Serving Members as an Act of Stewardship

Several years ago, I worked with Dale Turner, now CEO at TruStone Financial Credit Union. As the VP of Lending, he stood at the podium of an all-staff meeting and challenged the entire credit union to “think for the member, don’t just respond to the member.” Dale had the wisdom to know the difference between “order taking” and “serving.” Let me illustrate this difference using a metaphor. 

Imagine walking into a bustling restaurant. The maître d’ welcomes you with a warm smile, guides you to a comfortable table, and offers a menu filled with delicious options. Now, envision two servers. One is merely an order taker, jotting down your selection with a perfunctory nod, while the other is a steward of your dining experience, engaging with you, understanding your preferences, and ensuring every moment is tailored to your satisfaction. This distinction between an order taker and a steward mirrors the difference between simply taking orders and truly serving members at a credit union.

The Order Taker: Transactional Efficiency

As an order-taker, efficiency is the driving value the server chooses to provide. The order taker follows a linear process: 

  1. Listen to the member’s request.
  2. Fulfill it promptly.
  3. Move on to the next task. 

This approach has its merits and is suited to the fast-food experience. It ensures quick service and clear communication, often appealing to customers who know exactly what they want.

However, this method is inherently limited because it lacks the depth of understanding and personal connection to transform a simple transaction into a memorable and mutually beneficial experience for a member and the credit union. Although it is suited for fast-food restaurants, it is inadequate for most members; we are not serving burgers and fries; what we do is vital to the member’s financial well-being. The average member only knows the basics about the credit union’s products and services, so they only ask for what they know, not what is possible. For example, if a member comes in and asks for a personal loan, they only know they need to borrow money but don’t know what options they have. Depending on the reason for the loan, the product choice varies. Do they need a short-term loan to pay for a car repair or a loan to fill a recurring income-to-expenses shortfall? Two entirely different needs and solutions. Also, if they have equity in their car or home, a secured auto refinance or a home equity loan would be a better choice. Or, maybe a balance transfer from a high-interest credit card to a secured loan or even a lower-interest credit card would go a long way to improving their cash flow without just “doubling down” on the cost of loan payments. 

The order taker’s interactions are transactional, focusing solely on the immediate need without delving into the broader context of the member’s financial journey. This approach often falls short when members don’t necessarily seek but deep down know they need advice, guidance, or a more comprehensive financial solution.

The Steward: Holistic Engagement

This steward embodies the ethos of holistic engagement and is more consistent with the credit union’s mission and values. Much like a dedicated server in a fine restaurant who anticipates your needs and preferences, a steward at a credit union looks beyond the immediate request and strives to understand the member’s financial landscape, goals, and challenges.

The steward accomplishes this role by learning to ask thoughtful questions, listen actively, and offer a tailored, personalized solution based on the member’s needs. This approach transforms the interaction from mere order-taking into a meaningful dialogue that provides a service and builds a memorable experience and relationship. The steward becomes a trusted advisor, someone the member can rely on for sound financial advice and support.

Building Trust Through Personal Connection

At the heart of the steward’s approach is the art of building trust. When members feel understood and valued, they are likelier to develop a lasting relationship with the credit union. Members will understand they are seen as individuals with unique financial stories, not just account numbers.

This trust is cultivated through consistent, personalized service. The steward has the tools to “remember” past interactions, anticipate future needs, and continuously seek ways to add value to the member’s financial relationship with the credit union. Whether suggesting a new savings plan that aligns with the member’s goals, helps the member make better borrowing decisions, or provides insights on improving their financial journey, the steward is committed to the member’s financial well-being.

Creating a Lasting Impact

The impact of the steward’s approach extends beyond the immediate interaction. Members who experience this level of service are more likely to refer others, leading to organic growth for the credit union. Moreover, they are more likely to utilize a broader range of services, deepening their engagement and loyalty.

Almost every credit union I have worked with has financial health and wellness as a critical part of its purpose. This stewardship service model transforms the credit union from another bank into a support and mutual growth community. Members feel a sense of belonging and trust, knowing their credit union is a financial partner genuinely invested in their success.

As a credit union begins this journey of transforming from a “fast-food” service model to a “financial steward” service model, it is vital to know the current state of service, what is going well, what needs improvement, and where there are service gaps. Also, in designing the implementation of this strategy, the credit union needs to understand what tools, skills, and training the member-facing staff need to transform their behaviors and interactions with the members. If your credit union wants this outside-in voice, contact me at rich@leading2leadership.com.

About rich@leading2leadership.com

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 Amazon.com 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 www.leading2leadership.com.

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