Earlier this year, I received an email from Ralph Wharton, the General Manager of the Confederation of Caribbean Credit Unions (CCCU) asking me to come speak in Jamaica. It didn't take me long to hit reply with a resounding yes!
At the time, I didn't really understand the full scope of CCCU or how big this annual convention was, I just knew it was in Jamaica and I had never been to the Caribbean! Turns out that there were more than 600 attendees from 20 countries including Antigua, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Curacao, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevia, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and The Grenadines, Suriname, Tortola and The British Virgin Islands, and Trinidad and Tobago. Plus, the event was co-produced with the Credit Union Executives Society (CUES), so there was also a contingent from the United States at least four Canadians!
I did a general session talk to all attendees, "Young, Free and Supercharged" and a breakout session, "What Do Young People Want and Need from a Credit Union?" This graying credit union membership issue is not just localized to Canada and the US!
What did I learn from my Caribbean adventure?
1. Island Time
I learned that things move at a slower pace in the Caribbean. The first clue of a slightly looser view of time was the 90 minutes it took to get from the plane to baggage claim.
"Irie," is a term that I learned. It means to be at total peace with your current state of being. Used in a sentence, "Everyting is irie mon."
The second clue was that conference schedules near the equator are really just a suggestion. I tend to stress out at conferences if my session doesn't start on time. I don't like it when speakers crowd into my slot, so I always make sure to wrap my talks up in the allotted time. However, I totally learned to lighten up on this trip. My first session started 30 minutes late. "Irie!" Even though it started late, people were still flowing into the room for the first 15 minutes of my talk. "Irie!"
So, when my break-out session rolled around on day two and it was a little late starting, I said to myself, "Irie!" I rolled with it and made sure not say anything too important in the first 15 minutes, "Irie!" In fact, to drag things out, I just showed the early birds Double Rainbow to reward them for their promptness.
In the end, people seemed to really enjoy my talks. I had so many wonderful compliments and I found that the people were very friendly and encouraging!
This was a top notch event. The AV was superb, the organization by CCCU and CUES was great and the hotel service was everything you would expect from the Ritz-Carlton. The event just moved at its own pace, "Irie!"
2. As Usual, It's No Longer Business as Usual
I sat in a variety of general and breakout sessions and there were a number of consistent and relentless underlying themes. Technology is changing everything, consumers are expecting more mobility and easier access to their money and competition is fierce. These are the same themes I've been hearing for a few years, but it seemed even more pressing for this region. While the credit unions of the Caribbean have weathered the financial storm and are showing modest growth, technology is a huge hurdle. There was lots of talk about collaboration, cooperation and reinvention needed. The closing keynote speaker was awesome. Anthony Watkins, an organizational management consultant from the Caribbean, spoke about the need for transformational leadership and left the attendees with this thought, "No one is going to come and save us, we must save ourselves."
3. People are Helping People Everywhere
On the last day of the conference, I participated in a credit union tour. A dozen of us took a bus (it was 45 minutes late, "Irie!") to Montego Bay Co-operative Credit Union. There are 48,000 members with $1.6B Jamaican in assets which converts to about $180M US dollars. Ornell, the general manager, spent about a hour with us talking about how they do business, their marketplace, products, services, challenges and plans for the future. The credit union was packed with members and an unexpected surprise was a singing and dancing performance by local school kids just for us!
A few things struck me. While checks are accepted – the money is held for five days for local checks and 45 days for foreign checks – credit unions in Jamaica can't issue checks. There are no basic transaction accounts at credit unions and no credit cards either. The primary business lines are loans and savings accounts. Montego Bay Co-operative Credit Union has just recently added it's first ATM just outside the credit union, so members can now access their money through a debit card and they can also access their funds through a shared ATM network around the island.
Bank competition is fierce. Combined, the assets of all 44 Jamaican credit unions equal less than the smallest commercial bank. In addition to large national Jamaican and Caribbean banks, I also noticed some familar names. I saw billboards and branches of three of the big five Canadian banks including Scotiabank, RBC and CIBC. I also understand that BMO and TD have a significant presence in the Caribbean as well.
While there was quite a bit of computer automation at the credit union, paper still plays a big role. I really wish I had taken this tour before my second talk where I went on and on about the latest fin-tech bells and whistles that appeal to mobile-savvy young people! All that to say, what I did witness on my branch tour was a group of people working hard to make a difference in their community and in members' lives. Ornell definitely knew his business and what needs to be done!
A New Tradition: Credit Union Dancing
One of my favorite Internet stories over the years has been Where the Hell is Matt? In 2005, Matt did a silly dance all over the world and posted it on YouTube. He followed it up with more elaborate videos in 2006 and 2008, and his latest video took more than two and half years to produce. Where the Hell is Matt? 2012 was just posted last week. It's incredible.
Inspired by Matt and all of these great speaking gigs that I've got coming up, I've decided that I want to make credit union people dance with the help of a few of our Young & Free Spokesters! I first did it as a lark at the National Cooperative Grocers Association Conference last month and the attendees seemed to have fun, so I did it again in Jamaica. The footage is a little pixelated, but you get the idea! Thanks to Barb, Tammy, Joette and Christopher from CUES for their iPhone cinematography. Check out the second edition of the "Young & Free Jam World Tour."