6 business hacks that help small credit unions play smarter, not bigger

They pop up on my social media feed all the time. Use a clothespin to hold a nail when hammering to avoid bruised fingers. Repurpose empty paper towel rolls as extension and charger cord organizers. Even avoid a breakfast disaster by using a ketchup bottle to pour pancake mix.

They’re life hacks and they’ve been around for decades (some of us will remember reading Hints from Heloise in the local paper). Call them what you will, since the definition remains the same: smart strategies or techniques adopted in order to manage one’s time and daily activities in a more efficient way.

Smart and simple are the keywords here. After all, when you discover a new life hack, your first thought is typically, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

6 business hacks for small credit unions

Life hacks come in all shapes and sizes, covering everything from technology to toddler care. For a smaller credit union (you qualify if you have less than $100M in assets), some of the best efficiency-driven hacks are usually technology driven.

Call them business hacks. They’re less about how you can use your headphones as a microphone when you’re in a pinch, and more about how you can use some simple tips to play smarter and gain an edge against your bigger competition.

Here are my top six business hacks:

1. Know where your tech investment money goes

Financial tips are one of the most popular types of life hacks. Pack your lunch instead of eating out, for example. Smart move. For small credit unions, the smart move is to find creative ways to use the software solutions you’ve already invested in – and to shut down the applications that don’t make sense anymore.

Efficiency comes from more effective use of the technology you already have. For example, OnBase customers work with a single platform on which they can build content-enabled applications. With one system to support, maintain and upgrade, they discover a low total cost of ownership and minimize IT sprawl.

2. Get to know one another – in and out of the office

One of the simplest ways to make lifelong friends is to share your vulnerabilities. This honest communication forges bonds and may lead to strategies that diminish personal shortcomings (likely perceived shortcomings, anyway).

Take that life hack and do the same internally, between lines of business. Make sure your IT department understands your credit union’s business goals. And if you’re in IT, work with the line-of-business to understand its challenges (its vulnerabilities) and create solutions to solve those problems.

Go one step further and make your technology vendor your partner. Attend user meetings and conferences, pursue training, make connections with other like-minded credit union leaders.

3. Make the shift from vendor risk management to vendor performance management

Some days, my social media feed tells me that success starts by believing success is possible. It also tells me that I am the company I keep – and if that company is bad, make new friends. This shift in attitude extends in philosophy to making the move from vendor risk management to vendor performance management.

While risk management identifies and decreases potential third-party business uncertainties and legal liabilities, vendor performance management takes all that and adds cost and benefit assessments with organizational accountability and oversight. In short, adding measurement to the mix helps you better understand if vendors are working with you rather than just for you. You quickly learn if there is benefit to the relationship. If not, make new friends.

4. Trade agility for discipline

“Slow down. You’ll get the job done faster,” suggests Jeffrey Ventrella, programmer and co-creator of the virtual world, There.

Ventrella’s bona fides include a Master’s degree in Media Arts and Sciences from the MIT Media Lab and a Master of Fine Arts in Computer Graphics from Syracuse University. The quote refers to Ventrella’s programming style – more disciplined, more structured, more exploratory. Fellow programmers would complete work faster, but often had to double back to rework code to better stabilize their products.

For the small credit union, this means honing in on process and operational discipline. After all, just being small and taking on every role in the house does not equate to speed and organizational agility. Focusing on process and operational discipline provides role clarity and achieves added efficiency. This discipline, in turn, leads to agility, as teams better understand what they bring to the table.

5. Learn how to relieve stress

Mindfulness is a firmly established part of the popular Zeitgeist these days and often turns up on life hack lists. By being mindful, we focus on the present moment. We accept who we are, what we think and how we feel. Its meditative qualities provide stress relief to those who practice it.

Small credit unions can benefit from this way of thinking, if they apply it to understanding – being mindful of – how the business runs at all levels. By strengthening internal commitments – agreeing on the definition of excellence and how it will be measured, for example – and adapting to external innovations – knowing what’s working for your peers and adapting similar strategies – the stress of doing business may just fade away.

6. Embrace the hack lifestyle

As a small credit union, you likely already embrace the hack lifestyle, because you work with what you’ve got, improvising solutions to everyday challenges. You already lean on gut instinct to make decisions and move on to more strategic initiatives.

As long as you play smart, you’ll dominate the competition.

To learn more, download Playing Smarter, Not Bigger: How Small Credit Unions Compete on Efficiency, by Cornerstone Advisors.

Michelle Harbinak Shapiro

Michelle Harbinak Shapiro

Michelle Shapiro brings more than 15 years of experience in the banking industry to her role as Financial Services marketing portfolio manager at Hyland. Her mission is to share best practices and evangelize the power of ECM as a tool for banks, credit unions and lenders to help automate paper-based processes and proactively manage regulations.

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