By Adam Keer, Chief Experience Officer, Marine Credit Union
History Taught Us A Lesson
Credit unions werechartered to serve people who couldn’t otherwise gain access to financial services and credit from larger banks – people in professions like teachers, factory and government workers. Over the years the specific criteria for credit union membership has become more flexible, however we are still here to serve those who need our help who may be left behind by the financial system.
Until late 2019, Marine Credit Union’s rallying cry was simply to “serve the underserved.” We saw our purpose as serving underserved folks; people who, for example may have damaged credit or who lived in rural properties or unique homes where getting an appraisal can be difficult. These people face limited financial choices such as finance companies with higher rates, payday lenders, pawn shops and other nontraditional lenders. That was our business niche, and as a result we were able to help a lot of people.
Our focus helped us grow our business. We generated a good return of equity and investment, and that’s what we as a leadership team measured and spent our energy managing. We gave our members credit when other financials either wouldn’t or would do so at a much higher cost. We helped a lot of people, but it was very transactional. What our members did with that opportunity was in their hands from that point forward. In our eyes we had done our job.
For many of those members they would improve their financial situation, and find our products and services weren’t right for them anymore. Our members would ‘graduate’ from Marine and move on to another financial institution who had the products and services to fit their new needs. As a leadership team we were proud of our focus on our niche business and our willingness to let those members go to where they could be better served. As a result we saw a high turnover of members. Employees began expressing frustration they were having to tell members they had built a relationship with to go somewhere else. Many became frustrated and our employee turnover rate quickly increased. The “brilliance” of our strategic focus hit the reality that when we’re serving human beings, it’s about more than just the numbers.
Marine’s leadership sat down (many times, over an 18-month period) to realign our business strategy with our purpose. Our goal, to find a mission statement our whole team could really get behind and align with their performance and our business results.
For those of you familiar with the Kaplan and Norton Balanced Scorecard Model, the top level, most important question is, “To succeed financially, what return must we deliver to our owners?” We were here to deliver financial results and grow our assets. Customers were a means to a financial end and providing them value was an important byproduct of this focus.
In our analysis of our mission and strategy, we decided to flip our focus on its head and put the customer at the top, not financial outcomes. “To achieve our vision, what must we do for the people we serve?” We asked ourselves, “How are we going to advance lives? Where do we need to excel? And what kind of financial results will that return? Will those results allow us to grow our business to help more and more people?”
And thus came our mission.
Marine Credit Union is on a mission to advance the lives of people from a place of financial need to a life of ownership and giving back.
The mission was already there – it needed to be carved away like a sculptor removing the excess material that distracted what was underneath all along, and which all our staff already saw. Leadership needed to get out of the way and remove all the artifacts creating dissonance with that simple, clear truth. It was that dissonance between the management systems and our purpose that was the root of our struggles. We have a long journey ahead, and a mountain of work to do to practice what we preach, but we are confident we are on the right path.
The financial perspective is still important, it’s just not the reason we’re here. Financial achievement is a critical means to achieve our ends of advancing lives. If we aren’t achieving financial results, we won’t have the resources to grow and help more people.
Marine has always measured on traditional financial metrics – loan portfolio growth, return on equity, charge off, net income, etc. Those metrics are still there, however we’ve created accountability at the top of the house for the mission. We are now measuring the number of people whose credit scores are increasing, whose savings or deposit balances are increasing and the number of people who are giving back in their communities.
Our goal is to increase the number of people we are helping in each of these three areas by 20% every single year. This demands we set people up with the products and services to help them succeed and reach their long-term goals, but also attract new customers. It isn’t enough to just hope our products will advance members lives. We know they will for some; our products need to be designed to incent the right behaviors to change financial habits.
Already this new mission is resonating with our team. Based on results from our bi-annual employee engagement survey, employees have an increased belief in our mission and core values, and clearly understand how the strategy of the organization ties to the importance of their role.
Our mission demands we advance lives. In just the first few months, Marine’s new mission has driven many new ideas including: resilience and trauma informed care training for our collections team; motivational interviewing training for all consumer and mortgage lenders; increasing our ranks of certified financial counselors; and connecting members with GreenPath Financial Wellness resources.
January 25, 2024
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