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Caroline Willard Lane, CO-OP Senior Vice President, Business Development and Marketing, opened THINK 12 with an insightful and highly entertaining keynote, reminding the audience that, given the pace of change and the innovative channels for credit unions to reach new members, ANYTHING is possible.

Since 2008, THINK has become an annual milestone for many of the participants. We’ve been able to focus on some of the more dramatic and challenging issues our industry and our economy have ever faced. This year feels different for the first time since we entered the Great Recession. We have reached a turning point for credit unions. CO-OP Financial Services sees a great new potential for membership growth, if we all are able to take advantage of the opportunities this moment is representing to us. The vision is for credit unions to become a cult brand, a helpful brand. A brand that helps fill emotional needs in a positive way. In the last years, we have discovered that people have a need to connect to something larger than themselves.

It’s finally the time to find new ways to integrate members and make them part of our movement

Member growth is the core issue that we’ll have under the microscope at this year’s conference. The recent CUNA “Survey of potential members” from 2011 and 2012 was somehow sobering. Our friend John Haller at CUNA reports that events of the last two years were a “grand opportunity missed” for our industry. The CUNA survey confirms what we all suspect: People out there are just not aware of the benefits of credit unions membership like we think they should be. There’s a lot to be done.

“If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” – Don Draper

To change our conversation, change our minds. Given the pace of change and the innovative channels for us to reach new members, ANYTHING is possible. If potential new members don’t know us, we have an opportunity to introduce ourselves.

Could credit unions be the next big thing?

Could we create the first cult brand in financial services?

More importantly: How do we get there?

Creativity

According to a major global survey commissioned by IBM, creativity was named the number one leadership competency of forward-looking businesses. What does it take to be creative? As Jonah Lehrer said: “Every creative journey begins with a problem.” Like the problem we all face in growing credit union membership. It’s all about new connections. Or, as Steve Jobs said: “Creativity is just connecting things.” You need to have enough dots to connect.

Reinvention

To prosper and succeed, credit unions need to embrace reinvention as a permanent way of doing business. Or as Reid Hoffmann, LinkedIn founder, called it “Permanent Beta”. When a system or applications is in Beta, it works – but it’s still being tested. Learn, analyze, and relaunch. It’s all about agility, shifting into permanent beta, freeing up your way of thinking. We need to think of each credit union as a thought laboratory for all credit unions.

Cult Brand

Bank Transfer Day was a good example of something most of us see – and participate in – almost every day. When you shop online, you look at ratings and reviews because you want to know what other people have to say. Everyone wants to belong. A credit union is not really a place. It’s something that we belong to. Like a team. Or a family. To become a cult brand, we need to make it being part of a financial community, a clear advantage to individual members. We need to reassert the idea that credit unions are a movement. We need to break down the barriers between “them” and “us.”

WE ARE YOU. That’s a brand message to build upon.

To become the cult brand we want to be, we have to create pie in the sky ideas. As Jim Stengel, former global marketing officer for P&G said: “Brands dedicated to improving people’s lives” grew “three to four times faster than the competition in their categories” over the last 10 years. We have an opportunity to be everything that the big banks are not. Progressive. Trustworthy. Community-focused.

Credit Unions may have always been this. But now, it’s the time to BE IT.