Sarah Snell Cooke: Transforming Lives with Credit Unions

“I think there’s a lot of innovation that could happen within credit unions, especially the smaller ones. Honestly, people say the small ones are irrelevant. The thing is these smaller credit unions know their members better than anybody else. And it’s truly seeing them face to face is a lot of it. If we could help them in some way on the digital side, on the virtual side, they could be extreme powerhouses especially for storytelling.”



with guest:

Sarah Snell Cooke
Founder/CEO, Cooke Consulting Solutions and The Credit Union Connection

Episode Summary

In the latest episode of The Digital Banking Podcast, Josh DeTar welcomed Sarah Snell Cooke from The Credit Union Connection. They embarked on a discussion about Cooke’s transition from journalism to becoming a credit union advocate. Cooke’s unique insights into the challenges and opportunities within the industry were a focal point.

The episode also delved into how credit unions are leveraging digital transformation to enhance member services. Cooke highlighted the critical role of personalized services and the impact of credit unions on communities. Her experiences illustrated the significant empowerment these institutions offer to individuals through more accessible financial services.

Lastly, they explored future digital banking trends, with Cooke emphasizing the importance of integrating technology with a human touch in financial services. The conversation between DeTar and Cooke offered an in-depth look at the importance of innovation and adaptability in the credit union sector, providing valuable insights for listeners interested in the finance and technology evolving landscape.

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Key Insights

The Human Element in Credit Unions: Beyond Digital Transformation

Sarah Snell Cooke emphasized the importance of maintaining human connections within the digital evolution of credit unions. Despite technological advancements, she argued that personal relationships remain key to understanding and serving members’ needs effectively. Cooke shared stories illustrating how credit unions have made significant impacts on individuals’ lives through personalized services, like providing emergency loans over weekends. These examples highlight the unique value of credit unions in offering not just financial services but also personal support and guidance, underscoring the challenge of scaling such personalized interactions in a digital world.

Navigating the Future: Open Banking and Credit Unions

The episode delved into the potential challenges and opportunities presented by open banking. Cooke expressed concerns shared by credit union leaders worldwide about the competitive landscape shifting due to easier member information sharing and institution switching. However, she also acknowledged the importance of embracing change and adapting marketing strategies. The conversation underscored the need for credit unions to tell their unique stories, focusing on why they do what they do, to attract and retain members in a rapidly evolving banking ecosystem

The Role of Credit Unions in Community Empowerment

Cooke and Josh DeTar discussed the impactful role credit unions play in community empowerment, highlighting the need for storytelling in the industry. They shared stories of credit unions offering life-changing support to members, from emergency loans to financial education for newly released prisoners. These stories showcase the profound impact credit unions can have on individuals’ lives, going beyond financial transactions to truly empower communities. The discussion emphasized the importance of credit unions continuing to serve as pillars of their communities, leveraging their unique position to make a difference.

Guest At A Glance

Sarah Snell Cooke


Cooke Consulting Solutions and The Credit Union Connection

Find Cooke On:

From aspiring journalist to Credit Union Times editor-in-chief and passionate credit union advocate, Sarah Snell Cooke’s unique journey showcases her deep commitment to empowering credit unions and amplifying their impact on communities.

Josh DeTar: [00:00:00] Welcome to another episode of the Digital Banking Podcast. My guest today is Sarah Snell Cooke, co-founder, publisher, and editor of The Credit Union Connection. Let’s start with what will quickly become obvious about Sarah. She says it may sound dorky, but she really does care about credit unions. Sarah’s personality is highly competitive.

Josh: She played volleyball for years and even on her college team. Look, she’s so into it, she even has a tattoo of a volleyball apparently. And says she probably learned more from sports than anything. Even with that highly competitive background, she was never really entrepreneurial, though. Now, why do I give you all these seemingly unconnected data points about Sarah?

Because collectively they’ve shaped what she’s truly passionate about today. And that is amplifying the voice and relevancy of credit unions to empower them to continue doing that, as she says, life-saving work they do. Now, you may be thinking, whoa, [00:01:00] whoa, whoa, Josh, it’s not like credit unions are doing heart transplants.

I know, but Sarah highlights how money affects people and lives. One of the reasons she personally is so passionate about credit unions is because she was saved from some poor financial decisions when she was, as she says, young and dumb, and that the credit union probably even saved her marriage Today,

I have a really amazing opportunity to talk to Sarah about a few things. Her own story of how a 22-year-old aspiring journalist took a job from a Washington Post classified ad – yes, kids, back when we read paper papers – to be a reporter for a CU publication in Washington DC. And being blessed with being in the right place at the right time with the right attitude and hunger and how that turned into a really special career networking with the folks in Washington and the credit union industry to having to pivot recently from a stable breadwinner of the [00:02:00] family to getting kicked in the right direction from her husband to start something new and from the ground up.

Obviously, with his undying love and support and elbow grease to back it up. So I want to give her an opportunity to start with telling us this fascinating genesis story and then how her passion for credit unions, marketing and journalism make her an absolute wealth of knowledge for credit unions. Lots of topics to cover today from both her story to her passion and advice for credit unions to just some of the hot topics she’s seeing and covering in the industry.

So without further ado, Sarah, welcome to the show.

Sarah Snell Cooke: Thank you, Josh. Appreciate it.

Josh: Um, all right. So, you know, I kind of touched on it a little bit in your intro, but I’d love to have you just, uh, you know, give it straight from the horse’s mouth. Like talk to me a little bit about, um, just kind of your Genesis story of like how you went from, um, you know, flipping through newspaper ads to all of a sudden, uh, you know, I would say in just [00:03:00] even the last couple of months becoming in terms of my own consumption of content, one of the preeminent content providers for just news and information about what’s happening in the credit union industry.

So there’s, there’s kind of a big story in between those two things. I feel like you should fill us in.

Sarah: Wow. Preeminent. That feels special. I appreciate it. I, um, you know, it’s interesting. So I guess, uh, I graduated undergraduate with, um, political science degree with a minor in journalism, and I just knew I wanted to do something, uh, between writing in Washington, um, growing up in the, in Maryland, in the D.C. 

Area. You know, it was just part of our daily life. You always had a, you know, the feel of politics, if you will. It was like always over, you know, kind of a, a part of everything.

Um, so yeah, you know, having a, trying to be a first-time writer with no experience, it [00:04:00] can be difficult. I took some odd jobs. I counted, you know, uh, vehicle parts of the police motor pool. I was a high school substitute teacher. I did a lot of

Josh: Wait, that one is, there’s like some interesting data points to your story. That one’s like way out in left field.

Sarah: Yeah, yeah. I was not a prisoner who had to do it, I promise. Um, but So yeah, so I, um, I, yeah, it was, as you said, Josh, I was flipping through the Washington Post and, um, you know, they were looking for a credit union reporter in D.C. I’m like, huh, you know, what, how many are there? You know, I fell into credit unions like so many people do.

Um, and that happened to be a Credit Union Times if I’m allowed to, you know, just mention them. It was a,

you know, and a lot of people know me from there because it was a great jumping off point for my, uh, career. I learned a lot there, um, both in [00:05:00] business and, and God, credit unions, so much about credit unions. Um, and so it just, uh, it kind of grew from there. I started as the D.C. reporter. Um, I became editor-in-chief, uh, and then finally, um, about 2013 or so, I think, I became, uh, the publisher as well as the editor-in-chief, so I was kind of managing sales and strategy and, uh, editorial all at once, which was, it was a lot of fun, you know, keeping that balance between, you know, what is commercially viable and what is editorially ethical. Um, I love that game, it was, it was fun to me. And so, you know, back in 2017, though, I just, um, I decided to, uh, take my knowledge and what I’d learned in my network, my huge network I was able to build there. Um, and, um, yeah, just an aside. I remember my very first, uh, conference, Cranium [00:06:00] Conference, as editor-in-chief, and people just coming up to me.

I had no idea who they were, just coming up to me like, Sarah, you’re doing great, blah, blah, blah. And I’m like, you’re freaking me out. I’m kind of, I’m kind of an introvert. I did not expect that. Um, yeah, so, uh, took my, my network and my contacts and everything, um, And started consulting on, um, uh, uh, marketing and public relations.

Um, I feel like, you know, I learned a lot about, uh, public relations, seeing the good, the bad, and the ugly while I was at Credit Union Times. And hoping to do a better job of helping people, uh, tell their story. Um, and so, you know, we all, of course, got hit 2019, um, with the, the COVID pandemic and, and being stuck inside our, our, you know, homes, if you will, I mean, could go in our yards, I suppose, uh, but, uh, yeah, nobody was traveling.

We weren’t, you know, seeing each other in person a whole heck of a [00:07:00] lot. Except for our families and you know, that could be a bit much. So we, uh, I started, uh, these networking, uh, once a month networking, um, Zoom opportunities with my clients and my credit union friends. And we would get together and talk about whatever the topic of the day was.

And so, uh, from there is actually where The Credit Union Connection, um, spun out of. I had, um, two different, two different things. One, there was, you know, some who were saying that some of the credit union business partners weren’t getting the, uh, recognition that they deserved. Um, for all the work they do because a lot of credit union partners in particular tend to go that extra mile. But, um, then also, um, kind of the other side of the marketing budget, if you will, um, the smaller credit union, or excuse me, smaller business partners, um, you know, they had a hard time getting the word out that they even existed. I, you know, I had had a consulting client [00:08:00] that competed with QM Mutual, now TruStage and Allied Solutions. Like, you know, it’s hard to get your word out when you’re competing with these behemoths. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, but it’s just, you know, um, having the marketing budget to, and, and the voice to be able to compete with them. So that was kind of, um, part of the genesis of The Credit Union Connection.

Um, This is what, you know, my, uh, my credit union posse, if you will, was telling me. And, um, so I took that, and also what I saw, I felt I saw was missing, um, from the credit union publications out there. And I, one, I think, um, there’s not a lot of news analysis. A lot of it is straight news. And so that’s kind of as, as, uh, The Credit Union Connection matures, that’s where we went ahead.

Uh, we also, there’s not a lot of multimedia. Um, you know, and I, so we’re trying to, um, build our library of, you know, articles that are [00:09:00] also, uh, video and, you know, written video, audio. Um, and then I also feel like there’s not a lot of personality in the credit union publications. I mean, um, because, and that’s honestly the way it should be as a pure journalist.

You know, I, I understand that’s exactly how it should be. Um, which is, you know, why I think, uh, The Credit Union Connection Media Outlet, we want to have personality, we want to support credit unions, we want to, you know, help with advocacy and things like that, and I think, you know, with Gen X and the Millennials coming up behind them that it, it really, um, made sense, uh, in that aspect.

And then I, we also want to talk, excuse me, tackle, um, some of the biggest risks that I see in the credit union market. And one, we talked, we’ll talk a lot about this is brand awareness of, of the credit unions,

uh, and understanding what, like, credit unions are. Second, I think, um, as I mentioned earlier, I fell into credit unions.

A lot of people either grew up in credit unions because their families were in credit unions [00:10:00] or they fell into it. And so I would love to see credit unions market themselves as employee, employers of choice. You know, um, I want people to come out of college and say, I want to work at a credit union or come out of high school and be like, you know, I want to make a difference.

And I can do that at a credit union, um, because they understand that they actually can. I mean, credit unions are already doing this stuff, but nobody, not nobody, not enough people know it.

Um, and when we talk about the war for talent, right? Um, you know, being able to keep people and keeping them engaged when they feel good about their work that the rest follows.

Um, not only are they a good performer for you, but you can slow the, um, the turnover and in positions even like the, you know, the, once they’re where we see a lot of turnover in the tellers and the MSRs. Um, I haven’t finally like I mentioned earlier Something that’s affordable for small business partners to especially connect with smaller credit unions because I feel like smaller credit unions [00:11:00] often need the extra resources and the smaller business partners are typically the ones who are not going to tell you just go file a ticket. They’re going to be the ones to help walk you through a process and hold your hand and, and, and, and make sure you understand where you’re going and why you’re going in that direction.

So, um, that’s kind of in a nutshell, more than a nutshell, a very large nutshell, what, um, The Credit Union Connection is about.

Josh: Well, I love it. And I appreciate you giving us some of that backstory because. Um, you know, as we kind of go through some of the topics that you and I wanted to talk about today. It’s, it’s really that kind of like wide angle lens, I think that you have through The Credit Union Connection that makes you a really interesting guest for me, right?

Cause it gives you really unique perspectives on all the different things that you’re seeing happening in the industry. And, you know, I’ll give you the quick shout out here. It’s, it’s one of the reasons why I’ve really loved making, um, you know, your [00:12:00] email newsletter is one of the things that, um, every time I see that hit my inbox, that’s one of the things I always stop and make sure I take a minute to look through.

Um, and, and this could just be a personal thing too, right? But it’s like, it’s how I like to consume content is. You know, I subscribe to basically everything in our industry, and I’m going to be totally honest, I read very little of it. I just don’t have the time to read every single one of these things, right?

So I try and quickly skim through, see if there’s something super important or relevant, try and get an overall gen, like general vibe of what’s happening and then pick out things that, you know, I really need to dive deeper into. And you kind of do that for me. Like you kind of curate it and you’re like, Oh, hey.

You know, here’s kind of what’s happening in advocacy. You know, here was a merger. Here was, um, you know, a really cool product deployment from a software company. And here’s some news from a credit union about something they started. You kind of have like this holistic picture, but it’s simplified down in the email blast.

So I can really quickly just kind of see [00:13:00] the hot topics and then it’s kind of a choose your own adventure and I can dive as deep or as shallow as I want into that story. So yeah, I just, I really appreciate that. But I think that was also one of the reasons why I really wanted to have you as a guest is because again, I think that gives you.

a really cool perspective at looking at, um, like the journalistic side of what’s happening in our industry, but also from the perspective of really wanting to market the industry as a whole. And that’s both the financial institutions, but also the companies that support those financial institutions. Um, and, and just kind of talking about your, um, your point from earlier, I think it is really cool to see how you’re looking to,

um, you know, put a focus on, you know, giving the right types of exposure, um, through The Credit Union Connection. Um, because it is right. Like there’s some really cool things that are happening between credit unions and vendors. And sometimes both of them are just on the smaller spectrum and [00:14:00] actually seeing that story be told, um, is really, really cool.

You know, I referenced, um, a podcast I did a ways back, a lot of times when this topic comes up with Tracy Miller from Pioneer Credit Union and like she touts that as one of her biggest, um, you know, reasons for success is she’s like, I go look for the small players that don’t have big marketing budgets.

Um, and I look for the diamonds in the rough and then I look for ways that, you know, my small credit union can work a deal with them cause they’re still early and they’re trying to get reference clients to get things that, you know, by the time this blows up and becomes huge, the big credit unions can’t even afford, right?

And so anyway, I just, I know that’s kind of a long winded me selling your publication for you, but, um, I’m a fan of just seeing more types of content. Right. I mean, again, it’s kind of the whole reason we started this podcast is I think this industry’s superpower is collaboration. So it’s just, it’s cool to see a publication like yours, um, focusing on that style [00:15:00] of collaboration.


Sarah: The collaboration isn’t just the credit unions, too. It’s, it’s among the business partners, QSOs, in particular, obviously, um, have a, um, uh, philosophy. Uh, what’s the word I’m looking for? Words, Sarah. Uh, have a foundation of collaboration, but also, you know, it doesn’t matter.

You don’t have to be a collaborative organization, a cooperative organization to collaborate, too. Mm.

Josh: Um, well, so kind of one of the first things that I know you and I had touched on, um, just as we were preparing is we really wanted to talk about the, I even made the joke, you know, I’ll let my listeners decide if I talk about it too much, but, um, just one of the kind of, to those of us that are like marketers, glaringly obvious, uh, areas of opportunity for the credit union industry is to be storytellers.

Um, and you know, to your point from earlier, like the, the work [00:16:00] that they’re doing, it really actually is sometimes life-saving type of work, right? Like we’re having massive impacts on people’s like future trajectories in life. Both of ours included. And so how do credit unions get out and tell the story to both attract new membership in a changing environment, but two, attract talent, right?

Um, you know, I think it’s really interesting. Like I’ve had, uh, as you were talking about that, two, two podcast guests that really came to mind. One is actually the one that just released, um, with Ning Duong from Credit Union West out of Arizona. And she’s telling me this story of like how they’ve built this culture there at the credit union of empowerment.

And I’m like, hot dang, like if you’re somebody coming out of college and you’re hearing this podcast, there’s no way you’re not like, I want to work there. Like, that sounds awesome. And then, uh, I had Adrian [00:17:00] Quince from Redwood Credit Union on a while back and he was talking about how, you know, they’re in like Silicon Valley area.

Right. And they’re trying to attract developer talent. And they’re like, hey, I know you could take a job making $700, 000 at Google. Um, we’ll pay you a 10th of that to come work at a credit union and we’ll stifle all of your innovation. Like, how do you break that barrier to attract top talent from tech to come and do tech at the credit union?

And he was talking about how they’ve, you know, fostered that, um, culture there at the credit union to be able to attract really top-tier talent in tech. I think there’s, there’s really a story to be told for credit unions on both sides. Like, how do you attract top talent? How do you attract members? So, you know, I’d love to get your take on this as, uh, as I know this is something you’re really passionate about.

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So I, um, I, I, I, we were talking earlier, I’ve been a volunteer at my credit union for the last 12 years, [00:18:00] and, um, I’m currently the vice chair, and in part that’s because they saved my ass, you know, uh, when I was. I don’t know, late mid twenties, something like that, you know, got into some debt.

They, the credit union, and I’m sure I didn’t, I don’t think we applied anywhere else, but you know. Uh, I am sure I wouldn’t have lend me money. So I said to my husband, I was like, they’re not going to lend me, who would lend us money? But the credit union did, and it really, um, it really, you know, reduced our payments.

We were able to, you know, build our way out of that and build our credit back up. So, yeah, I mean, I definitely, um, believe the credit union you know, saved us financially, but also like you mentioned, uh, money is sticky between people and in relationships. And so, you know, there’s the whole part of like, whether you’re a couple or just individually, you know, you don’t act like you when you’re super freaking stressed out, um, over money, right?

You, you [00:19:00] become. Yeah, I become a beast. I, um, but, um, so yeah, I mean, there are so many, um, emotions tied around

money and we just, but, uh, as we were talking earlier, you see so much credit in marketing, like. With the giant percentage, you know, one nine nine car rate or, you know, five nine nine, you know, savings rate, whatever it is when there is so much more story to tell and I think, you know, part of the issue is that a lot of credit unions just don’t realize they’re doing something extraordinary.

It’s what they do every day. Right? You know, like, you know, you’re talking, I mean, just that introduction of me, I was like, wow, that’s, that makes me sound so cool and I’m not. Um, but you know, credit unions have these, um, these millions, uh, collectively of stories. I’ve talked to credit unions that have, you know, [00:20:00] uh, they’re trying, they’re working with the city government to try to figure out ways to eliminate debt for people who are dying of cancer. They are, you know, people who are about to be released from prison and they’re providing financial education, job training. You know, getting them bus path to their job. And then, you know, one of the most critical things the CEO was telling me is that when people are released from prison, they go back to that same environment that was not good for them. And so this credit union, um, she shared the story of how they got him this, they helped him get this job. And this, this gentleman, uh, ended up becoming manager of like this t-shirt shop and got his first mortgage from that credit union after, you know, a few years of saving and doing

what he needed to do because of the credit union’s guidance.

And if that’s not life-saving, life-changing, I don’t know what is.

Um, so there are millions of stories like that, that we need to get out there because one, [00:21:00] um, I think it’ll, uh, engage members much better than saying, you know, look at my CD rate. Um, but also because the CD rate is, uh, um, It’s cocaine advertising is what my clients would say, you know, it’s like, you’re going to get that quick shot, uh, that quick hit, but it’s not building a brand.

It’s not building, you know, your legacy, your credit union legacy as a pillar of the community. Uh, and that’s really, uh, where people miss. I mean, I see it time and again in my consulting business too, is, you know, I need leads. I need leads. I need leads. It’s like, well, why would anybody come work with you if they don’t even know who you are? You know, when you date, you gotta get to know somebody, you gotta learn to trust them, and then, you know, you know, you go out. It’s not, um, you know, it’s not a quick one and done thing, and that’s where I think a lot of credit unions also miss the [00:22:00] boat, in addition to not even recognizing that what they’re doing is extraordinary. Um, also on your other point, as employers, I mean, we’re constantly for at least five years now, I’ve been talking about the war for talent and, uh, for at least 10 years now, we’ve been watching all these retirements in the C-suite at the credit unions. And one of the things I hear from the executive recruiters is there, there aren’t people well rounded enough.

There aren’t people who have the experience. There aren’t enough people who, you know, whatever it is to backfill these positions. And so, um. Yeah, we’re losing a lot of a lot of great talent and people who have this legacy knowledge that needs to be passed down needs to be shared. Um, we also need to have people prepared to come up in their in their place. Um, So I think, you know, having people who are dedicated to an organization, not because they got to sell their next loan or whatever, but dedicated because [00:23:00] they actually feel good about what they’re doing, because, you know, I, I can’t remember, you know, we’ve all read the stats about the majority of people are disengaged at work. Well, um, you know, if you make them feel like they’re, they’re bigger, something bigger than themselves, you know, Maslow’s Hierarchy, that, that highest level is being a part of something bigger than yourself and giving back. And so, I feel like, you know, credit unions have, oh, I’m getting, I’m giving myself goosebumps. This is really nerdy. But credit unions have so much to give and so much to share,

and they just don’t know how to do it sometimes.

Josh: Yeah. That is, you know, um, uh, it’s like side note. One, one of my absolute favorite programs and you see this all over, right. And we’re, we were talking about this earlier, we’re about to head into, uh, GAC this weekend and um, you know, you’ll see it at GAC, but one of my favorite programs is the YCUP Program.

Right. And the young credit union professionals and just getting an opportunity to [00:24:00] see this next generation of leaders getting excited and passionate. Those are the types of things that I really love seeing get built up. Um, you know, our local, um, our local YCUP does a super cool event every year. It’s a CEO round table.

And it’s CEO speed dating. It’s hilarious. They get like 10 ish CEOs, um, from, you know, different credit unions around the area. They put one of them at each of these ten tables, and then they put ten or so young credit union professionals at the table. And then every 15 minutes, the CEOs rotate until you’ve met with every one of the CEOs.

And it’s total open forum. Anyone at the table can ask anything they want of the CEO, but it’s really a lot of times, you know, driven towards the thought process of like, how should we be thinking about setting ourselves up to be an awesome next generation of leaders for this credit [00:25:00] union? And it’s both so cool to see the excitement on, um, you know, the YCUP side.

But it’s also really cool to see the excitement from the executives, right? And seeing them really want to, like you were saying, like pass down some of this legacy knowledge, but at the same time, like foster a spirit of, um, bringing new ideas and new thoughts and new concepts. Um, and you know, again, I want to kind of get your take on this, both from kind of the consulting standpoint and to just like looking at our industry, but it’s when you were talking about the marketing side of things, like how we used to do things is not how we do things anymore.

Like we just have to call it very bluntly. We live in a very digital age and so many things are changing. Everything from how we’re actually delivering our products and services to building our relationships, but to also how we’re marketing ourselves, right? And so it’s really important to bring in this next generation of talent to think differently, to challenge the status quo.

Um. And to kind of [00:26:00] reinvent how we put credit unions on the map so that it resonates with the group that we’re trying to attract, right?

Sarah: Yeah, no. And, um, just to draw a parallel to journalism, like I said, when I started in 1999, I, uh, cut my teeth on Y2K and I, you know, was helping my publication at the time to build the first website, their first website. And when you think about that, when I had a Motorola Q, yeah, I remember that, you know, there was no iPhone,

there was no TikTok, you know, um, there was. A lot of, a lot of things changed, you know, like, you know, after I joined, um, the Times, um, you know, we had this website, they already had a website, but they didn’t know how to charge for it, charging like classified ad rates, you know, at the time. And then, um, you know, how do you, how do you build that into a business?

It’s, and it can’t just be, and this is the same thing I think with credit [00:27:00] unions. as well. It can’t just be putting what used to be in print onto a website now. You know, a lot of, um, credit unions, um, obviously, you know, start in publishing in in the financial services in, uh, 2008, we got slammed hard, right?

Um, we, we had our COVID moment, I guess. Um, because there was overall the housing crisis and the economic crisis, but within the credit union market, the corporate credit unions were the largest segment of our advertisers gone overnight. Right. And so being forced to adapt, um, and change because of the new reality. A lot of times we, we need to get ahead of that. Like, like. Credit Union Times, we were the first, um, publication on social media, on [00:28:00] Facebook and Twitter. And back when Twitter, it was just me and like five other credit union people tweeting back and forth to each other. And we, um, you know, adapting, seeing what’s coming and adapting before you’re forced to, I mean, now, you know, you see, uh, experiences like in The Credit Union Connection, we’re trying to do multimedia because we don’t want to be just take the thing from print and put it into,

put it on the web. Uh, and that’s the same for credit unions, as well. The, the experience of waiting in a line and having the glass, the bulletproof glass in front of your face, dividing you from the person, um, is not what you want to put online because especially online, you know, you have to work a little differently, work a little harder to make that, that, that virtual connection with people, um, to build a brand that is very different from, you know, the way it was traditionally done. And of course, Covid kind of [00:29:00] forced a lot of that, um, you know, digital signing of mortgages and things like that, uh, that should have been. Well, before then, and, you know, you see these, um, you see a lot of credit unions where, for example, um, I mean, my credit union, we were the first to have a online banking first credit in the nation, as well as like it was us and bank of America and maybe chase or something like that back in. I don’t know, it was a long time.

It was before my time on the board. Um, so that was really a great move because our, our field of membership in particular was the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins. And so, um, you know, there’s a lot of engineers and technology, uh, folks. So, you know, it was a great move, but then you rest on your laurels, you know.

It’s like, oh, we had the first thing, but what about the next thing? And I think it’s like, um, Always looking for something different, always staying, you kind of said hungry, [00:30:00] always Um, moving forward, I mean, I think being competitive, uh, has helped me a lot, uh, in life, as you said. Um, but I think one other thing is, I tend to, when I’m talking about being competitive, 90 percent of what I’m talking about is being better than I was the day before.

I don’t really compare myself to other people as being, uh, better at whatever it is than I was the day before. Because I think when you watch, when you, when you’re watching leaders, you become a follower. It’s just what it is. Anyway,

Josh: No, that’s a really good point. And, you know, kind of to, to what you were just saying, I think this is going to sound really obvious when I say it out loud, but it is amazing how, you know, even myself, um, can be guilty of this at times. Like it, it’s so obvious, but sometimes we don’t actually live it in practice is that, you know, innovation can’t be a destination.

It has to be a journey. And it has to be a [00:31:00] continuous journey, right? And it’s not like our industry is unique in this, right? You know, we’re talking about how credit unions are having to navigate this whole, you know, move to the digital world and not just trying to copy and paste. I mean, I just had a couple of episodes ago, Sanjib Kalita from FinTech Meetup on, and just talking about how, you know, conferences even as a whole, um, all of a sudden you have a pandemic that says you cannot be near other humans and you’re like, oh, my entire business model is putting humans near other humans, crap.

Like, well, what do I do now? Right. So like if we’re 

Sarah: I attended the FinTech Meetup online before it was, went in person.

Josh: oh yeah.

Sarah: very, yeah. Mm

Maybe because it 

Josh: was thought about totally differently, right? It wasn’t just, we’re going to take, I mean, no offense, but I’m just, I’m not going to use any specific names, but I mean, it was amazing to watch how many conferences were like, okay, vendors, you used to have a booth. Now you have a virtual booth and people will stop by your [00:32:00] virtual booth.

I’m like, no one in their right mind is stopping by my virtual booth. Like my ROI is like negative five on this. It’s ridiculous. Like no way. You know, so it’s, again, it’s, it’s not that our industry is necessarily unique in this, and it’s not even just that, you know, we use COVID in the pandemic is, is a really big example and catalyst for a lot of these changes, but that’s just one of many examples of businesses are constantly being challenged, right?

Ways of doing business is constantly being challenged and you can’t, like you said, just the rest on your laurels and be like, Hey, we launched internet banking first. So. We’re good for forever, right? Like, it just doesn’t work like that. Um, and sometimes there are, there are, you know, small incremental things that happen that force us to have to kind of start thinking about evolution or there’s major events, but in, in kind of either of those instances, you know, you can’t be the frog in the pot of water analogy, right?

You can’t just slowly be [00:33:00] like, ah, you know, we’re totally fine. We’re totally fine. We’re totally fine. We did the first internet banking. Oh crap. We’re completely irrelevant. We’ve been boiled. Right. Um, and you were talking about how even there’s just, there’s kind of this, um, I don’t want to say misconception, but almost just negative narrative that’s floating around both within and with outside of our industry that like small credit unions don’t even need to exist anymore.

Like they’re irrelevant and they can’t keep up. And so what’s the point? And we should just merge them all into bigger credit unions. You know, simplify the field of players and then just go from there. There’s, there’s no point to them, but I think you have a pretty strong opinion on the, uh, the opposition to that.


Sarah: Well, I think there’s a lot of different reasons. I think we got to look at the reasons for mergers and, you know, if I may, I’ll mention actually a competitor, Frank Deakman is doing an excellent job covering the, [00:34:00] the credit union mergers at CU Today. They, um, I mean, the reasons are just pathetic most of the time. Why mergers are happening. Um, you know, they claim there’s, you know, expanded resources, almost all of them say expanded resources, better ability to serve the membership, um, or like they can’t find a new CEO or they can’t find a new volunteer, you know, whatever it is. And it’s just, I feel like there are, there is a need at times for fresher blood for, for people who, okay, you don’t feel like you can continue to lead the credit into survive, but that doesn’t mean it can’t survive and um so part of it, I think there is some ego there. There is some you know I’m retiring and I don’t feel like putting up with any more stuff, which I mean, I kind of can get [00:35:00] understand that attitude. Um, but it’s bigger than yourself, you know,

or, you know, a lot of, um, you know, you say you’re the CEO of a 50Million dollar credit union that serves postal workers. You’re not going to make more than 60, 000 a year to run this credit unit. It’s a real pain in the rear, honestly, because you’re at that size,

you’re also the loan officer. You’re also a teller on Fridays when everybody else is, you know, it’s like, it’s a big job. And, you know, a lot of times boards hold back, uh, regarding compensation and in particular benefits packages for, for the seniors, uh, executives. Um, and so. You know, it, it seems to me obvious or logical that, you know, then the incentive becomes, oh, this guy wants to merge and take all my capital, take my members capital, but I get, you know, this payout for my retirement fund.

Hell yeah. Um, I think we got to take into consideration how [00:36:00] we, how we treat our executives, how we train our executives,

um, and, and keep them, you know, as well as board members, keep them, um, you know, educated and evolving with the times, as you said, and recognizing that sometimes, I mean, I’m leaving my board after 12 years now because I’m moving and there’s a large part of it, but also I think, you know, 12 years is probably long enough for me, um, to have made the changes that I wanted to see.

Uh, and I think I’m leaving a good hand. So being confident and taking Uh, taking some of the ego out of it, I think is part of it for sure. Um, and then I think, you know, I, the large part of it is over regulation. I think especially in the current environment, you’re looking at the CFPB calling everything junk fees when,

you know, somebody is late on their credit card payment. You are providing a service by extending that credit to them, you know, for the, you know, counting on [00:37:00] them making that next payment. If somebody is, you know, overdrafting their account, that is a service you are providing them that costs the institution money. Um, and especially with a credit union, it’s your fellow members money. So, I mean, calling that junk, I think is, you know, BS Um, some certainly go overboard with it. I’m not going to say it’s done 100 percent right, but we can’t regulate morality. I think, um, and the free market only works with ethical business decisions.

Unfortunately, not everybody can do that. In my utopia, they do. But, but, um, and, and you’re seeing it with the, um, the legislation currently, uh, that Durbin’s pushing yet again. Uh, to limit, uh, credit card, uh, interchange income, which, you know, helps pay for all the fraud that is going on with our credit cards, especially the card not presence, um, uh, fraud from [00:38:00] the increase in online purchasing.

And so I, there’s just a lot of reasons, you know, um, that a small credit union should feel under pressure, but there’s also ways that, things that should change, that could change, um, if we really, I feel like, center our minds to it. But I am the type of person who likes to bang their head against the wall 50 times. So but yeah,

that’s, that was a lot. But

Josh: I want to come back to what you were talking about on the regulation side, cause I think there’s a lot of conversation there. Um, but going back, even a little bit further, you know, you were talking about just thinking about how do we kind of incentivize the current leadership at credit unions and the next generation of leadership at credit unions.

But it got me thinking, you know, uh, very long story short, but like my wife and I started a foundation at one point. And, um, you know, one of the things that we really originally hung our hats on was like, we didn’t want, um, [00:39:00] we wanted the highest percentage physically possible of money that was donated to go to the actual cause that we were trying to support versus administration costs or us taking a salary or something like that.

Right. And, and one of the reasons that kind of got me on that track is I remember long, long ago, and I’m sure I’ll misquote it. Um, so I won’t use any specific, um, organizations names, but I remember an article coming out that was highlighting the compensation packages of some of the executives at some of the biggest not for profits that you’re aware of, right?

And some of these people are making 50 million a year with a stipend for, um, you know, a 200 million penthouse in New York and four Rolls Royces wherever they go. Um, and you’re like, ah, do I really want to give money to that charity if that’s where that’s going? But on the flip side, and I think where the conversation we’re talking about credit unions is going right is conversely, if we say, hey, look, I have this job offer for you.

You’re going to be the CEO [00:40:00] of a credit union. You’re going to work ridiculously long hours. You’re going to get a lot of negative feedback from members and board and face all these challenges for the occasional like story that you helped save somebody’s life financially. Um, you’re going to wear lots of hats.

You’re going to do it for a lot of years. Um, and we’re going to give you 27 and a half of a hot dog for lunch every other week. And we’re like, screw that, like, that sounds like a terrible job. I’m not going to do that. Right? So how are you going to attract top talent to create a high producing credit union, right,

that’s financially solid. And then conversely, a financially solid institution with the right type of leadership who’s bringing in the right roles and cultivating a good, um, you know, culture and brand at that credit union is going to have lots of stories like yours and mine of the positive impacts they’re going to do for people.

So if all of these credit unions start going away because we’re not incentivizing [00:41:00] leadership to really evolve and innovate and, you know, take risks

then they’re not going to be around to have stories like you and I. And our story is going to turn into some big bank turned me down for that loan and my husband and I had a giant blow up about money and we got a divorce.

Right? Like, I’m not saying that would happen, I’m just saying, but like

Sarah: Yeah.

Josh: That, that’s what we’re talking about here is, is you know, making sure that we’re making these financial institutions attractive places for people to be thinking about comp plans, thinking about, you know, all the things that go into building a high performing team.

And sometimes that does feel, like, dirty to us. We’re like, no, no, we’re not for profit. Like, yeah, well, we’re not for profit, but we can’t go under either. Right? Like, if we’re operating at a loss, we’re not doing any good. We’re not doing the good that our mission is set out to do. So that is a really fine balance, I think.

But I think your point is really spot on, Sarah. Yeah.

If you’re not [00:42:00] innovating, whether 

Sarah: it’s how you find talent, how you train talent, how you market, how you build the, the platform that is your credit union. Um, if you’re not innovating that, then you’re not serving anybody’s purpose. And that is, that is a bigger risk. Not doing anything is a bigger risk. Um, and that’s one of the things I think a lot of people are like, well, if I just don’t do anything, nothing will change. And that’s, yeah, nothing will change.

Josh: Nothing will change. But the environment around you is going to change, right? 

Sarah: Exactly, exactly. 

The game is 

Josh: gonna change. You know, you, yes, you’ve been doing really good playing volleyball forever, but we switched it up. We’re playing football now. And like, volleyball tactics aren’t going to work great on the football field.


Sarah: I got a hell of a spiral though. But, uh, and back to your point, too, about what you were saying about YCUP and the, like, the GAC Crashers and groups like that. You know, these folks go and they see all these exciting things, um, at the GAC and they get [00:43:00] inspired by Herb Wagner Dinner. Oh my God, that is like, I want to be the person who is able to do the work enough to possibly maybe one day get one of those awards just because I want to say I did the work for it.

But anyway, uh, just amazing stories there. Again, the great storytelling in that. We can tell ourselves our stories all day long. That’s a whole other issue. But yeah, but with these younger groups that go out and have these great experiences and they come back to their credit unions and they’re told no, no, no all the time, then they’re gonna be like, what the hell?

I mean that, that, it almost makes, it almost could make it worse when you go to a GAC and you hear all these inspiring speakers and, and innovators and then you go back to your own credit union and it’s like, no, we can’t do that because X, there’s always a reason why no. And it’s just, I don’t know.

Josh: Uh, I really wish I could pull the stat out of the top of my head right now, but I can’t for the life of me remember the reference or the number, so I’ll be careful about how I quote it, but I [00:44:00] think it was a recent podcast guest Bill Kennedy and I were talking about, and I don’t know if he actually said it on air or if it was just a conversation between him and I, but, um, the number of GAC crashers, that leave the credit union and not just leave the credit union, leave the industry is staggering.

Sarah: Mm hmm.

Josh: When, when I heard whatever the stat was, I remember being shocked. I remember being like, wait, no way. No way. Like we put so much hype into this and you see these groups like why kept doing this. So what’s happening? Where’s the disconnect? What’s happening? Like you said, when they go home. Yeah.

Sarah: What is scary? Um, so, you know, do be, it’s kind of like when you, you, you’re not going to market your credit union if you can’t do the things that you say you’re going to do. Right? So don’t market your industry or as being able to do things [00:45:00] that you’re not going to be able to do. So is it more a matter of setting that foundation, building the innovation and the education, the training for the people have been around a while. Versus people who have, who have not and think there, think there still is opportunity and there, and there is and there should be, um, but then, yeah, they, the people who they have to, they have to, um, report to, uh, can, can dash that in a heartbeat.

And again, I think, um. Some of that goes back to I’m about to retire. I don’t want to bother with converting to a different core or a different mobile banking platform or whatever it is, um, or, you know, so there are, um, and there are limitations to that I think that business partners are sometimes responsible for as well.

Um. There are these, there are some of the larger companies that might, you know, they build [00:46:00] one thing and they do it really well, but then they build this on top of it and this beside it and this around it, and these are okay, but if you, but they’ll give you the package deal, and if you don’t take the package deal, they’re going to charge you out the wazoo to take to add another different third party in and so, um, you know, that kind of, um, hamfisted control can stifle the innovation as well.

There truly is nothing some credit unions can do, um, because, um, of their, uh, some of the business partners that are out there that aren’t so much partners.

Josh: Um, no, I think, you know, that’s a good point to Sarah that we’re starting to see, I think, um, some of the value in, you know, moving more towards open banking standards-based banking. Um, we’ll hopefully have some pretty significant [00:47:00] impacts on that, right? Um, it’s really hard to have a walled garden in an open ecosystem, right?

And all of a sudden you kind of start to stand out, um, and have to make some very different business decisions. But, um, you know, being able for credit unions to say, hey, I want to, I want to be able to have best in breed and all of these things. And actually be able to pull it off because when things are standards-based and open, it’s a significantly lower lift and lower cost to do integrations to those types of things.

I think I see definitely a positive future in terms of kind of that evolution that’s happening.

Sarah: I think, I don’t know, open banking scares me a little bit, uh, just, I’ve talked to some credit union leaders in Australia who already have it, they’re probably 10 years ahead of the U. S. in that, and I think England as well, but, um, yeah, I mean, it’s a little scary because we’ve always known how to [00:48:00] compete, I guess. Um, in the way that we have been, um, if that makes sense, but when you have open banking and it’s easy to switch from one institution to another, or share your information from one institution to another, um, it’s going to be open a whole different world for, uh, for competitively speaking. Um, and hopefully it’s not just about rates.


That’s why this, 

Josh: again, becomes so incredibly important that we as an industry start to rethink how we do our marketing and our messaging. And it comes really back to, you’ve got to tell a why story, not a what story to consumers. Um, and you know, the other thing, I don’t know if we, how far we want to go down this rabbit trail, but you know, I think, you My hope, too, is that the U.

  1. looks at other examples of how open banking has been [00:49:00] instituted, right? And, you know, you look at things like whether the government creates the standard and the API, or whether they just mandate a standard be made and let the free market decide what that looks like. And all of those factors have a really big impact on what that actually means for the financial institutions.

And so I think this is where also having credit union advocacy is so incredibly important is because if we don’t have a voice in that, we all know what’s going to happen, right? Like, if you don’t have a seat at the table, there will be no table for you anymore. So you have to be a part of those conversations to make sure that your voices are heard.

And you’ve got to be able to articulate your story of like, this is why we deserve to have a seat at the table. This is the good that we’re doing in our communities that we’re doing for our membership base, right? And this is how we’re differentiating ourselves. I know you were talking about, um, just a minute ago, kind of the, um, you know, the storytelling and the marketing of that and how you have to start thinking about things differently and encouraging like this next generation of leaders to come in and be like [00:50:00] empowered to actually do things without being told no.

Um, you know, we’ve been talking about maybe some of the negative examples of just not telling our story well, but, uh, mark my words, I’m going to get this guy to be a guest on the podcast one of these days. He’s probably just too busy and too cool for me, but, um, Stephen Foster of Frontier Credit Union out of Idaho, um, came from outside the industry, uh, got connected to this credit union in Idaho.

And they were like, hey, we want you to come run marketing for us. And he kind of was like, no, I know what you’re going to do. Like, you’re going to kill all my ideas. Not a chance. And they were like, what if we told you yes, to all your ideas, obviously with some guard wheels and some reason. Right. But, and he goes fine.

Like if, if you really, and truly let me run this like a marketing organization, not like a credit union, I’m in. And I just pulled up while you were talking, uh, an email from him from 2022, where he sent me some stats and in [00:51:00] 2022, they had, um, just the ones that he referenced over, uh, 10 TikTok videos with over half a million views and some of them in the 20 and 30, 000 views,

likes, comments, shares, like I’m just going to say this super blunt. If you’re in marketing at a credit union, how many of you can say you’ve got that? Right? It’s pretty low.

Sarah: not. I was gonna say, if any others,

I’ve seen some bad attack on, uh, from credit unions.

Josh: but it shows there’s opportunity. Right? And I think that’s what you 

Sarah: is absolutely is 

Josh: we know there’s opportunity. Like we know people are craving for this story because they’re craving to do business with organizations. that can be a part of their story. Yeah. Yeah. 

Sarah: Uh, I think there’s a lot of innovation that could happen within [00:52:00] credit unions and especially the smaller ones. Honestly. Uh, uh, people. Just on the small ones, they say they’re irrelevant. Um, the thing is, these smaller credit unions are the ones that know their members better than anybody else. And, and it’s not, you know, it’s truly seeing them face to face is a lot of it. Um, I think if we could help them in some way, on the digital side, on the virtual side. You know, they could be, you know, extreme powerhouses, uh, especially for storytelling. I mean, they’re the ones that, you know, have this. The stories of, you know, this one guy who, and this is a real story I got from a credit union, you know, this guy who, um, was a landscaper, had his equipment stolen on his truck, off his truck. He called, he literally had the, the [00:53:00] CEO of the credit union hands out her cell phone to all the members and he called her cell phone. And I think this was on a Saturday and by Monday she had given him a loan, got helped him get the equipment back or new equipment. Um, and so he didn’t lose any income. He was able to go to work.

And he paid back the loan. He also taught, or she taught him how to, um, apply for, uh, uh, business loans, how to, how to get, uh, uh, form an LLC, how to do, you know, the things that, you know, her point was he was really smart. He used to know exactly what to do. And so, like, because of this one problem he had, she built this relationship with him and his business, and now his couple of employees, and his family, and like, he’s talking all about that word of mouth is very powerful, but how can Crichton’s learn to do it more at scale is, I think, one of the, one of the bigger issues that we need to solve for the world.[00:54:00] 

Josh: I mean, if you ask me, you hit the nail right on the head, right? Like, how do you do that at scale? And I would argue it’s virtually impossible. Now we can get really, really good when we start looking at, um, you know, and again, this is kind of what you were talking a little bit about just, um, you know, sometimes we see the issues in innovation and technology from, um, from our industry.

Sometimes it’s like, well, I just, I don’t want to deal with another conversion or what we have is just fine. But when we really look at, okay, how do we continue to take this relational? Approach to a digital world. Like things like digital banking have to evolve right now. Digital banking is a look back.

It’s just tell me what happened across my accounts, right? The look forward is maybe here’s the bills you have upcoming due, but how do we start being a lot more proactive about what you were saying? Right. Educating, setting people up for success, putting tools in front of them, because even really intelligent [00:55:00] people sometimes don’t know what to do because this isn’t their forte, right?

I talked to doctors who are morons with their money.

Sarah: Yes.

Josh: $700, 000 a year and they’re total idiots with their money and they’re living paycheck to paycheck, making $700, 000 a year, right? So very smart people can just be very smart in different areas of their life. And so we need to start looking at how can technology start to bridge that gap?

So yes, technology is going to help us if we evolve and innovate and allow that innovation to happen within our industry so that we can scale some of this relational. But I think this does come back to what you kind of were talking about with, um, you know, this notion that small credit unions don’t have a place in this world.

This is why I would argue they absolutely do. They have to exist. They fundamentally have to exist because I had, uh, Austin Adams, uh, the former CIO of JP Morgan Chase as a guest on the podcast. And he was like, hey, look, I’m going to tell you totally honest. Like Chase has no bloody clue who you are as a consumer.[00:56:00] 

Like we have no clue, none whatsoever. Like, sorry, like, well, we’ll talk about all this, but we have no clue who you are. Right. But that 5, 000- member credit union, 

Sarah: Mm-HmmThey 

Josh: absolutely knowely who you are. Right. And they’re the type of ones that be like, look on paper, we should not give Sarah this money. It was a bad idea, but I know Sarah and I know the situation and I know the surrounding elements and I know that if I take a vested interest in ensuring that she pays this back, I’m going to then set her credit score up for better success for next time.

So next time, even on paper, she’s even better, right? That can’t happen really, truly at scale. Again, we’re, we’re getting better at this. Technology is helping to solve some of these things. But there are some things that are just different when you have a real relationship with people on that human level.

Um, and so I think that’s part of my argument for like, this is why it’s so important for small [00:57:00] credit unions to stay around.

Sarah: Yeah. And I, I think too, you kind of, one of the things you touched on, um, is. one, technology can cannot replace people. I mean, I had a, I had a friend talk to me about, you know, I’m worried about your business because AI can just write press releases. AI can just do this or that, but AI doesn’t have the relationships that I have with, you know, the, the editors that I know at the different publications.

So, I mean, it’s about that human element. And why can one of my concerns is we tried to, since COVID, it’s been really interesting since COVID, one of the things I hear, uh, pretty frequently is that credit unions are actually being more innovative than the community bank, um, side, which I think is really interesting. My, one of my concerns is, are we going to try to move too fast? Um, you know, I think everybody talks AI, AI, AI, AI, AI, AI. And. We got to add AI. I mean, it was a [00:58:00] topic at my credit union strategic board meeting, uh, strategic planning session over a few, a few weekends ago. It’s, it’s about, and this is the key word that you said, solve. It’s got to solve something. We can’t just, we have to have AI. We have to have AI. It’s

like, what is the point? What,

the why is, is always the most important thing. And that’s going to teach you in journalism too. So. Yes.

Josh: Yeah, no, that, I love that comment to you, Sarah. You know, it’s, it is so incredibly important for us. Um, you know, I think one of the really blatant examples that I use that I had lots of conversations, um, and funny enough, it was some of these conversations that like prompted me to start this podcast because I ended up having these super fascinating conversations with my customers and then going back and telling my team and they were like, dude, we want to listen in on this anyway.

But, um,

Crypto, right? And I remember when all of a sudden, um, you know, Bitcoin is through the roof. A lot of our credit unions are like, we have to do, we have to do Bitcoin. We have to, we have to do buy, [00:59:00] sell, hold of crypto. And I was like, why? Because it’s in the news. Why do you have to do this? Like, what is the, and you got to go layers deep into this, right?

And understand, well, why would you, not only do this, but why would you prioritize this over something else, right? And for some, maybe it did mean that yes, doing buy, sell, hold of crypto was the right thing, but I’ll tell you across the board for most, it wasn’t the right thing, right? And they came to that realization when they started to ask themselves, like, why, what is the value add for my membership?

And specifically around what is the value out of me doing this versus me prioritizing my efforts and doing something else for them, 

Sarah: Yeah, 

Josh: And so 

Sarah: of like Warren Buffett. Oh, go ahead.

Josh: Oh, no, no, yeah, go ahead.

Sarah: No, I was going to say, it’s sort of like Warren Buffett. Don’t get into things that you don’t understand what they are. Um, I remember talking to a group of card game people about blockchain. And I said, I was saying, it’s not about the, I was talking about, [01:00:00] Bitcoin.

It’s not about, you know. Coinbase, whatever it was, it’s about the underlying technology of blockchain and what that’s going to do because you’ll be able to, you know, verify contracts faster, you know, fewer fraud, you know, all this stuff. And they’re like, no, we’re not getting into Bitcoin. That’s what they kept saying.

I’m like, you don’t, you got to educate yourselves. Know what you don’t know. Put your

ego aside. You know, I don’t know a lot about it. I am not a tech person, um, per se, but I understand what it can do for, for a credit union, for example.

Josh: Um, yeah, I think that’s good. I would be really careful with my words here, but I think we see a lot of that. And again, I’m not, not painting the picture against just our credit union executives, right? Like I’m guilty of this. I’m sure you’re guilty of like, we’re 

Sarah: Oh yeah, the whole, the whole, everybody. 

Josh: of like, you know, we just, we don’t understand something

so we put our walls up against it. Right. And especially when something’s new and really touted as like something revolutionary. [01:01:00] I think we kind of see two camps of people. People are like, I’m going to dig really deep in and understand why this is revolutionary and then make my decision or holy crap, this is so big and huge.

And like, I just don’t know where to touch it. I don’t know where to start and I don’t know what I don’t know. And so therefore I’m just going to fall back on doing things, how I’ve always done things. Right. I think the very recent example of that has been what we’ve seen in just some of the stuff with FedNow.

Right. I think there’s a lot of people that are like, oh my gosh, I mean, this is a completely radically different way to move money in the U. S. And it was the one missing puzzle piece in money movement. Like I got to jump on this. And then a lot of people are like, I just don’t understand. Like why do we need another money movement?

And there’s lots of questions. So this is not an isolated problem, right? Like we see this time and time again. And I think kind of what you’re talking about is like we have to create this culture and the spirit, especially within our leadership team of being hungry for the information, looking at it. And then it’s not just whatever.

Bitcoin or blockchain or AI or [01:02:00] FedNow or whatever the next thing is and just deciding, am I getting on the train? It’s no, I really fundamentally understand my field of membership, who we serve, what’s of value to them. And then if I do this, what problem is it solving for them or for us to be able to better serve them?

And what’s the overall value add and the impact that it’s going to have? As opposed to just, hey, if I walked down the aisle at GAC in the trade show hall, you know, every other company has dot AI at the back of their name. Now, like we have to have an AI for our credit union. You’re like, yeah, okay. Well, I like, what does that mean?

Sarah: Yeah, yeah for sure and the um, oh goodness. I just lost my train of thought, it went off the tracks, but um, I think and I think a lot of people too to the positive is that innovation is not just [01:03:00] technology or creativity for the sake of itself. It’s that creates value. And that’s one of the words you use, too. It has to create value, whether it’s monetary or time savings or, you know, the whatever you get, it doesn’t even have to be specifically and very directly measurable, but innovation is not just getting creative with some funky technology. It’s got to create value, too. Um, so yeah, I think that’s the bottom line.


Josh: I, I want to come, I, I kind of put a pin in this on you on earlier and I want to come back to it is I think one of the other big elephants in the room when we’ve talked about all these things is the role that regulation plays in this, right? And for the positive and the negative, right? There’s the protection aspect of it.

But then there’s also the stunting of innovation aspect. Um, so as you’ve been kind of like. That’s been your world for a lot longer than mine. Like, what’s your perception of, of kind [01:04:00] of the state of regulation and where we’ve been and where we’re headed and kind of what are the impacts of that for our industry?

Sarah: You know, I, as a, uh, I’ve been registered as a Democrat since I was 18 or whatever. I think it was Clinton’s first, second term. Um, and the, the, the state of the political parties, and I, I hate to talk about the political parties per se, just because there’s more to politics than the parties, but then they have such control.

There hardly is anything more than the parties. I’m big for a multi party system, but because the parties have so much control, um, they tend to go to extremes. And because the media loves the soundbites, then

they go to more extremes when, you know, 10 percent of people are here, 10 percent of people are here,

80 percent of people are here. But then, these are the ones who get the, you can’t see my arms, but the ones at either end [01:05:00] are the ones who get the mic, because they’re

saying something that’s like, um, I’m not just usually, um, and so I feel like the, um, current administration and not just the current administration, um, it’s, it’s been a good while, um, for, for on both sides of the aisle where, uh, they get obnoxious, they make their point, but then they over make their point. For example, like we talked a little bit about the CFPB and the junk fees and the CFPB and another one that has made a lot of news this year, which I don’t think it ever has in the past is the CDFI fund, the Community Development Financial Institution Fund. You know, I think both parties are trying to do things that are good.

For example, the CDFI fund was trying to protect the legacy and the brand of what it means to be a community development financial institution. The [01:06:00] way they were going about it, however, Um, in changing their application process, the way they’re going about it was basically going to eliminate almost all credit unions. And so from being CDFI is when credit unions are the ones making the most loans of all the community development financial institutions. And so, you know, being aware of. the practical effects. Everybody, I mean, everybody talks about, oh, well, this had unintended consequences. But B. S. if you listen to anybody who actually does the work, you would know. You would know that that is going to be the consequence of it. Um, and obviously, you know, the trade associations, and of course we had the big merger this year, which is a whole other thing about smaller, uh, credit unions. But anyway, you know, the, the trade associations, um, can only, and I’m going to get back to storytelling.

The trade associations can only do so much. They can gather this data that is really eye-opening. Um, [01:07:00] and they can, you know, uh, lobby the hill, but they’re lobbyists. When real credit union people, real credit union executives and board members go to the Hill or go to their state house or, you know, um, talk to their regulators with the real stories of how the practical impact of every day is so important, um, to, to share that story of how you won’t be able to make me that loan if this regulation goes through, or, um, I can’t afford to innovate if I also have to pay this much for cyber security, you know, and so I think recognizing the practical impact of what you’re trying to regulate is super, super important. And, and I just feel like the, the current administration has lost its way, uh, in that regard, uh, and, and, and doing the opposite of what it actually intends to do. That’s my two cents.

Josh: You know, I, I, no, I love it. I [01:08:00] mean, I really couldn’t agree more. I think this is why I think this time of year is also really exciting for people. Um, and, and really should be used to kind of re re energize some of us and, you know, energize kind of this next generation. That’s why, like, I’m such a big fan of the Crashers.

Um, but, you know, I’d like to see. I’d like to see who, what happens to why that attrition is happening, but it is GAC, right? And it is hiking the hill and it is going out and it is really putting our faces in front of, you know, the folks passing down, um, you know, these regulations and this legislation and saying, these are the real world impacts.

And, you know, our stories are really powerful and it’s kind of funny. I don’t think we ever really intended this podcast to be about this, but I think the common theme here is just stories, right? I know it sounds all fluff and stuff kumbaya and it’s not as hard hitting as my CD rate is higher than their CD rate.

Um, it’s not as objective, but it really is [01:09:00] the things that make the difference, right? It’s the, the, the stories come from the stories of real people and the impacts credit unions are having for them. And then it’s marketing that story that’s helping to create the next generation of both internal development and external development in bringing up our next generation of innovative leaders who are then in turn going to innovate, bring new ideas and solutions to solve new problems to bring in the next generation of membership and then making sure that that story is collated and told in an eloquent manner to the powers that be to make sure that our ability to do the good that we do is protected.

Um, but it is, I mean, I think it’s, we see it all the time right in, um, in just the, the good and the bad of, uh, of the double edged sword of, of regulation and how it does provide some levels of protection, but at the same time, how, you know, sometimes it stunts the innovation. Um, [01:10:00] so, I mean, it’s definitely a 

Sarah: And we just saw, 

Josh: credit unions to navigate.

Sarah: yeah, we just saw the CFPB start going after the first, uh, its first non-bank lender. And, uh, so, you know, which is really where they could focus a little more on the predatory lenders rather than those who already have the primary regulators.

Josh: Yeah. 

Sarah: Anyway. Mm 

Josh: know, I’m, but I kind of to, this comes back to what you were talking about, um, with, um, just the whole idea of comp plans for executives at financial institutions, right. Um, and specifically credit unions is, um, you know, similarly it’s, it’s things like. labeling all of these fees as negative and bad and it’s like, hey, look, there’s payday lenders out there that are giving 300 percent interest loans on your fricking paycheck.

Like knock it the hell off about a couple dollar fee because somebody knowingly and you know, given all the tools and support and all of the options to make the right [01:11:00] decision still made a wrong decision and it cost us money and we have to figure out a way to absorb that. Like, yes, again, like there are fees that are bad fees and I totally agree and they should go away and they are against our, our mission and our why statement, but they’re also things that protect our business and you know, look as a new parent.

Like I’d love to be, I love seeing all the, um, you know, it’s funny to watch your like social media suggestions changes, your phases of life go through. And now it’s all like all the memes of like other parents in my age, uh, like of children stage and like, oh yeah, no, I didn’t totally get that too. It’s like, you know, the, I want to gentle parent you, but sometimes man, sometimes you just need to hear like, no, like, no, this is unacceptable.

This is not okay behavior like. I’m not just going to coddle this, right? And it’s like we almost have to do the same thing with our membership, right? There’s a very big difference between, um, you know, what we think is compassion sometimes and [01:12:00] what’s actually just enabling bad behavior. And, and how do we balance that through things like fees so that it, you know, sets a precedence for the bad behavior.

But also there’s avenues to help support people through those. And it helps us to maintain a viable business model. So like we were saying earlier, like you’re still actually around to do the good that you want to do.

Sarah: Yeah. Yep. And it’s about personal responsibility. Why did we give up on that? Like I just, uh, one of the things the CFPB said, uh, I think it was the CFPB was talking about surprise fees. Overdrafts are not a surprise, especially they were saying, oh, well people had done multiple overdrafts and it was a surprise.

Well, they did mo multiple overdrafts. It’s not a surprise at some point. And, and, and secondly, the other point, the CFPB made. It was that, um, they, they made these overdrafts when they had other, uh, less expensive forms of credit. Okay. Use them. Like you have to [01:13:00] have some responsibility. We can’t, it’s, it’s going to be, we’re going to end up, if we continue down this path, we will end up in like a 1984 situation. It’s going to be bad.

Um, so 

Josh: no, I mean, Oh no, go ahead. Sorry. Sorry. 

Sarah: I was going to say, you know, being a presidential election year, the, uh, Democrats are currently in, in control, um, and so while their candidate, their current candidate is not looking so strong, they’re going to try to rush a bunch of stuff through before they have to get out the door, um, and if, and if, um, the Democrats do win again in the White House and, um, in the Senate and Congress, and then of course the regulators come from those, they’re going to try But, um, if the Democrats win again, they’re just that much farther ahead.

But if they don’t, then they got all this stuff in place already. So, it’ll be interesting to see what happens in the next several months.

Josh: You know, that [01:14:00] is a really like real fear for me is, um, it’s just how some of the outside forces outside of our control kind of coupled with the unfortunate truth that there, there is a large enough percentage of the population of our industry that is just content to do things the way they’ve always done them.

Like those two things combined are going to make it really hard for, you know, credit unions to stay viable businesses and especially some of these smaller ones. And, you know, again, I want to reiterate my point. Cause I’m sounding like a, you know, a doomsday or about it, but like, that’s not what I want.

Like I 

Sarah: No, 

Josh: My personal little credit union that I sit on the board of like I want them around why because they know my community They know their members and they absolutely know just like, you know, the story you were telling like they can reach out to the CEO and he’s gonna know who they are and he’s gonna understand their 

Sarah: situation 

Mm hmm. 

Josh: and that that can’t really and truly be done at scale, so You need kind of, you need all of the [01:15:00] flavors.

Um, you need the for profit side. You need the not for profit side. They both bring different strengths and they create, uh, you know, a competitive environment that, um, spurns innovation. And, and then you need, even within both of those, you need the big and the small. And we need this kind of flavor, um, just because of even how much of a melting pot America is compared to a lot of other countries.

We need that to really, truly support people who they are, where they are, with what they need, with things that actually provide value in their lives. Um, 

Sarah: and, if we’re not 

Josh: fear is that we’re going to make it hard for them to stay, to stay viable if we 

Sarah: yeah, if we’re not storytelling, somebody else is telling our story.

And, you know, things like what’s going on at Navy Federal right now make the headlines. Things like when White Star mobile banking went down for a month that made headlines. You know if we aren’t I was doing a project at one point I was researching [01:16:00] like three dozen credit unions looking into the community work they did and we knew they were doing this great community work. There were, of those, probably six of them, half a dozen of them, had no trace of it in their social media, no trace of it on their website, no trace of it, like nothing. So I was like, I had to Google them. And when I Googled these credit unions, all that came up were the robberies at their branches.

That is not a story, what you want to come up when somebody Googles your credit union’s name. So you got to be storytelling,

um, or else somebody else is going to tell it..

Josh: That’s a super good point. No, it’s so true, right? Like the the story is gonna get told you might want to try and influence it and like we’re saying like it is really funny to me how a lot I think there’s kind of two two major factors I think that keep credit unions and this is just my own humble personal opinion just a fair asterisk on this sucker. Um, like there’s two major things that keep our credit unions from [01:17:00] going out there and telling these stories and doing it really, really successfully in terms of a marketing strategy.

One is that, like you were saying, they just, they don’t actually think it’s special. They’re like, no, this is just what we do. Like this is just normal for us. I’m like, I know it’s normal for you, but it ain’t normal for the rest of the world. Like this is really good, good human work that’s being done. Like, and people want to see that.

And I think the other thing is, is that again, because of the types of cultures that are, you know, being built and the types of people that are attracted to the credit union motto and mission is, is really, you know, centered around humility. And so they don’t want to come across like. Um, we cleaned up the park cause we need more members, right?

They’re like, no, we just cleaned up the park cause we actually care. I’m like, I know, but still, just because you’re not trying to tell the story, you know, for, uh, you know, a purpose or a very specific [01:18:00] ROI reason, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still tell the story because I hate to break it to you, but it is going to turn into an ROI when you do get new members out of it because people are like,

oh man, that’s super awesome. Like I really need somebody to be in my corner when it comes to my personal financial life. And I’d like that to be somebody who’s committed and rooted in my community and knows my fellow peers. And like, Oh look at this credit union just cleaned up my local park. Like that’s pretty dope.

Right. So,

Sarah: Mm hmm.

Josh: but, but it is cool when you do see the folks that do tell those stories because.

Sarah: Right. That’s way better story and one people will care about than, yeah, somebody’s mobile banking going down for a month. Yeah. And of course, the, um, uh, the number one rule of storytelling is showing, not telling. And so doing things like cleaning up the local park, it just, it shows your commitment. You don’t have to tell anybody if you actually do the things.

Josh: Um, [01:19:00] I’d be remiss if before I let you go, I asked, uh, kind of one overarching question, which may turn into another four hour podcast. I don’t know. So I’m just, I’m bracing myself, but, um, Um, you know, again, because literally your job is to have a pulse on the industry. Like what, what’s kind of news for you lately?

Like what’s been exciting? What types of trends are you seeing? Um, like any kind of predictions based on what you’re seeing? Just, I don’t know. It’s generally your, your overall take on the news in the industry right now.

Sarah: Uh, well, I think, um, one of the positives, you know, some of the positives we’re seeing is a lot more technology, a lot of credit unions connecting with technology to solve problems that they’ve been having, um, and not, or less so trying to, um, less so trying to solve it in-house themselves. Instead, looking for people who are really, truly experts. [01:20:00] Not only does that, um, often help them get a better whatever widget is in the, in the long run, but it’s so much less expensive. They don’t have to hire that tech guru person, um, that, that is, you know, well into the six figures, um, on a credit unions, not for profit budget. Um, so I think there’s that, um, one of the things I think is interesting is we’re seeing, um, a lot of, uh, credit union, uh, younger credit union people love credit unions. Don’t necessarily love working in credit unions. And so they, they build these business partnerships around credit unions. They start one of the things I’ve seen lately is companies that are actually converting to QSO, rather than, um, I think the other way around is sometimes how they, how they work. So I think that’s really interesting that, that, that these, um, Um, businesses find the QSO charter attractive, um, which is a good thing, uh, when credit unions can [01:21:00] have more control over whatever’s being built for them. And um, hmm, I’m trying to think what else. We did talk a little bit about the, the, uh, QNNFQ merger into America’s Credit Unions. I think, uh, this GAC should be really interesting next week, um, and we’ll have to follow up on that. Um.

But, uh, yes, we’ll be there. Um, but, uh, yeah, so I think, um, there are some concerns about that, uh, merger as well, I think, you know, 20 some years ago when I started in credit unions, uh, no, I think hell, was, uh, people would have thought hell was freezing over before they, they merged and now they have. And so it’s gonna be really interesting to see what happens with that, um, the outcome. Some are concerned about smaller credit unions and things like that. But, uh, yeah, I think, uh, you know, other than that, we hit on a lot of the stuff.

I think, uh, whatever. comes out of, um, the hearings regarding Navy [01:22:00] Federal’s mortgage lending and, um, what it, whatever the allegations are there, uh, and what’s actually happening. It’s just, it’s not good headlines for credit unions. Um,

so Yeah.

if we’re not storytelling and you get back to that, if we’re not storytelling, somebody else is.

Josh: Somebody’s telling it for you. Yeah. Um, Sarah, thank you so much for just this, this time and this conversation. Um, and just, like I said, the way you’re curating, um, you know, information for, for the industry, there’s, there’s a couple of, uh, kind of my go-tos and you’re definitely in that camp of, of one of my go-tos of when I see that email come across and, um, I appreciate 

Sarah: well, thank you. Thank you. I appreciate it.

Josh: Kind of along those lines before I let you go. I have two final questions for you So the first is just where do you go to get information to stay up to date any other shout outs that you’d like to give to? Kind of sources for for things that you think credit unions should be paying attention to[01:23:00] 

Sarah: Uh, you know, I follow all the credit union publications, I feel like, um, they each have a strength that is worthwhile following, uh, which is why we’re trying to, like, bring some of that together, as well. Um, I think, uh, the other play, one of my favorites is a newsletter called The Hustle and it is about FinTech and investment there, which is really, they always have.

I love their writing style. I love, um, the content that they have. It’s typically relevant for, you know, in the credit union market, but regardless, it’s, it’s really interesting. Um, uh, period, I think, uh, with the content they provide and they do it with a flair. It’s funny. I think lots of gifts, um, I try to think, uh, and then I also, [01:24:00] uh, I read, uh, Uh, uh, Morning Brew and then they have a marketing brew, which is like a sub, uh, newsletter, I guess, of that, uh, somewhat similar to, uh, The Hustle, but a little more broadly focused.

But I think the style is kind of still the same. I pay attention to, like, the writing style, the content style and stuff like that. So, uh, that kind of stuff is just interesting to me how that’s evolved. Um. So yeah, I guess those are those are my main go-tos on a daily basis.

Josh: Awesome Well, if people want to connect with you or learn more about credit union connection than what you’re doing, how can they do that?

Sarah: Yeah, so um, I’m on LinkedIn as Sarah Cooke. I also have The Credit Union Connection is on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Insta. Or, excuse me, X and Insta. And uh, so we’re there. Please come to the, [01:25:00] hit that subscribe button, we’d appreciate that. I’m just going to plug that real quick. Um, and, uh, yeah, I think, uh, well, hopefully, uh, see you and many, many others at GAC. We’re hosting, we’re co-hosting the Fab Karaoke Collab. That’ll be a lot, a lot of interesting stuff. I might try my Pat Benatar, uh, impressionation, so we’ll see.

Josh: I’m in for this. I know it’s kind of, I’m, I’m super bummed actually if we’d, you know, you know, sometimes I, uh, I fly by the seat of my pants. And if I’d, uh, if I’d thought about this a little bit more in-depth, we would have, uh, recorded and scheduled this earlier because this is probably going to drop right after GAC as opposed to before.

But so, uh, just FYI, like if you weren’t at walk and roll, sorry, you missed an awesome party. Uh,

Sarah: name for a restaurant. I love it.

Josh: All right. Uh, Sarah, again, thank you so much for taking time to [01:26:00] come and thank you for being a guest on the Digital Banking Podcast.

Sarah: Thank you. I appreciate it, Josh.

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