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

    After 15 years as co-founder and CEO of CU*SOUTH, Leo Vaulin retired in November 2021 to pursue a more direct role in his mission of growing and sustaining credit unions as vital elements of their member communities. He has launched two new organizations – VFED, a non-profit dedicated to a grass-roots investment in community-focused cooperatives; and Athena Consulting Services (ACS), focused on helping CUs prepare for the economic and financial disruptions of the next 5 years. Leo continues to be a strong proponent of the cuasterisk.com network and believes in the importance of federation between credit unions as a strategy to leverage strengths and address weaknesses through a collaborative approach.

  • Andrea Ingersoll#1

    May 21, 2021

    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.

    • Leo Vaulin#2

      June 25, 2021

      Andrea, it’s great to have you as a MEMBER of the credit union community! 🙂

  • Lavenda Jones#3

    June 23, 2021

    This article is spot on. Credit unions should be an organization involved in their community and the FI who has a connection with their members. They should know their members the way the old time community bank did. But today’s credit unions must go deeper. They must provide a member the ease of being able to perform their “banking” without going to the credit union. A small credit union must provide services (billpay, RDC, online loan processing) to grow. Today’s members require it. Does your core provider offer these services at an affordable price? If not, maybe you should find one that does.

    • Leo Vaulin#4

      June 25, 2021

      Lavenda, you’ve helped over 50 credit unions make their way into our network – thank you for your ongoing work to make more credit unions more accessible to their members!

  • Rebecca Weemes#5

    June 23, 2021

    Awesome article! More and more smaller and large communities need help. Financial energetic presences that care about everyone in the area. Small business has suffered tremendously these past 19 months as well as many patrons, workers in a multitude of different ways. Loss of income, loss of family, loss of connections. Credit unions can help to close these gaps by being at the forefront of helping members, small businesses, and having the technology and caring staff to see everyone through. Leo LOVES credit unions, so does CU*SOUTH and it shows!!!!!

    • Leo Vaulin#6

      June 25, 2021

      Thanks, Becky!
      Kudos to you and your Collections By Objective (CBO) team for helping reduce the risk premium on loans so that more members have access to affordable credit!
      I’ve compared a call with a CBO representative with a visit to a confessional – your team is so good at making members who are being hounded by creditors feel like there’s a path forward – so you’re building abundance of spirit as well as helping them financially.

  • Chad Stephens#7

    June 24, 2021

    Unique and thought provoking article from Mr. Vaulin. The enemy of ordinary is extraordinary. This article challenges us to think in extraordinary terms when it comes to serving members, in it’s truest form. I will hone in on some specific examples in this article that stand out. Marketing, does it really matter that another rate is .05% lower, or is a more tailored and holistic approach to understanding the member the ticket? Do you want to be a one-off transaction center when called? Or, a wellness center anticipating and delivering on your community/member needs? I heard a wise man (just this morning) say that a loan is merely a mean’s to an end-what is the desire, and how can the credit union understand and position that member to achieve that desire? Great examples listed about holiday loans that help families achieve desires. I live in a community where travel baseball is exploding, but also very expensive! Can the mostly lower middle class in this community afford the $2,000-$4,000 in cost to give their obviously talented kid an opportunity to compete at higher levels? How are the community credit unions gathering that intel about it’s area? Is there an opportunity to collaborate with the parents, or teams as a unit-for a semi-annual or annual paid loan to help families/teams participate!? These victories for our members can create abundance in multiple ways. Furthermore, how are we capitalizing on helping those members spread that good news, as fans? Are we engaging members that we created abundance with, to share their “hero” story of their credit union? A simple video and posting to multiple platforms can be accomplished efficiently. Are we shy to ask? Remember, people like to feel honored and important-and you would be giving them a platform to do so! Oh, and also spreading the good news to the community that there is an institution still invested in their member’s abundance!
    Lastly, enjoyed the example of access to knowledge. Every staff member equipped with the technology to understand and know their members. Not just who they are, their joint owners, and that their loan note is due soon -but this member frequents X,Y, and Z. We can also see that they use X services. Let’s reward them with a gift card to X, and have them become an instant fan! I close with this, I appreciate the specific term of ‘fan’. We are all fans of something: our kids, favorite sports teams, our newest toy, the next great e-meal delivery service, etc. What do we do when we are fans of something? WE NEVER SHUT UP ABOUT IT! Go against the ‘status quo’ and reach your members holistically-and create fans that WILL NEVER SHUT UP ABOUT HOW MUCH THEY LOVE THEIR CREDIT UNION!

    • Derrick G Smith#8

      June 25, 2021

      Wellness Center?!? Can’t say I’ve ever really associated the cooperative that way…but can’t think of a better way of describing, especially in the evolving post COVID vernacular…it is certainly what we should be, in our credit unions, and in our CUSO’s. Perhaps even Urgent Care!

  • Megan Ernsberger#9

    June 25, 2021

    Very well written article! I feel you had captured the spirit of credit unions well, and personal relationships with your members is always a thing credit unions have been known for. Competition is also key however, because we are going more with technology, that personal relationship connection may soon fade away, unfortunately. I for one don’t have a relationship with Capital One, however I have a card with them because they offer me reward points, that I can use on other things. That alone has steered me away from opening a line of credit elsewhere that did not offer that same or similar service. Advertising what the credit union has to offer is a great selling point. Blast it all over social media, the radio, bill boards, etc. Like you are saying in your article, you want that member engagement. Community service is great too! Everyone loves a credit union who does things for their community, simply because they care.

    We also have to remember that the rich get rich because they know how to save money, so if I can get an auto loan rate that is lower than what I can currently getting, I will highly consider it. That would mean more money in my pocket at the end of the day. People like to shop around, so what do you have to offer? Yes, the bells and whistles are always great, but make sure there is competition. You can’t always depend on word of mouth bringing people in (don’t get me wrong, that is great for business), if you don’t have anything to offer other than a friendly face, and that my family goes there. Times are changing, and we must adapt.

  • Joel Langham#10

    June 25, 2021

    There are thoughtful insights here about how credit unions can position themselves as niche financial solutions providers in the face of continued industry-wide virtualization/digitization.

    The allusion to the work-from-home trend–already underway and now accelerating in the aftermath of the pandemic– leads to another question: What impacts, if any, will an increasing rate of work-from-home employment have on auto lending? Will the number of vehicles per household decrease as consumers prioritize other purchases, and will rates of trade-in and new vehicle purchases slow in the coming decade? As climate changes initiatives and alternative energies move to the forefront, car ownership may be further impacted.

    Since auto lending is arguably the bread and butter of credit union consumer financing, how can credit unions anticipate such changes and diversify their loan portfolios?

    The answer may be inherent to the problem. The work-from-home movement may usher in unparalleled abundance for credit unions and members alike as consumers reallocate financial resources for home improvement. If home again becomes the center of daily life on the new digital frontier as it was in past generations, attention and focus may be be redirected to investment in the home as a combined working and living space.

    Credit unions should look to to make more aggressive forays into the mortgage industry, if not individually then through cooperatives. Innovation in real estate financial products may very well be rewarded in the years to come.

  • Wynona Shaddix#11

    June 25, 2021

    There is so much to absorb here, based on what we know about the movement vs. what we know about our credit union clients and the communities they serve. The movement was built on member engagement but seems to have lost that momentum when the voice had to get stronger to compete in financial services. It has become more about coloring within the lines than about creating abundance. Engagement starts from the top – the BODs, then management, then developing staff with the skill to converse and building the mindset within the confines of the four walls – regardless of where the walls are located.

    Creativity is in the imagination. That’s where we come in, as many (most) of our clients are unable to manage the resources for development, processing and implementation and delivery. I bank with 2 CUs and neither have invited me to “bring them my momma”, nor do I have a personal connection with the CUs, except that my daughter and two of my grandchildren bank at one. Email marketing by one is continuous, but general, and nothing peaks my interest, nor is there any follow up by the Credit Union. The other doesn’t market to me at all, except to send an eStatement notification.

    Creating abundance starts with understanding the cooperative mentality, and that has been lost with many of our credit unions. We have the opportunity as a CUSO to resurrect it. You are on point with delivering “frictionless onboarding and immediate value”. Yes, integrating the personal with technology contributes to the overall value of the relationship – but it has to go further. Membership engagement begins at birth. Sure, we all want lower rates on loans (the driver), and higher rates on deposits, but what happens when the “going gets tough” in the economy? Members move. Delivering the whole package on the front end is the beginning to awareness of cooperative spirit in the community.

    Ongoing member engagement is critical to the life expectancy of a membership. We are fortunate to have the technology of creating and funding the membership followed by member outreach, but what’s next for the credit union? Nurturing the relationship seems to be lost. Cadence is critical in marketing and making the member adopt a personal connection and loyalty to a financial institution.

  • Yaokawa#13

    June 25, 2021

    I think this article highlights the reason why so many have a passion for what they do. The sense of community and real value is missing in a lot of large-scale institutions. This concept from Dunbar is more than just social theory, but it crosses over into other disciplines as well. People live and thrive in healthy communities.

    The idea of abundance versus wealth is an interesting concept. I would think that they are one in and the same, because a better definition of wealth should encompass something larger than the size of a person’s bank account. Abundance is more than that. There is an intangible sense of abundance that goes beyond but does not exclude material prosperity. As an ancient parable goes, one can have a lot of goods laid up for oneself, but if one’s soul is required of them this very night, then what good are the goods? Some say that money is the root of all evil. I disagree; it is the LOVE of money that is, and always will be, evil. And many people understand this. They are looking for more than wealth; they search for purpose. We all do this to some degree because this search is what makes us uniquely human. If a credit union as well as a CUSO can speak into and deliver towards that intangible part of a person, then I suppose a much more meaningful relationship for all parties will come about quite naturally. Like Jim Blaine the retired CEO said, a member will want to not just be a customer but bring their Momma to the credit union as well, and that is the litmus test for how well a CU is treating their members. If my wife can sell me on her dentist versus going to my own for a regular cleaning, then my switch to her dentist tells her dentist that they have indeed brought something valuable to the table.

    I liked the point about the friction. Taking out the friction in the process will show people that they matter. A lot of people don’t care much about what you say, but how you deliver on your promises. They want to know that you aren’t about wasting their time and giving them administrative, technical, logistical headaches. Don’t just give me marketing dreams of this and that when I sign up with you all – do what you said you were going to do. They have gone through enough stress in the past year and a half, and they really want to get on with it. Not being an expert in this industry, I wonder how the credit unions and other CUSO’s handle the disaster recovery and power outage issues that happen often with IT – for themselves and for their members. It makes sense that the better you know your job, and the better you know the member, the more likely that same member will trust you when a storm comes. And I can see how that would work great for marketing once that member’s story gets posted all over social media.

    What I hear Leo trying to say is that you must be more than just a marketing and/or technical expert with people – though you do need to be competent. But you also need to be a human being with a face unmasked. COVID or no COVID, let the masks come off.

  • Laura Nehls#14

    June 28, 2021

    There is a lot of good stuff to unpack here. The point that sticks out to me is “Remove all friction from the process”. As someone who worked in banking for 10 years, friction will always be a detractor. In our virtual world, we have become accustomed to instant gratification, which was intensified with the pandemic. If credit unions don’t use the tools they have provided to them to remove friction, how will they beat out the Apples & Amazons of the world? How will they identify their niche in creating abundance for their members? Credit unions should be encouraged to ditch the paper, get comfortable with the uncomfortable and ultimately remove friction from their processes– their members will thank them!

  • James Versaw#15

    June 30, 2021

    I could harp on many of the ideas for days but the one that sticks out the most is : “If not, you’re losing that member’s goodwill… to Apple.“ This is so true and right along with what Laura said. Everyday as credit union team members and supporters we get these kinds of services from other FIs and/or companies. We expect these kinds of options in or day to day life, so do members. We need to embrace these options and not be afraid to move forward to meet our own expectations of service.

  • Trevor Hamilton#16

    June 30, 2021

    Great message. There are many marketing messages for our clients and prospects. Some may be A-ha moments for our clients, where they thought about a campaign but just too busy to get it done. Cross-sell and training opportunities too. Announcing to prospects how our Data Analytics can help them answer questions about their membership and create messages that would appeal to them, deliverable by the many ways to connect that are in CU*BASE.

    Telling the story to the members and the community about how the CU is helping members. May get members to have a conversation with the CU about how it could improve their lives and so on.

  • Steve Ramberg#17

    July 15, 2021

    I find this article to be extremely thought-provoking and insightful. The Apples and Amazons of the world may have great technology, but they are are faceless mega-corporations to their consumers. And it’s next to impossible to talk to an actual human being if you are having issues. I know – I’ve tried.

    I think that Credit Unions have a great opportunity, through the right technology partners and focus, to not only remove friction and offer advanced member-facing services, but to provide the personal touch that is missing in so many facets of today’s society. Young or old, we still want to have personal interaction and not be guided to a web-site for all of our answers.

    I also agree that abundance comes in many forms, and that people may have abundance in one area, but are lacking on others. Credit Unions can actually affect multiple abundance zones, so to speak, with their offerings and involvement in the community.

    It’s also refreshing to have a technology company not talk about their specific technology, but rather a holistic view of the the Credit Union Movement. Thanks for the article!!!


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