Enhancing Credit Union Relevance in a Quickly Changing World

June 24, 2022

An expansion on Wescom CU CEO Darren Williams’ recent presentation at the Corelation Client Conference by WESCOM RESOURCES GROUP President Dave Cerwinski.

When I joined the credit union movement in 2006, credit unions had about an 8% share of the overall US banking market. Our common view, then and now, was that this share was too small considering the significant advantages we had over banks. In three critical areas – rates/fees, member service, and digital technology – credit unions enjoyed well-established advantages they fought long and hard for.

Wescom CU CEO Darren Williams at Corelation, art sponsored by enacomm

Fast forward to today, and we see a picture we might not have expected. Credit Union market share remains at about 8%. Due to growth, consolidation, and economies of scale, banks have in many cases wiped out the rate and fee advantages we once enjoyed. What’s more, credit unions’ service advantages have apparently eroded. This is difficult to prove, but at least one indicator, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) portrays credit unions’ 9-point advantage over banks (84 versus 75 five years ago) on overall customer satisfaction has flipped to a 76 to 78 deficit – an 11-point swing from 2006 to 2021. This same survey also holds that consumers now rate banks higher than credit unions on such metrics as Quality of Mobile App (84 to 83) and Website (83 to 80). This suggests that our Digital Technology advantage has also evaporated.

By observation, we also can see how consumers have changed the way they vote with their wallets. By Raddon’s estimate, three out of four millennials today claim one of the six big banks as their primary financial institution, up from about 50% of the same group just three years ago. And with millennials increasing their influence in the broader economy, this trend does not bode well for credit unions.

It begs the question: How do we remain relevant to consumers for our services in the years ahead?

At Wescom CU and Wescom Resources Group, we don’t fancy ourselves as futurists or visionaries, but we are definitely realists – able to look this challenge in the face and see a path to success. We don’t think for a moment that our solution at Wescom is a universal one. Our situation as credit unions is probably more like a memorable scene from the movie City Slickers in which the character Curly declares, while holding up his index finger, “There’s onesolution to life,” and when asked what that is, he responds, “It’s up to you to figure that part out!”

That said, imperatives faced by every credit union exist in which Wescom Resources Groups can play an instrumental role in carving their path forward.

One imperative is the need for scale. Across all areas of credit union operations, we must find ways to tap into the benefits of greater scale – in systems, platforms, transaction volume, and other processes. The six US mega-banks that have three-quarters of millennials as customers all possess significant scale in their operations. At Wescom Resource Group, we provide our credit union clients access to a platform and hosting center that serves credit unions with an aggregate of more than $23 Billion in assets – and we’re only at 25% of our capacity in that center. This means our platform scales to nearly $100 Billion in assets! This is not the same size as Chase or BofA, but with the diminishing marginal returns the mega-banks get past a certain point it puts us really close! Therefore, a small credit union outsourcing to Wescom Resources Group gets access to platform efficiencies and economies that equip them to compete with confidence.

A second imperative we all face is a need to invest in our people. In today’s market, we need innovators in every area of credit union operation. This includes in traditional areas like lending, member service, and marketing. But in our modern era we also need innovators in areas like data analytics, contact center, and payments. As we grow, we need sufficient organizational size to achieve a breadth and depth of talent in wide areas. We can’t do this single-handedly, we need to do it through leveraging our expertise among each other. The good news is that there’s a sweet spot in organization size when it comes to innovation. Too small, and you can’t afford all the talent you need. Too big, and your people get lost in bureaucracy. Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot, where innovation reaches is biggest impact. So to compete effectively with relevance against the largest banks, we don’t need to be their same size. We can run swiftly and more effectively at a smaller size, just so long as we’re in the sweet spot.

Wescom Resources Group helps its clients occupy the sweet spot by providing the breadth and depth of our people’s talent across wide areas of IT operations and management, including Computer Ops, Network/Telecom, Enterprise Server Management, Database Architecture, App Development, Business Analytics, and more. A Wescom Resources Group client’s investment in our services enables them to tap into this talent at a small fraction of the cost of fielding this team on their own. And the investment unlocks the ability to redirect their strategic focus into other areas of growth – either through in-house resources, or hopefully via collaboration with another CUSO in different operational areas.

We don’t presume to have all the answers to the hard questions around enhancing our relevance. But we definitely have some of the building blocks. Over more than 20 years as a CUSO, we’ve worked with dozens of clients to arrange these building blocks, sometimes in unique ways, to ensure that in the areas of data processing and management, they have access to an innovative team that large banking competitors would envy! It’s good to have those advantages, and we should take them wherever we can!