, as in 10% or less of your typical LTE or Wi-Fi connection. Plus, it is a peer-to-peer system, meaning you don’t normally have a router handling multiple clients…it’s one to one.

Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is absolutely perfect for high-speed communication. It’s very fast (and new standards are pushing those boundaries even further), covers about 150 feet from a router, handles multiple devices on a single connection, can have good security, and is easy to set up for anyone. The modern wireless world has Wi-Fi to thank for its rapid adoption and growth. Conveniently, its weaknesses are the exact opposite of Bluetooth. Though fast, it is very power-hungry, making it unacceptable for use in low-power devices. For this reason, we have Bluetooth.

Did you know that both technologies operate at nearly the same wavelength? (Yes, I know, there are 5Ghz wireless systems, like my own, but public systems use the most compatible, which is still 2.4Ghz.)

Two different ends from a similar starting point. So what are you? Does your personality match the low-key, reliable, and conservative behavior of Bluetooth, or are you the high-energy, quick-moving, and always-networking Wi-Fi?

Just like our computers, it’s good to have a bit of both. The Bluetooth ensures my headsets, fitness monitor, and small file transfers work consistently. The Wi-Fi keeps me connected…researching, browsing, and enjoying all that our 50Mbps connection has to offer, from anywhere in the office or home (or even public locales). Without one, I’d be missing something.

Me? I’m also both of these systems…Bluetooth if you put me in a new situation; low-key and true to existing connections. However, get me going about the latest Doctor Who series or a new tech announcement, and I’m your Wi-Fi, talking, mingling, and excitedly moving about.

Ideally, your CU should be gathering strategies from both these types. Find your Bluetooth and Wi-Fi people, and embrace the best they each have to offer! Just cover the blinking blue light…that’s annoying.

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