False Prophets and Chasing Idols

The email marketing headline read:  Is there a merger in your future?

Another suggested the opportunity to protect the CEO’s fate by adding  a “change of control” clause to the manager’s contract.

Many credit union leaders and most vendors are selling a vision of the future they want to help implement.   The focus is on the future, not the present circumstances.

The more apocalyptic the future predictions, the more urgent the message.   These prophets pretend to know the unknowable.   But the failure is not in their projections.   It is their misunderstanding of the present.

What Prophets Do

When leaders present their vision, they are making predictions about the future they hope to bring. In fact, prophets do exactly the opposite! They insist the future is highly contingent on the now.

From all the flotsam of events, beliefs and analysis, real prophets  have the ability to identify what really matters.  Focusing on this is essential for ongoing success.

That’s not predicting the future as much as it’s naming the way human reality works today and tomorrow.  The true prophet dares to tell what is essential in the face of marketing hype, rhetorical cliches and the latest innovation that will cause members to leave current institutions behind.

An Example

Decades ago I first met Rudy Hanley, the long time CEO of SchoolsFirst FCU in California.   He asked how I approached strategy.   As I outlined the model and summarized  growth options, he stated that the credit union’s primary goal was not growth.  It was ensuring the members’ trust.   No matter the circumstances or cost, the critical success factor was continuing to place member confidence at the center of every decision.

If member relationships were built on this foundation, he believed growth would naturally follow.

This is not every CEO’s priority.   Some believe size guarantees success, the bigger, the stronger and the more resilient.   Others put their trust in technology and introducing the most compelling solutions or latest crypto offering.  When winning in the open competition of the market seems to slow, others will chase the chimera of buying out or merging competitors.

All these approaches can bring short term success.  However member-owned cooperatives were established and succeeded as an alternative because of the unique consumer-member relationship.   Emulating the corporate strategies of banks and other commercial firms is following false idols.

There are a host of idolatries at the center of the cooperative system today.   Many aspire to the prestige and stature of banking competitors.   Making money becomes the number one priority albeit always clothed in the phrase of serving members.

Instead of seeking those who are often victims of current financial choices, credit unions aspire to serve everyone.  Speaking truth about why coops exist becomes prophetic because the “powers that be” that benefit from the system, cannot see this simple message.

The Transition of Leadership

The challenge of understanding who coops are and how credit unions are unique is especially front and center in leadership transitions.

One CEO who recently oversaw this change in his institution observed these dynamics:

It’s hard for today’s leaders to make their bones when they are up to bat.

Then lazy new leaders simply fall in line with the best practices of the day, currently community banking tactics 101.

New leaders will not see staying the course as the means to their hopeful ends.  They have been given the reins for change, not just continued success.  They are vested in their peer’s approval not their members, nor history’s standards.  

The new actors today are vested in their choices.  Logic will not be enough – it’s too nuanced to turn back the belief that change is the catalyst to bigger things.

These are a prophet’s words for the present.   Will anyone hear the message?  Or will there have to be a cost to chasing idols versus trusted service,  the core of Rudy Hanley’s leadership?



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