Credit union leaders: I challenge you

I recently returned from a week away from the office, savoring some wonderful mother-daughter time in the Colorado mountains. My daughter MacKenzie is ten years old and I’m relishing the fleeting moments of her life when she still actively enjoys time with her mother and very much wants to hear my stories, no matter how silly or embarrassing. Storytelling matters. We learn via story. We remember via story. We grow via story. 

Think for a moment about the stories you remember best:

  • They might be poignant. My grandmother told me several times about the heartbreak of losing her brother in World War II. She dreamt for years about chasing him through an apple orchard and never being able to catch him until he disappeared just beyond her grasp. 
  • They might be funny. I shared with my daughter that I finally learned to fuel and hydrate appropriately during road races when, having taken no water or fuel during a half-marathon in Madison, WI, I was caught by the professional photographer dry-heaving as I entered the chute and crossed the finish line. In the pictures, I resemble a very sick frog.
  • They might challenge you to be better. Our Canvas Credit Union President & CEO, Todd Marksberry, shares the story of his growth as a leader when his father challenged his thinking about how he served both his team and the CEO he worked for at the time. His dad’s strict yet loving words encouraged humility and transformed his approach.

As adults and leaders, we often forget the story. We focus on speed, rely on accurate yet bland facts, and seek to inform but forget to inspire. Worst of all, we may sometimes inadvertently choose not to communicate at all. 

Now, imagine the best storyteller you know, someone with whom you relish investing your time. Envision that human being who engages you to dream, wonder, and self-reflect. What if our credit unions were all that good at storytelling? What if, collectively, we regularly activated the emotions that the best storytellers activate? 

A compelling story motivates us to reach further. When we forget storytelling, the impact can be dire:

Growth and sustainability. Consider that credit unions hold under 9% of the deposits across the United States. When we pair that with the insights from Credit Union National Association that 98% of non-members have heard of credit unions and 75% of non-members would consider a credit union after viewing the cooperative advertising campaign, “Open your Eyes,” you have to wonder, how might we better move from consideration to action?

Consideration and a place in the room. Beyond the challenges we face regarding market share, amplifying our storytelling might help ensure unintended consequences do not negatively impact credit unions. In January 2014, the United States Postal Service Office of the Inspector General released a white paper about “postal banking.” Subsequently, legislators elevated an idea to re-activate postal banking. The arguments behind bringing this idea to life include serving the underserved and ensuring brick-and-mortar access in financial deserts. Credit unions were chartered just for these reasons. There are over 5,000 credit unions around the country. It seems that before we leverage the postal service in this way, consideration might be given to credit unions playing a bigger role. 

Unintended consequences. President Joe Biden’s “Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy,” includes a couple of bullets that have potential implications for credit unions. Consider the order:

  • Encourages DOJ and the agencies responsible for banking (the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency) to update guidelines on banking mergers to provide more robust scrutiny of mergers.
  • Encourages the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to issue rules allowing customers to download their banking data and take it with them.

As you read these bullets, you may think they make sense. Actions that provide better access to those aspiring to make their own best choices to support their financial futures must be positive for the American people. We saw post-Great Recession that regulations aimed at stopping large institutions from harming everyday people created regulatory burdens for credit unions who largely never participated in nefarious behaviors and were heroes for consumers. History has a way of teaching us how well-meaning intentions bring unintended consequences. Sharing how our business model positively transforms lives and is completely different from that of other financial institutions is our responsibility.

Credit union leaders, we own this. We must elevate our stories, so we are unforgettable. My challenge to each credit union in the country in the coming months is to share at least one story per month with those making decisions impacting credit unions. What kind of stories? Stories that demonstrate the impact your credit union has had on…

  • Individual members and their financial lives,
  • A local business and helping them better serve your community,
  • Your community, through focused charitable giving,
  • Young people as you provide financial education in new and interesting ways, or
  • The humans you serve as unexpected events occurred that dramatically changed their lives and how your credit union stayed constant in service by maintaining branch access, growing community outreach, and providing even stronger digital access.

As you create your stories, here are eight things to keep in mind:

  1. Think about what might engage others fully. Share your story ideas with those that have not yet had a cup of the credit union Kool-Aid. Are they moved? Will they remember? Most importantly, would they share this story with someone they love? 
  2. Collect stories regularly. All of us see these stories come to life within our credit unions daily. Assign someone to keep these stories and collect your database. This will ensure sharing them is even easier.
  3. Find important moments to share. Connect topical and newsworthy events with the stories you collect. The larger your database, the easier it will be for your credit union to share these stories at the right moment. 
  4. Think about the people listening. We often get entrenched in our work. As passionate credit union leaders, we believe so fully in what we do that we might forget what it is like not to know anything about us. As you craft your stories remember to remove “bank slang” and think about what would drive human behavior. Stories that come from a human place resonate most fully.
  5. Share without an ask. Be sure that you share stories well beyond moments when you have an “ask.” Constituents, including the media and legislators, will gain trust and be better engaged when stories come without always requiring something in return.
  6. Never forget our roots. American credit unions started creating impact for people during the Great Depression. Our roots are planted deep in the soil of serving the underserved and coming together cooperatively to create resources when there were no other places to turn. Keeping that historical backdrop constant helps people to see just how long we’ve been making a difference in the world and paints a picture for the future we can create together.
  7. Share collaboratively. Our stories of impact are exceptional on their own. They are even more powerful together. Find a group of credit unions that you can engage in sharing similar stories simultaneously. That amplifies our voice and demonstrates our collaborative gifts. 
  8. Try new mediums. Storytelling can happen via many vehicles. Beyond the written word, try video, in-person meetings, or social media outlets. Let your creative teams bring your stories to life.

What if all of our credit unions, over 5,000 of us, took this challenge? Imagine the shifts we might start to see in our landscape. Imagine how much more impact we might create and how many lives we might change. As my daughter MacKenzie would say, “tell me a story.”

Tansley Stearns

Tansley Stearns

Tansley is a dynamic force of nature, fiercely crusading on behalf of all credit unions while tirelessly driving forward the brand image and family spirit of Canvas. She joined us ... Web: Details

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