CO-OP Financial Services’ THINK 11 Conference kicked off on Sunday, May 15 with nine industry-focused sessions. These first workshops were designed to address leading-edge ideas and topics of immediate interest to credit union leaders, who currently face a challenging and unprecedented industry environment.

Topics included:

  • Leveraging cloud computing to reduce IT costs
  • Emerging technologies and trends in fraud detection
  • Social CRM: Loyalty marketing 2.0
  • Grassroots membership growth
  • New payment legislation – Durbin and beyond
  • Growth through new payment trends
  • Using analytics to ignite your debit program
  • Uncovering hidden loan potential
  • Building member loyalty from inside and out

In his discussion on cloud computing, Ongoing Operations CTO Hugh Smallwood cited virtual technology as key to keeping up with innovation while keeping costs down – particularly for credit unions that are dependent on secure and cutting-edge technology but don’t have the budget to redo their systems every time an upgrade opportunity presents itself. Where many organizations are already deploying cloud-based systems for things like email, Smallwood predicts that credit unions will shift to outsourcing for everything including core systems in the years to come.

“By 2012, Gartner predicts that 20 percent of businesses will own no IT assets,” Smallwood says. But admittedly, there’s a lag between credit unions’ interest in outsourcing and their vendors’ willingness to accommodate them. “There’s little incentive for current contractors to shift to working with cloud-based technology now,” he continues. “It may be that providers will need pushing,” possibly by CUSOs like Ongoing Operations that represent multiple credit unions.

Presenters Sue Mitchell of Mitchell, Stankovic Associates; Brandi Stankovic Rice of BLS Consulting; and Joe Schroeder of Ventura County Credit Union fired up their standing-room-only session with tales of grassroots community outreach that spanned the globe – and hit close to home. While Mitchell spoke of her travels to Africa and volunteer work with the Global Women’s Leadership Network (“Access to affordable financial services can be life-changing for a family,” she noted), Schroeder detailed Ventura County Credit Union’s efforts to reach local farmworkers in order to grow membership.

Inspired by a larger program called iBelong, which has brought mobile banking services to rural areas of Mexico, Ventura County Credit Union just launched an initiative to provide basic financial services to the county’s largely unbanked farmworkers. Though the program is only two days old – and a long way from providing conclusive results or a positive bottom line – Schroeder is effusive about its prospects.

“This isn’t going to improve our bottom line any time soon,” Schroeder says. “In fact, it’s going to divert resources from other programs. But as an industry we’re so involved with our net worth and regulators and the rest of the day to day that we’ve gotten out of kilter about the philosophy and passion behind being credit unions.”

The THINK 11 sessions for Monday, May 16, will focus on broader issues facing the industry – including creativity, vision and how Tony Hawk’s awesome skateboarding skills translate into good business. For the first day, attendees found plenty to discuss simply talking about credit unions.