The Myth of Efficiency and the Allure of Scale

Supporting most mergers and more recently, bank purchases, is a belief in the importance of getting bigger.

The assumption is that size creates scale resulting in greater efficiency. But the assumption is much less compelling if one were to look at the operating expense or efficiency ratios of the set of credit unions over $ 1 billion. Both ratios are all over the map for the largest credit unions.

The wrong focus?

Efficiency is not unimportant, but it is only a part of the performance requirements needed in a competitive organization.

Today’s financial, economic and competitive uncertainty rewards the ability to traverse the unexpected and the unknown. An efficiency orientation can undercut the ability to adapt and respond to ever changing events.

Where should the emphasis be?

If efficiency can hinder progress, what is the skill set needed by management to succeed? Dealing with new circumstances requires creativity and courage, that is a team that trusts each other.

Technology and especially artificial intelligence applications can force a standardized solution on individual circumstances, that while efficient, may strip a process of its most critical component, human skills and empathy.

When I speak with CEOs with long running, superior track records, they often describe a people centered, process approach, to building their credit union. The priority can be member service, trust or another form of member advocacy or empathy.

This core management process is then reinforced with metrics shared with the entire team.

Member relationships drive scale, not efficiency

The outcome these CEOs single out is “productivity” often measured by average member share and loan relationships, not efficiency. For member relationships are the underlying factor that brings “efficiency” no matter the scale or size of a credit union’s balance sheet.

One Reply to “The Myth of Efficiency and the Allure of Scale”

  1. Chip,

    I’m in 100% agreement with you on this issue. Our focus is on relationship building and measuring improvement of both services and average total relationship per member. Operating expenses are comparatively high yet by other measures our efficiency ratio is good. No matter, the depth of relationships will determine the future success of Affinity Credit Union.

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