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Credit Union Core Values: Any Different Than Banks?

First The Financial Brand looked at the core values of 50 banks, then credit unions. How are they different? How are they similar?

Generally speaking, banks and credit unions see pretty much eye-to-eye on their basic core values. Both give high rankings to Honesty, Commitment, Respect, Excellence and Service, and both put Integrity at the top of their lists.

For easy comparison, here is are two illustrations — one for banks’ core values (above), and one for credit unions (below). The more common the word, the larger it is. The relative emphasis (or frequency) of the core values of banks and credit unions are fairly comparable, as indicated by the relative size of the words within each diagram. (Note: You can click on both images to enlarge.)

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What’s striking about this comparison isn’t necessary the similarity in core values. It’s the core values that aren’t shared by both credit unions and banks that are most interesting. Here are some of the core values listed by credit unions that weren’t listed by banks:

1. Cooperation, Democratic Principles
This isn’t the same thing as Partnerships, something that both banks and credit unions listed. This goes beyond mere collaboration. And this is as it should be. Credit unions were founded on the principle of “people helping people,” so one would expect to see credit unions value things like Cooperation and Democratic Principles. However, there seems to be fewer and fewer good examples of credit unions exercising their democratic processes. Mostly, members vote on board members, name changes and mergers/conversions, as mandated by law.

2. Ethical
Six credit unions said “operating ethically” was a core value, while no banks listed it. But don’t fault banks for excluding Ethical from their core values. It’s not like you can say, “Well, banks didn’t put Ethical on the list, so that means they’re out to break the law.” The bigger question is why do credit unions feel the need to say they will “operate ethically?” Isn’t that a given? It’s kind of like Accuracy — you just expect a financial institution to be ethical. Maybe the word is Responsible, something listed by seven credit unions but only one bank. Or Prudence (credit unions = 2, banks = 0).

3. Environment
The Environment was such an important issue to two credit unions that they listed it as a core value. Again, no banks.

4. Employees
A few credit unions said their Employees were among the things they value the most. Perhaps banks, by their very nature, are forced to put Shareholder Value first?

5. Fun
Only two credit unions said Fun was important to them. No banks. What’s sad about this is that only two financial institutions out of 100 believe in Fun. Financial services are as boring as it gets. It’s too bad more banks and credit unions don’t see the opportunity to make banking more pleasant and entertaining for both consumers and employees alike.

Corbin Rusch, commenting on The Financial Brand’s study of banks’ core values, sums it up pretty well:

“Integrity, Teamwork, Excellence, Commitment, Honesty, Respect, Service, Professionalism, Customers, Trust, Community, Loyalty, and Innovation should be applicable to most every kind of business. A hospital, a paper supply company, a construction company, even an exterminator could share these values. As a consumer, I expect businesses I deal with to have these values at their core.”

It might help to think of the financial industry’s common core values as more of a generic Banking Bill of Rights — something that applies equally to every financial institution and every banking customer. Throw out all the cliches; they’re just antes — chips you’ve got to throw in just to play in the financial space. Then, you can finally be free to explore some of the more interesting core values that your organization could be considering.

Here’s some thought-provoking core values that could help differentiate a financial institution — things you don’t expect from every bank or credit union:

  • We believe in being Proactive.
  • We believe in Work/Life Balance.
  • We believe in Accountability.
  • We value Transparency.
  • We believe in fostering Engagement.
  • We value Relationships.
  • We believe in financial Knowledge and Education.
  • We believe in Diversity.
  • We believe in Nimble/Flexible and remaining Agile.

All content © 2017 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.

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  1. Jeffry,

    Great post. I’ve always believed that corporations don’t have values, people do. I don’t care what they say – what they measure, manage, and reward is what they truly value.

    That’s how banks got in this mess, IMHO.


  2. Jeff Stephens says:

    Jeffry, thanks for the good post. It’s clear that the core values aren’t working too well as differentiators. I like to use “the opposite test” as a way for testing the strength of differentiators (and core values as well). The opposite test goes like this: look at each of your proposed core values or differentiators, and ask “is there anyone who would claim the opposite of this as a differentiator?” If the answer is “no,” then you’ve got weak “no duh” differentiators, that fall into the “ante” bucket you described.

    Example: Integrity. Would anyone say “we believe in dishonesty” (one of the possible opposites of integrity)? Of course not–so it’s a weak differentiator.

    Example: Funny. Would anyone say “we believe in being very serious, not being funny”? Yes, I think they could, so that makes it a stronger differentiator.

    In short, I agree completely–you’ve got to avoid the “no kidding” ante values. Not only are they expected, they’re boring and not strong enough to use as differentiators.

  3. Great exercise Jeff. It really challenges one to come up with different answers than the cliches. Thanks for sharing.

  4. While I understand that financial institutions SAY the same things, I think the true difference is in the execution. Anyone or any company can claim they are proponents of trust, loyalty, integrity, etc. but few (especially in the financial sector) can actually do it. Banks have shown in the last year that they cannot put their money where their mouth is. This goes beyond serving their customers… they have completely screwed over their shareholders.

    Credit unions, by contrast, have expanded as an industry to take care of many of the people left in the bank disaster’s wake. Credit unions are not immune to faltering, as seen from the recent Corporate mess. However, credit unions constantly keep their members in mind and have not done things to jeopardize the financial well being of their members. On the contrary, you can find multiple stories about how a credit union worked with a family so that they didn’t lose their home. How many bank stories have you heard?

  5. Bill, you are absolutely correct. As I said over at Cas’s blog for Companion Credit Union (link to her article above your comment), the impact of an organization’s core values are determined by how they live them out.

    Also, the unique combination of the core values plays a role in determining the cultural texture of an organization.

    The biggest concern I have is this: How many different ways are there to slice the same strategy? Financial institutions complain frequently about the commoditization of their industry, yet they have the same values, the same slogans, build similar branches that offer the same products, etc. And they wonder why rates and fees are the only thing consumers notice? Maybe because that’s the only relevant difference.

  6. Did anybody else click on the two graphics? They are both linked to the CU image, rather than the one on the left being linked to the bank results.

  7. Thanks for pointing that out Will. It’s fixed. Sorry about that.

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