A Reader Writes on Mergers and Group Think

I  have written several  posts critical of merger rhetoric and the lack of any shared or concrete member value.

A senior executive who  participated in one of these events sent his reaction, which he asked remain anonymous:

My current belief (call it a strong opinion, loosely held ala Jeff Bezos) is that credit unions need to progress while returning to basics. Progress with less traditional banking/teller line activity, prioritize financial wellness and remote banking experiences. Return to basics with more transparency, increased collaboration and innovation.

It seems to me that in the pursuit of progress, the trend is to become tight-lipped. The other undeniable trend is the belief that scale is absolutely necessary and that the only viable method to scale is to merge/acquire. I don’t agree with the trends, but I don’t have anyone around me who seems capable of an open debate on the matters. 

Our greatest threat today, IMO, is group think.  Well…At least I hope you don’t mind me keeping the conversation going with you.  Currently, I have to stay off the record here.  I want you to know that I’m reading…and learning.  

Group Think & Credit Union’s Future

When internal staff are uncomfortable with the direction of their credit union, this is a sign those closest to the action see  problems.  But it is hard to speak up against a leaders who do not encourage dialogue, let alone dissent.

CUToday publishes periodic updates on proposed mergers with the details sent NCUA. Most are well-capitalized, many are small, but focused. Below is one data point that especially stuck out from each merger summary:

Name                                                Charter Date

Freedom Community CU, Fargo, ND:    1954

Mt. Carmel Church FCU, Houston, TX:   1954

Virginia Trailways FCU, Charlottesville, VA: 1949

Airco FCU, Pasadena, CA:      1957

Mt. Lebanon FCU, Pittsburgh, PA:  1936

Parkside CU, Westland, MI:   1953

United Methodist of MS FCU, Booneville, MS 1961

Elevator FCU, Olive Branch, MS:  1967

G.P.M. FCU, San Antonio, TX:  1970

Our Sunday Visitor Employees FCU, Huntington, IN: 1968

Lubbock Telco FCU, Lubbock, TX:  1940

The list goes on.  These credit unions have navigated  multiple economic crisis, technology evolutions, deregulation and regulatory backlash.

Yet their leaders have given up, even with strong balance sheets and decades of member participation.

These are not financial failures.  They are failures of morale.  The greatest threat to the coop system is not external, but internal.  The belief that the legacy of multiple generations of human investment they inherited, no longer matters.

Like any behavior, the more the pattern of giving up occurs,  the more acceptable the option appears.   Ed Callahan described this challenge as the danger of self-fulfilling prophecies.  If you think your team can’t win, you will probably lose.

The concern above was from a career professional about his credit union and group think.  To address his worry, he is looking for leaders who believe in the advantages of cooperative design.  And who realize it every day to further the legacy their predecessors handed to them.

FDR observed,  “Humans are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.”  What better time for leadership that believes in creating the future, rather than surrendering to  “tight-lipped group think.”

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