Our Member Economy Creates Abundance


I believe that credit unions create abundance. Some might equate abundance with wealth—and certainly being able to set aside daily worries about financial need is important. Others find abundance in spiritual calm, good health, or the pleasure of being surrounded by loved ones.

The opportunity to support credit unions in promoting abundance, however each member defines it, recognizes and affirms the cooperative promise of the credit union movement. Each member is important, and each member’s quest for abundance matters. We come together as equals, each with a share in another’s success.

To see credit unions as economic hubs—as the town square of a community—brings a service mindset and the collaboration of members together, to create abundance.

Who’s on topsocial media or your credit union?

What does it take for a credit union to displace a celebrity on a member’s “Dunbar-150” list?

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar studied the ideal number of people with whom one maintains stable and effective social relationships. He found that this number goes back to early tribal connections. Even today, most armies consider the “company” (130-170 people) as the most effective cohesive unit for getting things done.

We haven’t lost our inherent desire to form a social group that approaches the “Dunbar Number” of 150. Thanks to social media—and COVID—many face-to-face interactions have been displaced—but the craving for connection is still there. So, we find our “Dunbar connections” on Instagram, or Facebook, or even the real world…and we bring them into our circle.

How well a credit union engages with members establishes a place on that list.

Strategies for membership engagement

In “The Membership Economy,” strategic consultant Robbie Kellman Baxter writes about the process of member engagement—deepening the relationship with our members. We complain about how few members understand the value our credit union brings them; but how do we promote that engagement through an abundance mindset?

Market for effective member acquisition

How many credit unions think about marketing as being the loudest voice in a commodity marketplace? Does it really matter that another auto loan is .05% lower than yours? Or is it more about making sure your members are aware that you are there for them with low rates, personal service, and an understanding of their financial history?

The best marketing program is the one that starts with the end result in mind. You want members who are not only loyal, but so loyal that they become your lead referrals. Jim Blaine, retired CEO of State Employees Credit Union (NC), used the phrase “bring us your momma!” as his litmus test for member loyalty—then held each of his branch managers accountable to that standard.

Deliver frictionless onboarding and immediate value

How many of you have upgraded your membership opening process? Are you using the automated identity verification and loan decisioning tools? Can your prospective member complete the entire application process, all the way through funding their account, getting a credit approval, and adding a credit card to their digital wallet without waiting for someone at your credit union? If not, you’re losing that member’s goodwill… to Apple.

  • Remove all friction from the process. Make sure your loan or membership application is designed to be easy to complete. Think Amazon and their “buy now” button.
  • Deliver an immediate reward. You worked hard to get that member to apply. What is that worth to your credit union? Shouldn’t the member feel how important they are, just because they showed up and expressed a desire to participate?
  • Continue to deliver rewards as members become more engaged. Signed up for e-Statements? Direct deposit? Debit card? RDC? Biometric access? Carrying an aggregate loan balance above $10K? $50K? Reward regularly, and stack rewards across the member’s household.

Build an online community

You are doing great with your one-on-one relationship with the member, but how do you convert them to a fan? They love you, but have you displaced TikTok on their “Dunbar-150” list of social touch points?

This is where the abundance mindset is critical. What are you doing in the member’s community to build abundance? How do you even identify their community? Is it geographic or professional (trade unions, firefighters, or Space-X rocket builders)? Maybe it’s people who love the outdoors and buy from Bass Pro and REI? When’s the last time you analyzed where your members are shopping and compared that cohort’s loan penetration with your baseline?

Is your approach to the technology in your system helping you find these communities, these communities with whom we all yearn to associate? As you identify these, are you promoting them as part of your community abundance strategy?

Celebrate member success and loyalty with a dependable cadence

If you define your credit union’s mission as delivering abundance to your membership community, you will have immediate successes to celebrate. It might be underwriting 1,000 easy-credit holiday loans to help families get gifts under their Christmas trees. It might be a community education initiative in cooperation with your local high school or college.

It might be underwriting a member business loan to open a new farm-to-table restaurant on your block. It might just be that one auto loan that you underwrote when no one else would, and the effect it had on the family that got reliable transportation to work and school. If you don’t share, members won’t know how their credit union is working to support other members and the community.

It starts small: one post on your community page and one email about that post. You’ll be amazed at how many of your members will read that post and respond in a way that triggers a conversation, that becomes an initiative. There are an amazing number of voices just waiting to be heard, to feel like they’re a part of something that creates abundance in a community that is important to them.

Integrate the Abundant Membership mindset at every level of your culture

When I consult with credit unions, I often ask them to show me their marketing process. Almost always, there’s at least one step involving downloading a report to a spreadsheet, filtering the data, then uploading the results to a marketing platform to generate marketing emails, phone calls, or mailers. Then I ask, “how do you feed the results of this campaign back to your front-line tellers and call center?”

Building an effective membership culture within your credit union means integrating human and digital resources. Every member-facing credit union employee should have instant visibility to where that member is on their journey with you—as should the member through your online and mobile technologies.

Consider Amazon and their predictive AI recommending products, asking questions that benefit their “member” community, and serving as a hub for commerce—even for the Etsy creators who create their abundance working from home. Now, imagine your credit union with that level of actionable insight, ready to step up and serve as the economic hub for that member, in all of their financial interactions.

Members need active credit unions

The economy of this coming decade will create opportunities for abundance in some very new ways. The work-from-home movement will continue, and how we think about the work we do will shift into more creative and satisfying jobs. The W-2 credit model based on full-time employment will evolve through future generations of FICO and VantageScore models, where how much we earned sitting at a desk last year will be less important than how much we can expect to earn doing different and challenging things during the life of our loan (and how can our borrowing help us get there—through updating our skillset, investment in new tools, and resources?).

All of this leads back to one fundamental principle: that our members will need us to create a community in which they can participate on a more active level than ever before. We must work to de-commoditize our credit union brands and convert the way members perceive us—as organizations that engage and delight them, so they can get excited about participating in the process of building an abundant cooperative in their community.


  • Leo Vaulin is CEO of CU*SOUTH, a 100% CU-owned service organization on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. CU*SOUTH’s vision is to be the leading source of solutions that empower our network’s credit union community to be heroes for their members.

  • Andrea Ingersoll says:

    This is a great article. I am a customer of a local credit union and this article is very insightful. I have not been very involved with my Credit Union and never really understood what it really stood for. Just reading this article causes me to view emails and marketing material from my Credit Union in a different way. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights.

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