Finding your credit union’s “soul mates”

4 tips for forming partnerships that last.

We can’t do it alone. In our personal and professional lives, finding the right partner makes all the difference.

Partnerships will become increasingly important for your credit union as you strive to grow and meet the needs of your current and future members. (Filene’s “The Credit Union of the Twenty-First Century” is worth a read if you haven’t seen it yet.)

I’m sure you have relationships with vendors that are more order taking in nature than a true partnership. That’s not what this column is about. I’m talking about cultivating deeper strategic partnerships in which you collaborate to achieve beneficial outcomes for your members, your credit union and your partner.  At GreenPath, we call these win-win-win partnerships.

The concept of engaging with the right partners can be exciting, scary and downright overwhelming! It requires time, resources and a lot of work. However, if approached strategically, partnerships can be game changing in taking your work and mission to the next level.

Based on your credit union’s goals, examine your needs and identify areas of opportunity. Where might a partnership be helpful? Is there a pain point a partnership might solve?

Keep your vetting process simple and light at first. Start by focusing on four things:

Identify your “No Matter Whats.”

Determine what is most important to you in a partnership.  These are non-negotiable things you will demand from any partner.  For example:

  • No matter what, we can’t sacrifice trust and transparency.
  • No matter what, partners must be mission-aligned and offer solutions that improve people’s lives.
  • No matter what, partners must adhere to consumer protections.
  • No matter what, partners must be willing to collaborate and evolve with us.
  • No matter what, senior leaders must be engaged.

Determine mission-alignment.

This is critical! Do a deep dive to not only understand an organization’s mission, but determine if they truly live their mission. Look beyond the words on their website. What motivates them? What drives their decisions? How do they treat their employees and partners? Why are they interested in working with you? How will they define success in this partnership? Are they truly committed to collaborating and achieving “win-win-win” outcomes?

Trust but verify.

This is related to the previous point. Their marketing and website may resonate, but open the hood and take a deeper look. Do they walk the talk? How do they capturedata and measure outcomes?How do they communicate with customers and respond to customer concerns? What type of support do they provide to partners? How do their partners view them? I highly recommend that you visit their office.  A first-hand view of a partner’s operation can reveal a lot about scale, professionalism, partnership priorities, etc.

Get to know the people.

Do you think it will be easy working with this organization? Do you like the leaders and people you would be working with? Do you trust them? Will they place the same level of priority on the partnership as you? Of course this is subjective. And players may change as people come and go. However, every partnership will encounter bumps in the road. Count on it. Strong personal relationships will power the partnership through the challenges. Without positive, trusting, committed working relationships, the partnership will probably fail.

This is a very basic approach, but I find that simple is usually better. If you identify the RIGHT partner based on the RIGHT criteria, you’ll figure out the rest together. After all, finding a partner that you can grow old with makes all the difference!

Rick Bialobrzeski

Rick Bialobrzeski

Rick is Executive Vice President at GreenPath Financial Wellness, where he has worked since 1996. More than 500 credit unions are partners in GreenPath’s effort to “remix the American ... Web: www.greenpath.org Details

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