In a famous scene from City Slickers, Curly (Jack Palance) asks Mitch (Billy Crystal) “Do you know what the secret of life is?” When Mitch says no Curly raises his index finger and says, “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that, everything else don’t mean (fill in the expletive).” Mitch then says, “that’s great, but what is the one thing?” Curly’s response: “that’s what you have to figure out.”

So what is the one strategic thing credit unions or banks must do to grow? I asked that question to several financial services experts. Below are their answers.

Mike Bartoo, Regional Manager, Marquis

The one thing, strategically, that banks and credit unions must do to grow is define exactly who they want to be. Growth for the sake of growth is a losing battle, one that eventually leads to out-of-control expenses and insufficient income. Strategic growth involves everyone on your team understanding exactly who you want to target for relationships and why. The more clearly you can define this ‘profile,’ the easier it will be to explain and target. Productss/services/fees should all be aligned to best attract those relationships. Resources (time and money) should be focused on attracting those relationships.

Two additional thoughts on this. Number one, this doesn’t mean that you only have one ideal customer/member, you may have for or five that you’ve identified, but the concept still applies. You (meaning your entire team) need to understand each of them, why they are attractive to you, why you are attractive to them and focus resources upon attracting more of them.

Number two, it also doesn’t mean that you don’t continue to serve customers/members/businesses that don’t fit those attributes, it simply means  that your products/services/pricing is not designed to attract those relationships and you do not focus resources upon attracting them.

Michael Hudson, Ph.D.

Define a relevant value proposition that differentiates you in a recognizable way from the alternatives available to your members, then live that value proposition to the fullest extent possible–every employee at every touch point delivers that value to every person who touches the credit union every day. The key is deciding what you are not going to do and committing completely to doing what you say you are going to do.

Tim McAlpine, President and Creative Director, Currency Marketing

It may sound counterintuitive, but the scatter shot approach of trying to be all things to all people will not result in meaningful growth and success. In an industry with an abundance of alternatives, credit unions must focus and become the best in the world, or at least in their marketplace, at something. That could be the best at serving Moms. The best mobile experience. The best at serving their SEG. The best at serving a particular portion of their community. The best used car financing options. The best… whatever! You can only become the best at something if you are willing to say no to a lot of other things and not being the best for everybody. Focus is key.

Sean McDonald, President, YFPTips

The one thing that credit unions must do to grow is to get past the nonsense.

Here are 7 examples of nonsense:

1. Non-productive employees who are just collecting a paycheck…..they need to go.

2. Employees who are resistant to change and new ways of doing things…..they need to go.

3. Employees who “don’t want to sell” or say “that’s not my job”…..they need to go.

4. Vendors who can’t keep up with what you are trying to do…..find new vendors that can.

5. Running your credit union like a mom & pop shop…’re running a business so act like it.

6. Having trouble attracting younger members?  If your credit union looks old, feels old, and has a Board that is not representative of the various demographics, ethnicities, and yes – age groups that you serve or hope to serve, you will continue to have a hard time. Start to diversify and do it now!

7. Holding the reigns too tight…..let go a little bit and see what your people can do. Take calculated risks, unleash and encourage creativity & innovation, and reward people for GREAT work!

The credit unions that are enjoying the most robust growth usually have at least one thing in common: they don’t spend time dealing with nonsense. They get past it and keep moving.

Jeffry Pilcher, Publisher, The Financial Brand

If growth is the objective, then credit unions need to make sales and marketing their #1 priority. That means allocating marketing budgets in excess of 0.1% of assets—probably double or even triple that. But investments in marketing need to be made strategically. Credit unions aren’t going to generate growth by pumping out newsletters, farting around with social media, running video contests, dumping tens of thousands of dollars into their annual meeting, etc. If growth is the goal, then marketing needs to be allocated accordingly, and there are two ways to spend the budget:

1) On things that clearly and directly contribute to growth, and 2) On things that don’t. Credit unions spend a lot of their budget on feel-good marketing programs that do little to grow business. If banks want to grow, then they need to do a better job—as individual entities and as an industry—policing themselves. They whine about excessive regulations brought on by the acts of a few. The media pumps out one bad story after another about greedy, law-breaking banks that are “too big to jail.” It’s time banks exert collective pressure on each other—but particularly on the top 100—to behave more ethically. In a nutshell, banks won’t thrive unless/until they can quell the negative publicity that “banks are out to screw you.”

Shawn Temple, COO, Bossier Federal Credit Union

Growth is a result of various factors, but if I had to pick just one strategic thing credit unions or banks must do to grow, I would say manage the consumer experience.  This strategy could spin off different tactics.  For example, one institution may create an experience in the same way Disney or the Ritz Carlton does, which ties people emotionally to them.  But what I mean is to truly understand how the consumer experiences your brand, processes, practices, and policies.  Sit on the other side of the table, the email, the online loan application, the mobile/tablet device, etc.  Experience your creation as it currently is, and understand the pain points of those consumers using your products, services, and channels.  Then change, manage, or strike entirely those experiences for the better.  You know what you expect as a consumer in the marketplace.  Why should the expectation of our members/customers be any less?  At a minimum, deliver an experience they expect to receive. To grow, deliver one that delights…causing them to tell others about you. Continuously update your experience(s), others will talk, more will experience, and the perpetual cycle of growth is in motion.