This post is contributed by Tim Kolk, credit card expert and owner of TRK Advisors. Tim developed the on-line Credit Card Management School in partnership with with Callahan & Associates ( He spoke about capitalizing on card trends at CO-OP’s regional THINK It Out series this fall.

Big Data doesn’t have to be such a big deal. There’s no question that it’s a big story. Here’s what John Whittaker, director of product marketing, information management solutions at Dell Software recently told Inc.: “[Businesses] have the opportunity to use analytics to go out and learn new things about themselves, their markets, and their customers, and to use that information to make better, smarter business decisions.”

But can Big Data apply to you? Data gathering and analysis skills –and the technical resources required to make use of data – used to be difficult to obtain and intimidating to implement. These were often assumed to be available only to large, sophisticated card issuers. The recent flood of articles about “Big Data” only reinforces the feeling that small institutions cannot keep pace as market competition heats up once again.

Believing this to be true, however, would be completely wrong. With basic desktop computers and data analysis skills familiar to many new college graduates, today’s credit unions can take advantage of the information packed in their own systems.

The data each credit union already has about its members and card users can provide meaningful insights when managing debit and credit card businesses (and, yes, you need to think about debit and credit cards as distinct businesses within your entire organization of “businesses”). This information can lead to action within the two daily management needs of a successful card program:

  • How are you going to get new cards into member hands?
  • How are you going to convince members to make your cards their preferred plastic?

With just a little training any credit union can learn to dig into member data to find where new accounts would benefit members and the credit union. As for managing existing accounts, any successful product manager these days needs to be data-focused to identify areas for balance growth, purchase stimulation, risk management or product set design changes.

Your data tells the story of your card programs’ health. It can reveal problems you didn’t know you had. For example, one client of ours was able to identify that a significant number of their best members were not interested in their credit cards. Converting data into this insight motivated the entire organization to action, including redesigning a high end card focused on that segment’s specific needs.

In our experience the individual insecurities of card management staff – and often senior management too – can stand in the way of getting big results from even the moderate data you already have. Basically, we all shy away from topics where we are uncomfortable or feel ignorant. Accessing and acting on data is easier than ever. If you are not doing so, honestly assess whether you are just avoiding the topic altogether. It might just be you.

Big data is a big opportunity, but it doesn’t necessarily require a giant leap. Next time, look in the mirror and resolve to reach out, learn a little, and take this step into your (very exciting and successful) future.