Credit Unions, Innovate or Die…

Credit unions have been around for over a century and have played a vital role in providing financial services to consumers. However, the financial services industry has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, and credit unions need to innovate to remain relevant in today’s market. In the late 90s, online banking was an innovation of the dot-com era, and it took decades to become mainstream. More recently, mobile banking was an innovation, and it took less than 15 years to become mainstream. The pace of innovation moves faster and faster.

As credit unions, we must accept that innovation is the key to success in this fast-paced and ever-changing business landscape. An organization that adapts quickly and effectively to changing market conditions and consumer needs is more likely to succeed.

Here are some tips on how to make a credit union more innovative:

  • Members demand convenience and personalized service – In today’s fast-paced world, members expect easy access, convenience, and personalized service. Credit unions offer improved convenience and access through innovations like mobile banking, online account access, and automated loan approvals. Credit unions must also provide personalized service to their members, such as tailored financial advice and products that meet their specific needs.
  • Competition is increasing – Competition in the financial industry is expanding, with new FinTech players entering the market. Credit unions need to innovate to remain competitive and attract new customers. They need to differentiate themselves from other financial institutions by offering unique products and services that meet the needs of their members. Today, lower fees and better rates are not a differentiator; our entire suite of products and services has become commodities.
  • Technology is transforming the financial industry – Technology has significantly transformed the financial sector, and credit unions need to keep up with these changes to remain competitive. Consumers expect to be able to access their financial information and conduct transactions online or via mobile devices, and these services are table stakes for their members. To remain relevant and attract new customers, credit unions must innovate new ways to connect with the consumer’s finances and financial health.
  • Fosters a member-centric approach – A member-centric approach is vital to the success of any innovation. Leaders should begin the innovation journey by listening to member and staff feedback. This approach can lead to new products and services that meet member needs and preferences while discovering operational and process efficiencies.

Following are the three steps to becoming an innovative credit union:

  1. Teach and reward staff for innovating and taking risks – Employees don’t default to risk-taking; they tend to be risk-averse and need to become empowered to think outside the box, even if there is no box. Innovation requires creativity and risk-taking. Leaders should provide employees with training and development opportunities that can help them acquire new skills and knowledge. As a result of this cultural transformation, leadership must be open to fresh ideas, process improvements, and calibrated risk-taking and recognize and reward employees for their ideas and improvements. This cultural transformation in a historically conservative industry takes time and intention.
  2. Foster collaboration and communication – Collaboration and communication are essential for innovation. Leaders should create a work environment that fosters collaboration and communication, encouraging cross-functional teamwork and breaking down silos that can lead to new ideas and perspectives.
  3. Create an innovation strategy and roadmap – Creating an innovation strategy and roadmap is essential for making an organization more innovative. Leaders should develop an innovation strategy that aligns with the organization’s goals and objectives. The roadmap should outline specific goals, milestones, and timelines for innovation initiatives. This strategy must include a process to objectively balance risk with opportunity and reward while having guidelines that will help the credit union know “when to walk away,” knowing not all innovation will work or be worth the resources and budget.
  4. Invest in technology and research and development – Investing in technology and research and development is essential for innovation. Leaders should allocate resources and budget to technology and research and development. This investment can lead to new products, services, and processes that give the organization a competitive advantage and needs to be a GL line in the budgeting process.

Innovation is essential for credit unions to remain relevant, competitive, and sustainable in today’s market. Through innovation, credit unions must embrace new technologies, ideas, and processes that offer convenient and personalized services, differentiate them from the competition, and stay ahead of regulatory changes. By doing so, credit unions can continue to provide high-quality financial services to their members and attract new members. By following these tips, organizations can foster a culture of innovation and create a competitive advantage.


Rich Jones is the Founder/Principal of Leading2Leadership LLC. Before starting his strategic planning agency, he spent over 20 years in leadership roles in the financial services sector. Before becoming an executive in the financial services sector, Rich was an entrepreneur, building and selling two businesses and working for early-stage start-up companies in executive roles in marketing, business development, and seeking investment partners. With more than three decades of experience, he brings innovative thought to companies and executives. Rich published “Leading2Leadership, a Situational Primer to Leadership Excellence.” The book is available on and was designed to be used as a book study for leadership development programs; it breaks leadership skills into manageable situations for discussion and reflection. Rich works with credit unions, CUSOs, and vendors, designing digital, data, culture, marketing, and branding transformation strategies. In 2014, Chosen as a Credit Union Rock Star by CU Magazine, and in 2018, Rich received the Lifetime Achievement Award from CUNA Marketing and Business Development Council. A Marine and graduate of Colorado State University, Jones shares his expertise at

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