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    Empathy, Viability, and Sustainability

    I find it interesting – and sometimes a little frustrating – to hear credit unions say that now is not the time to offer financial products to low wage working families.

    Almost every day I’ve seen a new press release, TV spot or blog post on why consumers should (and are) making the switch to credit unions.

    It’s both a huge opportunity and responsibility for credit unions, but one thing it’s not: warm fuzzy altruism. It’s important to understand that implementing new products that help low-wealth members is a growth strategy. To succeed in this area, product and service development has to focus on empathy and service coupled with viability and sustainability.

    In other words, you should be asking yourself:

    Empathy: Does this solve a member problem?

    Credit unions are known for the member service they provide. True service, however, is more than a pretty smile and friendly hello. Service is providing the right product at an affordable price with terms and conditions that are user friendly.

    And, perhaps most importantly, providing an answer to a direct member problem. This requires a deep understanding of your members: Where are they hurting? What do they need? What do they want? What are their good and bad habits?

    Filene’s Denise Gable wrote a great post earlier week titled Design Inspired Innovation explaining that the best innovation efforts start with a deep understanding of the consumer.

    Viability: Can we do this today?

    Viability means a pricing a product to cover the costs and generate a return for the institution. Not all credit union product have to make money to be viable. For example, a short term loan product may not make money but attracts new members to join who will use other products and services that do make money.

    Sustainability: Even if we can do it today, what will it look like a year from now?

    Sustainability means offering programs with a business model that insures long term success. Will your new initiative go beyond today and continue helping your members in need tomorrow?

    And to take it a step further, will your environment, community, society, or economy ultimately be better as a result of your initiative?

    What do you consider before launching a new product into the marketplace? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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