THINK 19 Recap: Opportunity is Everywhere

Last week, over 800 credit union professionals convened in Miami Beach at THINK 19 to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing our industry. Over the course of three days we covered a wide variety of topics, from the future of payments and member service to how we can collaborate internally and through strategic agility to help fuel transformation and growth. CO-OP President/CEO Todd Clark and Chief Product Officer Bruce Dragt also unveiled a strengthened vision for how CO-OP is delivering product innovation to credit unions in a rapidly evolving financial landscape. As CO-OP Chief Experience Officer Samantha Paxson stated at the start of the conference: “this is the time to be energized.” Despite increased competition from banking, payments and fintech players, credit unions have built a foundation of trust and have the opportunity to differentiate themselves by focusing on our core mission: people helping people.  As we forge ahead with new digital business models, our members must remain at the center of everything we do. Transforming the member experience requires us to focus less on being financial providers and more on becoming financial problem-solvers, leverage data and digital technology to engage with our members at the intersection of life and finance. THINK 19 gave us an opportunity to assess where we are as an industry and how we can continue to partner on our transformational journey. Here were three key takeaways from this year’s THINK conference:

1. Know Your Members – and Know Them Well

It is the tendency of most consumer-facing businesses to market to anyone that looks like a prospective customer; but in the digital age, the “average member” is constantly changing.  Jean Chatzky pointed out that age and income demographics are rapidly shifting (ex. by 2030, women will control 66% of America’s wealth) and that there are now four common member personas – pioneers, pragmatics, skeptics and traditionalists – each with a unique set of needs and expectations. Our goal shouldn’t be to be everything to everyone but to instead focus on what Seth Godincalled our “tribes” – the members that feel a close connection to our business and are willing to serve as our advocates. Building lasting connections with our tribes will be the key to growth.
You have 110 million members between all of you – what will it take to get each of those members to talk regularly about you,” he asked the audience. Knowing who our members are will allow us to form emotional connections – the currency of any strong brand. Omar Johnson highlighted the fact that it is the combination of data and empathy that allows us to tell stories that resonate with our members and gives them a sense of identity when they engage with us. Jeanne Bliss doubled down on the importance of knowing our members, highlighting that “by 2020, 89% of customers will walk away from brands that don’t already know them.” This puts the onus on all of us to continue listening to our members’ needs and embedding that into the experience we provide them.

2. It Takes a Village (and an Agile Mindset)

When Taavi Kotka began envisioning the digital transformation of Estonia, he found that identifying the technology challenges was the easy part, moving past legacy systems and breaking down traditional mindsets was the bigger challenge.
Doug Ferraro, President/CEO of Bellco Credit Union, phrased it well: “The revolution of trying to change thinking to agility requires people to become comfortable with the uncomfortable.” Embracing strategic agility will be critical to building a member-centric organization. Part of the challenge, Charles Duhigg explained, is that too often we reward bad habits within our organizations (even when they exist for good reasons.) In other words, if everyone maintains the attitude “do your own job, not someone else’s job” we’ll miss the hidden opportunities to bring meaningful change to our members’ lives: ”People who come into their credit unions are coming to you for guidance, to buy homes, to pay medical bills. These are the moments when you are most flexible and malleable about changing who you are. When a company comes to you and says let us help you change your habits and how you reward yourself, those are the people who change lives.” Changing lives, Chef José Andrés says, means that we must all: “give more value to adaptation.” We must strive to make our organizations more flat, and empower our employees to adapt and make decisions faster.
Don’t let the complexity of situations stop you from acting. If we don’t train our teams to adapt, we become weaker.”

3. Be Better + Simpler + More Human

Digital transformation is not really about the technology,” Stephanie Woerner said on Day 1 of THINK 19. “You need the technology to help you better engage with your customer.” Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways from THINK 19 is that more important than what we provide our members is how we provide it. “We have a social contract and obligation to the communities we serve,” said Bradley Leimer. “We have to go back to listen, with empathy, and find out if we are actually doing our job and if we could do better.” He points out that 600 million people have already become unbanked and that consumers today have at least 7 different financial relationships. Our challenge, therefore, is to try to “make banking better” by asking ourselves how we can provide value to members not only now but throughout their lives. Jeffry Pilcher added that as banking has become more complex, our members crave simplicity (in fact 2 out of 3 consumers will pay a premium for the promise of simplicity). Therefore we must adopt the language of simplicity across our organizations: “what can we eliminate? How could be this simpler?”

Keeping the Momentum Going

The theme “Opportunity Never Rests” at THINK 19 brought to light many of the new technologies, new fintech players and evolving expectations of our members. For credit unions to thrive, it will require shifting our current momentum into high gear as we prepare for a new decade of opportunity. THINK 20 – August 17-20, 2020 in Dallas, Texas – will continue exploring the biggest topics and trends impacting the credit union industry and providing strategies to help credit unions succeed.