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Cooperation, Collaboration, Consolidation – It’s Happening All Around Us…

I’ve only been around fraternals for three years and the topic of reinventing the system has been the focal point of every individual conversation and Alliance-sponsored conference in which I’ve been involved.  And looking back at themes from past Annual and Mid-Year Section meetings, we’ve been talking about this for decades.

But the time for talk may be giving way to the time for action, due to a laundry list of changes in the external and internal environment in which we operate.  An aging and shrinking membership base, eroded religious and ethnic bonds, limited access to capital, increasing regulation, archaic governance structures, and sharp-elbowed competitors in both the financial services and community services arenas are adding up to force the issue – change or fade away.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want the fraternal system to become a fond memory because the stakeholders – that’s you and me and dozens of societies and the millions of people we represent – didn’t have the courage to boldly tackle the challenges we all acknowledge we’re facing.

Fortunately, there are examples of fraternals overcoming these obstacles and strengthening their societies – and, by extension, the system – through cooperation, collaboration, and consolidation.  Here are just a couple of recent examples:

  • Catholic United Financial and American Fraternal Union have announced a merger that will create a consolidated organization with nearly 90,000 members and $700 million in assets, providing the size and scope to ensure that its members can benefit from economies of scale on insurance products and other membership products and services, while being able to finance and staff a greater number of community service activities supported by its members.  Bigger isn’t always better, but in the fraternal world, size has some distinct advantages – especially when you consider that compared to our competitors in the financial services marketplace, we are still small by comparison.  It’s a bold move, and the right move, for the members of both organizations.  Congratulations to the leadership of both societies for making it happen.
  • Several fraternals, including Catholic Financial Life, Catholic Life Insurance and Catholic United Financial, have joined forces on a cooperative asset management program that allows the societies to invest their combined assets with one management firm.  A larger investment portfolio creates economies of scale – and reduces the fees charged by the investment management firm – that were previously only available to much larger investors.  Moreover, it accomplishes this without reducing the individual society’s autonomy to direct its own investment management strategy.  Other societies interested in participating in this cooperative asset management program should contact executives from any of the three societies.  And this is the type of program that can be duplicated with other societies and other investment management firms.  There are informal groups of fraternal leaders whose societies share similar common bonds throughout the Alliance who should add this to the agenda for their next meeting.  And there are more than a few investment management firms that are Associate Members of the Alliance that would be more than willing to discuss the creation of a program like this with you.
  • Is your society being bold when it comes to cooperation and collaboration?  I’d love for you to share your ideas with the more than 1,300 people who read this blog every week.  Post your story here…

A few more moments of inspiration…

Last week’s posting gave a shout out to a few societies who had particularly successful stories about recent community service projects.  Here are a few more clips and links to inspire action among your member networks…

And two more tidbits you might find interesting…

  • Women who get involved in service activities are healthier.  “When you give help, your brain changes,” says Thea Singer, author of “Stress Less: The New Science That Shows Women How to Rejuvenate the Body and the Mind.”  “Oxytocin is a hormone that is released when women nurse …. It also shows up when you volunteer or help others…  Research shows that when you volunteer there is an increase in your brain activity – functioning improves…stress levels go down…and cognitive ability improves.  Even seeing an act of kindness can bring on more kindness.”  How about that for a marketing campaign for your next community service event? 
  • Online retailers and restaurant chains are among the Top 10 companies in marketing firm Nunwood’s ranking of Top 100 consumer brands for customer experience.  But a financial services firm for military families topped the list. United Services Automobile Association [the commercial financial services provider that is more fraternal than many societies], based in San Antonio, Tex., beat Darden Group brands, not to mention Zappos, Amazon and Apple.  The Nunwood Customer Experience 100 is a new study based on a poll of 4,853 U.S. customers that ranks brands on four factors on a one-to-ten scale:  Would you recommend them?  How did they meet your needs?  Were they easy or difficult to deal with?  How did each company meet your expectations?  USAA had a score of 8.34.  Second place was Amazon.com with a score of 8.29.  Nunwood’s chief strategy officer, David Conway, who is also the study’s author, said in the report that respondents consistently talked about being treated as an individual by top brands.  He writes that “the listening skills of the staff at USAA and the willingness of these staff to go the extra mile to ensure the highest levels of satisfaction” were huge influences on respondents and that firms that excel balance customer service with brand and communications.  Leading companies, Conway says, look for prospective employees who show they have the capacity for a strong sense of identification with customers.”  It starts with employee recruitment and commences from the very first day.  For example, USAA’s new employees rapidly learn what it is like to be part of the military: dining on MREs, looking at the world from the eyes of a soldier in Afghanistan needing to wire money to a sick parent.”  Would your members say the same things about your organization?

2 Responses

  1. After 113 years the AFU’s original Slovenian identity will become “a fond memory.”

  2. That’s the tough question that ever fraternal has to ask: Is our bond – ethnic, religious, or otherwise – still relevent; not just to current members, but to the future members that will sustain the organization for the next 113 years.

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