Glimpses Into BarCampBank New England

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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 www.onememberonevote.com 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.

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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.

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