PFI, Where Art Thou?

September 16, 2019

During a recent discussion, nearly 50 credit union CEOs deliberated that consumers may not seek a primary financial institution (PFI) for all financial services needs. That prompted further discussion on delivery, marketing, pricing, products, technology, and service. “If PFI status is elusive,” they debated, “How might credit unions refine their strategies to develop wide-ranging relationships with members?” Reaching out to an expanded set of credit union leaders, from various asset sizes and markets, the answers proved thought-provoking and action-based. Let’s explore.

Don’t expect financial monogamy. While people like to be loyal, price and convenience are significant drivers in consumer decision-making. Having multiple financial relationships didn’t seem that big of an inconvenience. While many credit unions measured products per member, most realized that producing a mass of “triple product members” wasn’t especially reasonable. However, constant life-stage and -cycle marketing allowed credit unions to have some grade of relationship (some years more, some years less), over a long period of time. The focus on retention and an elastic relationship led to top of mind status and a greater probability of sales.

Be incessantly uncomfortable. “Your member’s last experience is her next expectation,” shared a CEO. “Continuous improvement drives our commitment to ensure members remain.” Many leaders revealed that they endlessly observe the retail experience at other retail establishments. “Banking is retail,” voiced several CEOs. “As consumers, members have a set expectation level of service; it doesn’t vary from one business to the next.” Watching the retail experience, and fine-tuning their own, allowed credit unions to integrate different angles of the member experience. In the end, the credit unions formed a more pertinent experience aligned with members’ expectations.

Deliver on digital. The rise of the omni-digital member is here. “A good price, mobile access, and a local presence will bring members in, but digital ease will keep them here,” stated one CEO. The consumer swing toward “all things digital” necessitates that credit unions have a mobile-first philosophy in all aspects – marketing, new accounts, underwriting, funding, engagement, delivery, service, and the list goes on. “We want ease for our members; hassles lead to attrition. Thus, our capital investments focus on mobile delivery, business intelligence, and digital marketing,” replied a member experience executive. “We’re moving at the speed of members.”

Bulk up on soft skills. Where members will choose digital engagement first, there are times when an eye-to-eye or ear-to-ear conversation matters. Leaders expressed that when digital capacity is exhausted, or a complex matter is involved, members expect (and rely upon) a skillful professional. “When the time comes for a live conversation, our service leaders must deliver trust, empathy, communication, and leadership,” articulated several executives. “The soft skills that, often, seem old-fashioned are more vital today; we’re still in the people business. When members do reach out, it’s a matter of great importance to them. The connections we reinforce lead to long-term business.”

Build community in your branches. Branches still matter, but their emphases are changing. “Branches prove your permanence to members and the communities you serve,” held several CEOs. They voiced that branches certainly show long-term commitment to a community, but they also provide ideal leadership opportunities. Be it an onsite community room or staff involvement in home-grown initiatives, branches put the “local” into the big business of financial services. “Branches show we’re there, branch involvement shows we care,” voiced a CEO. “Pinpointed community leadership, through each branch, helps members – current and soon-to-be – see our values in action in places that matter to them.”

From the insights of this set of leaders, perhaps the “P” in PFI is better redefined as “permanent.” Permanent in the sense that a measured retail relationship may ebb and flow, but a credit union’s place in a member’s mind – awareness, marketing, sales, service, community – can be long-term. “Once a member, always a member,” the motto goes. Perchance the strategy for member relationships should always go beyond the onboarding phase and continue through the many periods of a member’s life and financial services needs.

© 2019 by Jeff Rendel.  All rights reserved.

Jeff Rendel, Certified Speaking Professional and President of Rising Above Enterprises, works with credit unions that want entrepreneurial results in sales, service, and strategy.  Each year, he addresses and facilitates for more than 100 credit unions and their business partners.

Contact:;; 951.340.3770.

Culture is a Balancing Act

April 8, 2019

“Culture is a Balancing Act” by Jeff Rendel, Certified Speaking Professional

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” said the late Peter Drucker, a distinguished management consultant and organizational scholar of our time. “But, what if your strategy is to change the culture?” countered a credit union CEO and friend. Both are spot-on: Culture is a crucial component of organizational existence. How credit union professionals comprehend, identify, and react to culture drives organizational capability and attainment.

Recently, the Harvard Business Review published an article titled, “The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture.” One of the more noteworthy aspects of the article and research were eight identified culture characteristics along two dimensions: how professionals interact (from independence to interdependence) and a general response to change (from flexibility to stability). Across all industries, two culture traits surpassed all others with respect to effectiveness: results and caring. More interesting, results and caring were opposite each other along the two dimensions. It seemed clear that a balanced approach to culture was most effective.

How are credit unions defining, building, and living culture? How do credit union cultures bring clarity and focus for actions and decision-making? In listening to scores of credit union executives, the same two characteristics emerged as drivers and shapers of credit union culture. Let’s explore themes that demonstrate how credit unions are fostering cultures around the attributes of results and caring.

A Culture of Results

  • Quite a few CEOs voiced that every colleague is the CEO of her or his job and its specific role in the member experience. In fashioning this CEO mindset at every level; expectations were critical; accountability was non-negotiable; and, acceptance of and action from feedback was significant. As a result, execution was optimal when all understood their day-to-day influence on long-term strategy.
  • Initiating and acting on member-focused opportunities also formed this facet of culture. While obvious occasions centered on members’ use of products, services, and technology; support and managerial coworkers contributed to member-focused approaches through enriched processes, workflow, and efficiencies. Face-to-face member interaction was not a prerequisite for one’s contribution to members’ experiences and success. And, in many cases, non-member facing activities were the principal determinants of the member experience.
  • When results help to steer culture, focused measures and outcomes are needed. CEOs clarified that strategic objectives and metrics are not reserved for those in the board room and executive offices. In fact, it’s the opposite. When strategic initiatives and measures are delineated – all the way to the first lines of delivery and support – every colleague is a stakeholder in the credit union’s success. As measures are achieved, celebrations follow. And, if measures miss the mark; lessons are learned, strategies are fine-tuned, and the drive for relevant results continues.

A Culture of Caring

  • CEOs also made clear that a key feature of culture is ensuring that all distinguish the role that credit unions play in members’ lives and, ultimately, financial services. Regardless of members’ needs or circumstances, credit unions aim to enrich each member’s financial standing and the place they call home. This greater good and point of focus, manifests itself in pricing, service, and community commitment. Many CEOs underscored the enduring stability of this pledge (closing in on a century in some cases) as a hallmark of culture.
  • Relationships and reciprocated trust among colleagues further defined caring as a part of culture. With all credit unions, the purpose and agenda were straightforward: service to members and their credit union. This standard necessitated that coworkers strive for professionalism, authentic communication, and partnership in their many interconnected working relationships. The result was not just improved collaboration and effective execution, but greater levels of commitment in a dynamic and rewarding atmosphere.
  • Connected to the CEO mindset vis-à-vis results; depending on workmates for insights, ideas, and innovative approaches to a credit union’s progress was useful. One CEO shared that the most practical and up-and-coming ideas often derive from those who best comprehend the inner workings of a department or job. Why not look to them first? Many credit unions built idea-sharing into job descriptions. This practice added value in that staff members readily contributed to building a better business model; and, continued to provide information as they understood where ideas fit and did not fit into present strategy. That their voices were heard mattered most.

While many other faces of culture exist and thrive, consider broadening “results and caring” as prominent parts of your culture. Though opposite in position, together they help align long-term strategy and everyday leadership. Credit union leaders – as they convey ambitions, cultivate leaders to promote a balanced culture, and persistently talk about culture – will discover they can achieve change and build their credit union in any business environment.

© 2018 by Jeff Rendel.  All rights reserved.

Jeff Rendel, Certified Speaking Professional and President of Rising Above Enterprises, works with credit unions that want entrepreneurial results in sales, service, and strategy.  Each year, he addresses and facilitates for more than 100 credit unions and their business partners.

Contact:;; 951.340.3770.

Five Practical Ways to Build a Member-Centric Culture

March 18, 2019

“Five Practical Ways to Build a Member-Centric Culture” by Jeff Rendel, Certified Speaking Professional

For the past two decades, credit unions have indicated that member centricity is the leading feature of their strategic areas of focus. You can find some variation of member emphasis in just about every strategic plan. But, how can a credit union tell that it’s getting this focus right? Technology, data, systems, and sales help; however, resources can determine how much a credit union can and cannot invest in these kinds of capabilities and processes.

All credit unions can get underway with a commitment to, and action plan for, a culture dedicated and driven for the member. Products, delivery, and marketing matter; but, culture encourages the necessary outlook and principles in employees. To build a member-centric culture, credit unions should deliberate these five practical ways to add action to their strategic objectives.

Think like a member. Simply put, members are consumers. While the product may change from one establishment to another, the expectations of members/consumers do not. Look to current research on customer service and uncover the elements that consumers value most. Then, refine your service and experience standards to reflect features that deliver value to members. It’s all about the member.

Listen to members. There are many ways to gain insights from members, from transaction-based member effort scores to good old-fashioned lobby talk. What’s most important is that employees hear feedback from members and how to deliver and increase value. To some extent, every employee is a member service representative. Each day, front line or behind-the-scenes, everyone serves members.

Hire with members in mind. If members are the priority, hiring practices should include evaluating a candidate’s inclination toward member service. Marketing and human resources can work together to create questions and consider candidates’ and employees’ views of member-centric thinking. Regardless of role, all employees should understand and connect the actual significance of members.

Measure member success. Ultimately, members vote with their wallets. But, a lot leads up to expanding or narrowing relationships. Common measures – net promoter score, average wait time, first call resolution, mobile/website uptime, loan turnaround – trace the association between culture and member. Member-focused measures display how daily activities generate member success.

Add member success to employee evaluations. What if evaluations were like mission statements – tied to serving members?  Every department affects some measure of success – revenue, profit, service, or experience. When an employee’s success is tied to members’ success, a stake is created. Expectations and results reflect commitment, risk, and reward to serving members at all levels of the credit union.

Credit union leaders have an appreciation that culture and strategy go hand in hand – culture propels strategic focus; and, strategic focus reinforces culture. With member focus at the heart of many credit unions’ strategic plans, evaluate how these five real-world methods can place member centricity at the core of every function in the credit union.

© 2018 by Jeff Rendel.  All rights reserved.

Jeff Rendel, Certified Speaking Professional and President of Rising Above Enterprises, works with credit unions that want entrepreneurial results in sales, service, and strategy.  Each year, he addresses and facilitates for more than 100 credit unions and their business partners.

Contact:;; 951.340.3770.

The Most Important Question

March 13, 2019

“The Most Important Question” by Jeff Rendel, Certified Speaking Professional

“Albert Einstein is credited with stating, “If I had an hour to solve a problem…I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask.” What’s the most important question your credit union’s leadership team is asking about the credit union’s future? And, what answers are steering your strategic plan?

More than 50 credit union CEOs, from numerous asset sizes and locations, shared their “most important question.” A dozen general themes emerged, each with its own series of questions. Read what other leaders are asking of their credit unions; and, consider if several help you find additional focus for your strategic direction.

  • Think about the credit union three years out. Knowing what you know – and what’s really conceivable – what possibilities exist? Where are the greatest gaps; and, how might they be filled?
  • For continued success in membership growth and revenue; what products, services, or markets are necessary to refine, expand, or introduce?
  • We can’t be all things to all people. Where should we focus our energies? What is our core market?
  • Trade-offs are necessary for strategic focus. Where should we invest, continue service, or do more ourselves? What should we slow, cease, or outsource?
  • What is our capacity for growth? Can we grow organically or should we seek partners? Are we better for our members as a merged credit union; or, can we still serve and grow as a standalone credit union?
  • The member experience is vital to success. What next levels of friction-free marketing, service, delivery, and technology will be necessary for member engagement?
  • Our members own the credit union. How do we best engage them as owners, continuing to deliver, increase, and confirm value? What makes us the obvious choice?
  • Differentiation is required for success in financial services. How do we continue to stand out: in the community; with our brand; and, as a local financial institution?
  • What measures of success are most important to gauge our strategic progress? What are optimal levels for revenue generation, service, efficient operations, profits, and capital?
  • How do we – as executives and board members – remain relevant for the members we serve and represent? Do our staffing and board compositions reflect our membership?
  • Does our culture match our brand; and, are we equipped to deliver the kinds of products, services, and experiences that our members value most?
  • Who is disrupting our business? What value are they providing to members? Can we compete? Can we partner?

Conventionally, credit unions hold strategic planning sessions each fall. In reality, it’s always planning season. As you develop, expand, and refine your strategic plans, consider some of the applicable questions above. Where several will be immediately beneficial, others will spur conversation and your own sets of “most important questions.” Often, asking is the most challenging fraction of a question. Once complete, the answers provide the whole of your credit union’s next strategic steps in serving the long-term needs of your members.

© 2018 by Jeff Rendel.  All rights reserved.

Jeff Rendel, Certified Speaking Professional and President of Rising Above Enterprises, works with credit unions that want entrepreneurial results in sales, service, and strategy.  Each year, he addresses and facilitates for more than 100 credit unions and their business partners.

Contact:;; 951.340.3770.

Focus and Finish

February 19, 2019

“Focus and Finish” by Jeff Rendel, Certified Speaking Professional

Strategic plans are a lot like credit unions. If you’ve seen one; you’ve seen one. Fields of membership, business models, and competitive environments are diverse. Two-, three-, and five-year timelines are utilized. And, focal points are unalike – asset growth, market share, and member profitability to mention several. Yet, despite differences in methods and outcomes, numerous credit unions revealed that the most important drivers of strategic success are focus and finish.

Reaching out to more than 40 credit unions – from every asset category and 24 states, interviews revealed that the fundamentals of strategic planning have not changed – objectives, strategies, measures, and timelines are still elements of the particulars. What has transformed is the viewpoint of strategy, particularly when balanced between the CEO and board. A Colorado credit union CEO describes that: “Planning and execution is what we do as managers; that’s our job. We noticed the greatest benefit when our strategic process became more about ideas and less about numbers. Our focus shifted away from the balance sheet and toward the white board.”

Let’s discover more about your credit union furthering its strategic capability through focus and finish.


At credit union conferences, we banter about the “Shiny Object Syndrome.” In a quest to accomplish everything, we often achieve naught (or, at least, it feels that way). Yet, research confirms that the most successful companies, over time, are those that: select a handful of strategic focus areas; move forward and measure those extents relentlessly; and, recognize that year-to-year strategies may change, as long as progress continues toward the few areas of focus. Prominent management consultant Jim Collins’ shapes this standard in Great by Choice, a follow up to From Good to Great.

One Southeastern credit union CEO shared that his credit union learned the strategic power of “no” in order to gain clarity and focus “As we scrutinized what we could do, we asked ourselves what we should, initially, master. Our inventory of strategic priorities shortened from ten to two. By saying ‘no’ to eight priorities, we said ‘yes’ to two primary areas of focus. As we finish our two, we can set off toward the others.”

How are these credit unions establishing more focus into their strategic planning processes? Through discussions and experience with CEOs and directors, three significant practices surfaced: systematic and substantial discussions on ideas, issues, and trends; next level questions fixated on success beyond next year’s operating plan; and, ongoing strategic education for executives and directors.

Substantial Discussions

Nearly every credit union interviewed dedicated a segment of each board meeting to strategic trends. Some credit unions surveyed board members ahead of time for their areas of interest; some focused on different departments or functions; and, some reviewed information from recent conferences attended. But, the information shared was not only for general interest and update. With each trend examined, CEOs informed their boards how the development might affect current strategy and that action was being taken or considered. Strategic updates became focused on actions and decisions rather than a string of industry happenings.

For formal planning sessions, many credit unions engaged outside facilitators and experts to assist in the planning program. Some credit unions retained economists, technology experts, or marketing authorities; all with the intent of helping to gauge the broad direction of financial services and courses that credit unions might follow. Often, a strategic facilitator was invited for her or his impartiality, lack of bias, and skill in ensuring that a thoughtful, balanced, and action-oriented discussion ensued. With or without an outsider present, the most important details for substantial discussions were dedicated to trends that represented opportunities for expansion and refinement of a credit union’s operations and chances for strategic success.

Next Level Questions

The lion’s share of strategic meetings centered on next levels of success. Where some time was invested in discussing the main operational objectives and goals for the coming year, more time was devoted to discussing major opportunities and decisions necessary for laying the groundwork for the next several years. One West Coast CEO explained: “Our discussions shifted from asking, ‘What are we doing to serve several hundred thousand members?’ to ‘What must we do next to serve one million members?’”

The Chair of one of the largest credit unions in the U.S. also described the importance of being exceedingly future focused in deliberations as a Board and with the CEO. “As we grew, we rapidly recognized that we could not inspect every operational aspect. It was too much to understand. While studying new housing permits and traffic patterns might be interesting, our Board partnered best with our CEO in ensuring the strategic focus was making progress and the CEO’s attention to detail delivered the projected results.”

Strategic Education

For credit unions leaders to continue thinking strategically, they have a duty to educate themselves in the same fashion. At the practical level, leaders should subscribe to industry publications and take advantage of industry webinars and in-state or regional conferences. These opportunities provide leaders with fresh information, valuable networking, and a chance to learn about the next level of success in financial services. Strategic education wasn’t limited to only industry conferences, either. Many credit unions participated in retail-, consumer-, and FinTech-focused conferences, too, for insights on marketing, service, and technology.

Strategic education became more formal, as well. Many credit unions sought to ensure their leaders took part in schools and institutes that concluded with a designation or degree. More than an investment in the leaders’ education, it presented an investment for each credit union’s members. “If we continually strive to provide relevance and excellence to our members through products, services, access, and experiences, we should provide the same for our members’ elected and professional leadership,” said a Texas credit union CEO.


“I’ll take a one-page strategic plan that is well-executed over a 20-page marketing showpiece that never produces results,” said the CEO of a Washington-based credit union. The statement was further endorsed by another CEO who shared, “If your strategic planning process is adequate, but your implementation is exceptional, projects will proceed efficiently.” If fortune favors action, then action moves your credit union down the pathway of initiating, sharpening, and finishing strategic objectives.

In a November 2017 Harvard Business Review article titled, “Is Execution Where Good Strategies Go to Die?” the author prods that execution can be associated with capital reward (finishing a project) or capital punishment. He proceeds to describe that the difference between life and death of strategy is the execution beyond the planning process and into the organization. Tangible strategic success emanates when others have a stake in the results and a reason to finish.

How are these credit unions emphasizing the importance of finishing in their strategic planning processes? Three noteworthy methods emerged: CEO-led planning approaches; the application of scenario planning through many aspects; and, creating a culture of execution through executive, managerial, and front line levels.

CEO-Led Planning

Many credit union boards deemed the hands-on strategic planning process to be a principal function of the CEO and her or his team. “We expect that our CEO will create a strategic plan that will be presented to, and discussed with, our Board; and refined, if necessary,” said a Michigan credit union director. Her thoughts were reaffirmed by many other directors. These directors concurred that their chief role was ensuring that the current strategy was safe, sound, relevant, and attainable.

An effective method of steadying strategic execution and governance occurred when CEOs and executive teams proposed and presented working strategic plans to the board of directors. “They’re the experts, after all,” shared one director of an Ohio credit union. “We need to hear, from their executive know-how, where the credit union should focus its energies and resources.” However, the most strategic significance came after the working plan discussion and approval. “Considering what our CEO believed the credit union could accomplish over several years allowed us to deliberate what we would be preparing for during the succeeding several years.”

Scenario Planning

All credit unions engaged in scenario planning. Their processes followed a wide course, mainly with assistance from software. Some scenario planning followed a straightforward path of bottom line impact under various expansion, contraction, and interest rate scenarios. “The simplest way to test the financial merit of your strategic plan is to stress it,” shared a Virginia CEO.” “We needed to know the bottom line effect if we grew according to plan, faster than planned, or slower than planned, too. The same was true for interest rates and margins.” For these credit unions, scenario planning created confidence, giving CEOs a better understanding of decisions to make in different circumstances.

Scenario planning wasn’t limited to deposits, loans, margins, and revenue. Contingency planning for disasters was very useful. “For years, we knew what to do for a power outage during summer afternoons,” said a South Carolina CEO. “But, what about a major disaster – natural, economic, or manmade – that could affect our members and credit union for years. Could we survive; what decisions would we make; and, how might we prepare now?” In the spirit of cooperation, credit unions that had survived disastrous situations shared many details to help others understand the potential financial and operating consequences, adding value to contingency planning.

A Culture of Execution

“Strategy isn’t reserved for only the C-Suite and Board Room,” shared a Florida credit union CEO. “We involve all staff members in execution, especially at the branch and member-facing level.” Many credit unions discovered that strategy was best accepted and executed when the entire credit union was involved. Where strategic priorities were initiated at the CEO level, the practical execution was best administered at all levels. In fact, some of the best ideas regarding implementation came from those responsible for everyday execution.

One of the more effective finishing philosophies and tactics involved adding a bit of entrepreneurial zeal to the projects, tasks, and timelines that accompany all strategic plans. A Pennsylvania credit union CEO calls it the “Strategic Sprint.” The premise is simple: long term goals are best accomplished with short-term, 90-day “Sprints,” tied to the strategic plan. This adds a sense of urgency and energy to what can, often, seem like a very long process. Celebrating successes along the way gives all parties a sense of accomplishment and prepares them for the next “Sprint.”

“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Credited to U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the reference emphasizes that strategy should concentrate on direction. The material plan? It adjusts, especially when it meets reality, but maintains steady progress toward a set of end objectives. As credit union leaders – executive and governing – successful strategic results are best achieved with a commitment to focus and finish.

© 2018 by Jeff Rendel.  All rights reserved.

Jeff Rendel, Certified Speaking Professional and President of Rising Above Enterprises, works with credit unions that want entrepreneurial results in leadership, sales, and strategy.  Each year, he addresses and facilitates for more than 100 credit unions and their business partners.

Contact:;; 951.340.3770.

“Service Supports Emotions When Technology Can Not”

December 28, 2018

“Service Supports Emotions When Technology Can Not” by Jeff Rendel, Certified Speaking Professional

Member service continues to evolve through technology – mobile banking, artificial intelligence, analytics, and even robots. Yet, with the many experiential and efficiency gains provided via technology, are there elements of member service that should not be automated? In listening to scores of credit union executives – representing many states and asset sizes – two themes emerged: service is about a human connection; and, a member’s time is valuable. Let’s explore.

Service is About a Human Connection

While do-it-yourself and automated channels can serve most routine transactions, particular interactions with members should not be mechanized. Executives shared that technology allows members to go about their normal financial lives – making deposits, paying bills and friends, and transferring funds – but for more intricate matters, members become advice seekers. In short, members still prefer having people available to help solve problems.

At times, members look for resourceful solutions to service complications and seek out other humans. Escalated service issues, significant life events, unrecognized transactions, fee disputes, and large financial decisions are just a trickle of events where an automated attendant can’t replace a human connection. Service is often about understanding and assisting with the emotions of a member matter; and, it’s practically impossible to automate and “decision tree” sympathy and empathy.

A Member’s Time is Valuable

For all of the cost savings and efficiency gains that come from automation and giving members more control over their own experiences, gaining access to a member service professional should be just as easy as using your credit union’s app to apply for a car loan. Most members will seek self-service options initially; but, when they need to consult with an expert, a never-ending phone tree or “Email Us” message diminishes the experience you want to provide for your members.

Instead, executives shared that trapping members in a digital transaction can weaken the member experience. “The ability to effortlessly pivot to a person allows our members to achieve the service they require, at a time when it matters most,” shared a long-time CEO. “Our data confirms that our members use self-service most of the time, and usage continues to grow. It also shows that when our members need us ‘face-to-face’ or ‘ear-to-ear,’ their ability to instantly reach someone  (Press “0”), increases their experience and loyalty.” In short: when members call, it’s not for a transaction. It’s for pressing advice, consultation, and support.

Technology is magnificent: it enriches our members’ experiences and streamlines our credit unions’ operations. While it allows members to connect “to” the credit union; at times, members need to connect “with” the credit union. Occasionally, members need the value of interacting with a professional to resolve a challenge, prepare for a financial highpoint, or tend to an unforeseen episode in life. Our ability – and commitment – to connect and be easily reached is an expansion and expression of service in real-time for real needs.

© 2018 by Jeff Rendel.  All rights reserved.

Jeff Rendel, Certified Speaking Professional and President of Rising Above Enterprises, works with credit unions that want entrepreneurial results in sales, service, and strategy.  Each year, he addresses and facilitates for more than 100 credit unions and their business partners.

Contact:;; 951.340.3770.

“Final Score: Board – 1; CEO – All Others”

December 11, 2018

“Final Score: Board – 1; CEO – All Others” by Jeff Rendel, Certified Speaking Professional

“Members of the Board, I would like you to meet our new CFO,” said the CEO of a large credit union as he introduced the newest executive. Pleasantries were exchanged, small talk occupied several minutes, and the CFO excused himself to tend to the afternoon’s matters. The CEO shared the background of the CFO and how happy he was to now have a complete team of managing executives. The scheduled meeting with the Board and CEO continued as prearranged.

In contrast, another credit union’s Board directed the CEO to not relieve an operations executive of her duties. “She’s been with us for years, members love her, and it may send the wrong message to staff, pointed the Board.” The CEO felt her hands were tied. The operations executive was not meeting new expectations, had not delivered on a performance improvement plan, and was actively working against necessary changes in the credit union’s culture and strategic growth plans.

A board of directors has one employee – the CEO. Most breakout education sessions on governance remind us of that steering tenet. How is it practiced at your credit union? Obviously, boards develop working relationships with other executives; the executives are often involved in meetings that involve strategy and board affairs. And, boards often rely on the expertise of executives to share deeper insights into operational matters.

As much as a board desires to ensure the credit union is led by the best, its role is limited to selecting and evaluating the CEO. For the CEO to be effective and fulfilled as the top executive, he or she anticipates having the authority to build and refine the kind of executive team that is suitable for the credit union’s strategic future. While the CEO may choose to discuss issues and candidates with the board; that conversation should be for insights, clarity, and observation. Ultimately, the CEO is responsible for building the organization and accountable for the results that follow.

As for the CEO with the excessively involved board; she ultimately made it clear: the credit union would continue to suffer financially under current operating leadership; and, was about to struggle even more as she considered resigning. Her board decided to commit to its one employee – her. The results? Membership growth, record revenue, higher margins, increased efficiency, lower losses, and newfound profits.

The most effective boards remain focused on governance and oversight; and, the most valuable CEOs remain occupied with strategy and execution. Boards can best help their CEOs succeed with clear support on strategy and the freedom to implement. In return, the CEO can deliver what the board needs most from its singular employee – sound operations, strategic progress, and sustained relevance for members.

© 2018 by Jeff Rendel.  All rights reserved.

Jeff Rendel, Certified Speaking Professional and President of Rising Above Enterprises, works with credit unions that want entrepreneurial results in sales, service, and strategy.  Each year, he addresses and facilitates for more than 100 credit unions and their business partners.

Contact:;; 951.340.3770.