The Advantage of Building With Instead of For

The Advantage of Building With Instead of For


How a business approaches new product design can often depend entirely on its ownership structure and what it hopes to accomplish. Suppose you run a successful cooperative CUSO and have decided to deliver new offerings to the credit unions that own and do business with you. There are two ways to accomplish this: with or for.

Building it for

The classic and traditional way to build new lines of business is to build them for your customers. Generally, this is the way private sector businesses expand their offerings. A perceived need is identified, and the company starts the process of designing that product to serve an intended audience, often complementing existing products or services.

The advantage of this type of design for a cooperative CUSO is that it can build the product or service tailored specifically to what it perceives its clients’ needs to be. The disadvantage is that, in many cases, these types of services may already exist in the marketplace and will have competitors out of the gate.

With no buy in, the CUSO has to convince its customers that their product is superior in some aspect: price, tech, integration, etc. There’s no immediate buy-in of the CUSO constituents and marketplace as a whole.

Building it with

The second way to build out a service is what cooperative CUSOs are best positioned for and is a competitive advantage over the private sector. When building it with the owners, business designers have the opportunity to identify a problem that is consistent across all owners and potential new customers.

By getting owner input, their needs can be more easily identified and designed towards. With a stake in the game, there should be a willingness of these customers to pay for this service as they understand upfront its value to the organization and community. This is important as we as innovators and cooperative designers are here to solve problems vs. building new shiny toys.

How the design process works when building with owners

Balancing customer-owner input with internal design processes can be tricky, but it’s worth it. By getting owner input early, it improves the odds that the end product will best serve the largest number of credit unions, and with the greatest possible customization options. Those with something at stake by having assisted in the design process will also have a vested interest in testing it early and will be excellent candidates for a beta process.

At this point, the CUSO business designer has: a consensus on how to solve a problem, buy in to the value of a new service, active participants to assist in making sure the service meets their needs, and a plan and cooperative commitment by the users and buyers to begin building. This process may take weeks or months, but the beauty of it all is that when it’s complete buyers feel the ownership of what has been built. They are not buying off the shelf, they are influencing a service that they see value in moving forward.

The end result

Creating new and valuable services is never an easy task, but it’s what innovative cooperative CUSOs are chartered to do and what owners expect of their business designers and leaders. A cooperative approach gives the CUSO a one up on the private sector. By building with instead of for, the buy in is there from the start. While there may be some disengaged customers or owners that will still need convincing, it’ll be an easier process when they see that their peers are trumpeting the service they built with the cooperative and thriving with it.


  • Jim Vilker

    Mr. Vilker has been in the credit union compliance, regulatory, and audit space for over 30 years. Over that time he has served as a regulator, credit union executive, and currently as the leader of AuditLink, a division of cooperative CUSO CU*Answers. Jim achieved his NAFCU Certified Compliance Officer (NCCO) designation in 2009 and recently received his Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS) certification from ACAMS.

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