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Glimpses Into BarCampBank New England

A Snarketing post by Ron Shevlin, Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors

I don’t want to say that these are the “highlights” of BCBNE, because it might imply that I think that something I don’t include here wasn’t good. Not the case. I hope other attendees will fill in the gaps that I leave open with this post. For me, the day was a glimpse into:

1. Credit unions’ past. I don’t work for a CU and I don’t even belong to a CU. By all rights, I should have been bored to tears by the tour of America’s Credit Union Museum, where BCBNE was held. Not the case. It was inspiring. First of all, you have to understand that the museum is located in the building where the first US credit union was established. So when Peggy Powell, the museum’s director, took us to the front hallway and told us we were standing on the spot where children who worked across the river at the mill (which we could see) would come and deposit the nickels they had earned, it was truly inspiring.

There’s a lesson in there for how firms should train new employees to give them a sense of the history of the firm they’re joining. Think how much more powerful it would for someone to hear “you’re sitting at the desk of the person who wrote the first loan for this bank in 1934” versus “in 1934, the bank issued its first loan….”

2. Credit unions’ future. I’ve been reading Andy LaFlamme’s CULoop blog for a number of months now, and Twittering with him as well. I’ve shared this with some colleagues at work, and we’re astonished by his: 1) Writing ability (how dare he write so well for someone at his age and with his experience), and 2) Ability to Twitter while working on the teller line. Well, it turns out, Maine SCU kicked Andy upstairs into a marketing-related role to experiment with new approaches to collaboration and the use of technology. At the BCBNE session, Andy led a brainstorming discussion about how to engender more collaboration across credit unions.

I have no idea how to characterize David Inverarity’s presentation. The word that comes to mind is “tour-de-force.” Yes, he told us about how he helped to set up so his CU’s members could see YouTube videos of the CU’s board of director candidates. But that seemed incidental to the point of how he was innovating at his CU, which is at a critical juncture of its history (I realize that you may be thinking “what CU isn’t at a critical juncture of its history” — fair enough). It was also, for me, a rare glimpse into how one man manages his Mac. I’ve never seen more windows and tabs open at one time.

The more important point, though, is that I was left with a glimpse into what future CU leadership might look like. There’s no doubt in my mind that both these guys could be the CEO of their CU someday.

3. Credit unions’ current challenges. No offense to everyone else, but when I want to learn about what it’s like to run a credit union, there’s no one I learn more from than Gene Blishen. Between his comments throughout the day, and what I’ve gleaned from reading his blog for the past year, I’ve come to two conclusions: 1) this guy knows how to lead a credit union, and 2) the people who work for Gene are really, really lucky.

4. How group-led discussion should work. One of the reasons I was looking forward to attending a BarCamp is my growing dissatisfaction with “traditional” conferences. Most speakers suck, the questions asked are often irrelevant, and the events are often simply not worth the time.

Not the case with BCBNE. Great discussion, with broad participation from a number of people, on Facebook, blogging, connecting with members, marketing in general….back to Facebook…other points raised…back to blogging…etc. Christian Mullins started a discussion about trends in CU mergers, and presented a cogent analysis of the mistakes common in many mergers. Dave DelVechio teed up some of the top IT trends and priorities facing financial services firms. The conversations went where the conversations went. It felt right to me — I can only hope it felt right to everyone else.

6. Rock Band. Before yesterday I was on the list of people who never played Guitar Hero or Rock Band. Thanks to Morriss Partee, that’s no longer the case. In fact, on the second song I played, I BEAT both Morriss and Andy! I’m sure that those two sore losers will be quick to point out that I was playing the “easy” level, but I’m pretty sure that we had agreed that that was the handicap I was getting for being so much older than the two of them.

7. What a great dinner should be. OK, technically, this wasn’t really part of BCBNE. But the food was great, the restaurant had Macallen scotch, and it was definitely a treat to have dinner with Andy, Morriss, Gene, Christian, and David. Six bloggers at one table. Five of them associated with credit unions. Two from Canada. Two living in Maine. And one who managed to use the word “shrinkage” in the course of conversation. I think that’s when I had to leave.


For what my thanks are worth, I’d really like to thank Morriss for all his work in organizing BCBNE. Heaven knows it never would have happened if it were left to me to organize, so I really really appreciate the efforts of those who put it together. Thanks Morriss. I’d also like to thank Peggy Powell at America’s Credit Union Museum. The museum isn’t open on Saturday, but she opened it for us, gave us a tour, and let us hang out all day there.

I’ve got one more comment to make, this one directed to the person who questioned the ROI of these BarCampBank sessions on the Open Source CU site. Man, you just don’t get it. How do you put a price tag on something that inspires, rejuvenates, and motivates you? As Mastercard says, it’s priceless.

Technorati Tags: Credit unions, BarCampBank New England

Ron ShevlinRon Shevlin is Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors. Get a copy of his best-selling book, Smarter Bank: Why Money Management is More Important Than Money Movement. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter at @rshevlin.

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  1. Ron, thank you so much for coming, participating, and for this wonderful write up. You said everything so well, I don’t have much I can add.

    I love that you are so competitive that you are happy that you beat both Andy and me…. what I am much more thrilled about is that I actually got to jam with you and Andy, made some rockin’ music, and as a band, we hit many notes in unison. And yes, you hit so many notes in a row, I saw that you earned “bass groove” status. (I forget if that was during Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead or Alive or Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun.) I think Gene took pictures of our band, and I know I’m going to treasure them and think fondly of when I actually played some hard rockin’ tunes with you and Andy (at America’s CU Museum no less).

    When you get an Xbox 360 and Rock Band “for your daughters” (I’m using David’s air quotes here), I can’t wait to jam with you, Andy, Robbie Wright and Brad Garland on a virtual rock band tour. I will even join you in jamming on some Grateful Dead tunes.

    But getting back to your main point, I am glad that you enjoyed America’s CU Musuem as a CU outsider. I am a CU outsider as well, and I think that one of the blinders that folks inside the movement have is that there are many folks outside the industry who care about this crazy movement almost as much as they do. Perhaps they are jaded because so many members that they deal with every day don’t care at all, but I believe there is much untapped resource in people outside the official boundaries of CU involvement.

    Thank you again for being a part of a very special day.

  2. tinfoiling says:

    I am sitting here at Logan Airport waiting to go to Montreal, then onto Vancouver. It has been a month since being home but you know I would really just like to stay here for another day or two to further some of our interesting discussions of yesterday. It was good to be with real people, discussing real issues, and having everyone contribute.
    Ron you added so much yesterday and your kind comments to Andy were pretty special. The museum, the people and a great meal at the end of the day, made it an event that will be remembered for me on par with Seattle.
    The invisible layer was the building of relationships between people. It was as if that first credit union was present with us as members, relating key points of matters that we all hold dear. That building has something in it that contributed so much.
    Anyone who is involved in credit unions need to get there someday. History comes alive and the beauty of how something as important as a credit union system beginning in the U.S., in this very building, is inspiring. There are many stories in that building, yesterday another one was created. I felt honoured to be there as a Canadian with people such as yourself.

  3. @tinfoiling/Gene – and the other thing that is so special is that the movement was started in the U.S. with help from Canadian Alphonse Desjardins. He made the trip down to New Hampshire to help the French-speaking Canadians who had relocated in search of a better life working in American mills. There has been Canadian/US collaboration in credit unions from the start.

  4. Mark Vautour says:


    Excellent write up. I was glad to be a part of such a wonderful conversation on trends in the financial services industry, although I didn’t have much to contribute. I came away with many great ideas and hope to keep the conversation alive with all of you. David Inverarity mentioned he would be in Boston on Monday and Tuesday and I now know you’re around the corner from me, so we should do lunch. Thank you to Morriss for organizing, Peggy Powell for hosting, and everyone who attended and contributed.

  5. Tim McAlpine says:

    Thanks for the excellent recap Ron. I hummed and hawed about going and decided not to in the end. Too much with all of my other commitments. Sounds like I missed a great day though.

    Question: Why are these gatherings called BarCampBanks when they are really BarCampCreditUnions? I love the collaborative nature of folks in and around the CU movement.

    You better be careful, all this CU love might make you open an account one day!

  6. Thanks for the post, Ron. Reading it, I remembered how rejuvenated and inspired I felt after attending BarCampBankSeattle.

    I left feeling lucky to work where I work and do what I do. No way to measure the value in that except to experience it. Thanks for capturing that so eloquently.

    Looking forward to meeting you face to face next month, my friend.

  7. Great write-up. I wish I could of heard more on Saturday. You guys are leading an industry in a new direction…not unlike how the movement started with a group of people who care about providing better service to their communitities. This online discussion and events like this are what this industry needs to generate new blood. You have given me insight to get Maine CUs more involved in these type of events to help grow membership and collaborate!

  8. @Tim – The word “bank” in this context is used in the generic sense. It ties into the original one started in Paris as spin off from the more general, tech-oriented BarCamp. So while I briefly considered BarCampCreditUnion, I thought it better to have the name tie-in to the Paris and Seattle camps that preceded it. (After all, this one had the historical tie to those who have come before us.)

    Also, last weekend, BCBSF, was much more general finance oriented, and had both bank, credit union, start-up, and academic communities represented. Next week in New York City is BarCampMoney, whose organizer was not aware of the existing BarCampBank events, and is happily now a member of this genre. Topics proposed for BarCampMoney NYC include venture capital, investing, micro credit, payment processing systems, and alternative currencies.

    There are some other related events, notably Startup Weekend, StartUpCamp, FundCamp, and SeedCamp. For camps which are all about social media/networking/blogging/communication etc, there are the PodCamp events. I suppose there is the possibility to break off a new branch and create CreditUnionCamps, but I doubt there is interest in that quite yet. Last night at dinner, discussed was the creation of BankMetricsCamp, to be all about the proper use and analysis of financial institution metrics and ratios.

  9. Breakdown of attendants: Financial vendors vs. financial institutions?

  10. @Jeffry – Nearly down the middle. We had 14 total in attendance, 8 on the vendor side and 6 on the CU side.

  11. Tim McAlpine says:

    @Morriss – excellent explanation for ‘Bank’ in the event title. I was just being facetious. You know me and banks.

  12. @JP: first off, I think they’re called ATTENDEES, not attendants. Second, if you think that I’m NOT an FI, then you must not have kids. πŸ™‚

  13. @Ron – On Saturday, we were all campers. And I love the new insight that all parents are F.I.s.

  14. Great Recap of the event Ron. The museum blew me away. Its not too far from here so I’m hoping to make another trip down just to see everything again and take in some of the things I might have missed.

    The whole event was genuinely inspiring.

    Thanks for the compliments. I really enjoyed meeting you (and rocking out) you offered some great insights and I’m very excited to read through your book.

  15. I’m sneaking this comment in at the end of my work day. I have to admit – I was a little nervous about the day. I’ve come to expect “formal presentations” and an organized agenda at conferences and meetings. BCBNE sold me on the self directed format – I loved the day. The campers were great, the discussion is still twirling in my mind and the location was perfect. What a great day!
    And Ron – I’ve got your book on my night stand and can’t wait to dig in.

  16. @ginny: it was great meeting you in person on Saturday. good to hear you’ve got the book on your night stand — nothing will put you to sleep faster than reading my book.

  17. Ron – nice summary, and folks, that’s for all sharing your photos. Anyone questions my where-abouts on Sat, a quick Facebook search will answer that question πŸ˜‰

  18. David Inverarity says:

    Well, this looks like the roundup that I missed while unplugging for a couple weeks to figure out the next step(s)…

    I too was amazed at the breadth of knowledge locked in that room, and the desire to ‘co-operate’ in getting some real discussion flowing. I only wish it was a weekend event, and also that I had the energy and time to attend the BCMoney the following weekend…

    Now that I am back in the cloud after my respite, let’s plan for the next meeting…


    *ps, iLike pixellated furniture and Mr. Shevlin is a web-sniper, officially…

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