Why a Strategic Plan is less important than Strategic Planning

By July 11, 2017Blog, News

Guest Writer: Bobby Gould

At this time of year, many Credit Unions are reviewing and updating their business plans and considering the challenges and opportunities that the next financial year is likely to bring.

Filene Research Institute recently published a paper that looks far beyond the usual 3-5 year business plan, by asking what Credit Unions in 2025 will look like. 

It’s no surprise that technological disruption, increased regulation and changing member needs all feature prominently.

So how do businesses prepare for the long-term, whilst maintaining services and serving the needs of members today?

Strategic planning is about looking at those longer-term challenges and opportunities and positioning the Credit Union to deal with them. 

Research across the Credit Union sectors worldwide suggests that there are 5 common challenges;

  • Regulation – Constant, Complex, Costly
  • Technology – Changing the way people do things. (Over 80% of the UK has a smartphone)
  • Member Growth – Demographics (in 2025, 75% of UK workforce born after 1980)
  • Sustainability – Human and Financial resources (future board members, increased capital)
  • Competition – Expanding, Innovating, Disrupting

These challenges will be familiar to Credit Unions, but how do we anticipate their impact over the long term?

There is no “right” or singular way for businesses to approach strategic planning, but the main components can include;

  1. Determine where you are now – Competitive environment, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats.
  2. Identify what is important – Where you want the organisation to go and what are the priorities (those issues so significant to the overall well-being of the CU). The plan should focus on these issues.
  3. What you need to achieve – What objectives must be achieved to address the priority issues.
  4. Who is accountable – how you will allocate time, human resources and money to address the priority issues by achieving the objectives.
  5. Review, review review! – Once a quarter at least, visit the issues and objectives to refine if necessary.


Some questions that can help a strategic discussion include;

  • How did we get to where we are at the moment? What were the key reasons for growth? Have the external competition and regulatory conditions changed? How will these factors impact on our future growth?
  • How do we measure success over the long-term? Member growth, balance sheet growth, capital growth, economic value provided to members, service delivery?
  • What do our existing members believe the Credit Union stands for? Are they engaged participants in a cooperative, or do they see themselves as “banking customers”
  • Are we known for convenience, for excellent service, or for better-than-market pricing of services? Has the focus been on personal service/member relationships or on product and service innovation? What do we want to be known for?
  • What are the distinct profiles that constitute our membership and what are their differing needs?
  • Where will new members come from in the future? How will they hear about us?
  • How do the needs of members change as they move through different life-stages?
  • How are new technologies changing consumer needs and wants? How do we respond?
  • Does the Credit Union have the resources and capacity to meet these changing needs?
  • Is the structure of the Credit Union the right shape to deal with future opportunities and challenges?
  • Do we have, or can we get, the skills necessary to pursue the plan?


Great strategic planning can provide energy and direction in the day-to-day operation of the Credit Union.  It provides a filtering mechanism for the evaluation of new ideas or challenges, and it will provide the framework for decision-making by ensuring the long-term goals of the Credit Union are considered at each decision-point.

Finally, when Filene looked at the characteristics of successful, thriving Credit Unions, they found 6 areas that they shared in common. They;

  • Concentrate at being “great” lenders.
  • Invest surplus capital in growth strategies.
  • Strive for scale.
  • Manage expenses aggressively.
  • Stand out from the crowd – Brave differentiation.
  • Are important and well-known in their community or employer-groups.

It can be difficult to find the time to talk about these long-term issues, but when Credit Unions do, great things happen!


Bobby Gould

July 2017