Structure: The Chief Engagement Officer

Are you like most credit unions? Do you have some aspiration to be your members’ “primary financial institution?” How are you doing? If our experience with credit unions across the country is a reliable proxy, our guess is that you are far off from your goal. One of the reasons is probably your structure.

The Common Credit Union Org. Chart

One of the areas to consider when trying to understand any kind of performance issues is structure – specifically, how the organization is operationally structured relative to the results it desires. For most credit unions, the org structure narrows to a c-suite dynamic that looks something like this – give or take a position or two:

  • Chief Executive Officer
  • Chief Finance Officer
  • Chief Lending Officer
  • Chief Retail Officer (Branches)
  • Chief Technology Officer
  • Chief Operations Officer
  • Chief Human Resource Officer
  • Chief Marketing Officer
  • Chief Member Service Officer

We’ll call this the Common Credit Union Org Chart. You can tell a lot about the work intent of an organization by looking at its organizational structure as depicted by the org chart.

In the case of this common structure, we want to look at what organizational mandate is missing from the structure. In other words, we want to define the outcome(s) not clearly articulated in the structure itself. In the common chart we see all of the “normal” mandates and expectations. For example, we see a mandate to develop and manage finances, the retail branch environment, member marketing, member service, etc.

While these are all good roles, for credit unions seeking to develop primary financial institution (PFI) relationships with all members, the common chart is definitely missing a critical, unifying role responsible for productive member engagement.

Engagement: The Missing Mandate

How do we know this concept of engagement is missing? Maybe it is simply a function of an existing role and is really not missing at all.

To address this question, let’s define management responsibility in the context of engagement.

The full range of managerial duties for interactions with individual members and potential members, including attracting members, building trust with members, selling product to members, developing loyalty with members, and building rich product relationships with members – through all channels of member engagement.

Where do these responsibilities fall in the common org chart? Who, specifically, is responsible for such engagement?

How about marketing? Perhaps, but generally marketing folks in the common structure are primarily responsible for outbound messaging – think social media, promotions, ads, etc. The judgement of their work and value is usually based on lead generation, not depth of member relationships.

The retail officer? Maybe, but retail branch leaders are usually focused on managing the branch-specific experience and are not always so concerned about the people that are not coming into the branch.

Member service? Of course! Well, again the service experience may tie to the idea of developing a PFI relationship with all members, but generally service leaders are mostly concerned about the service given to people requesting it – members who are already actively calling/messaging the credit union, etc. Similar to the retail challenge, service people are probably not strategizing for how to engage members with weak relationships and/or that are not currently involved in the credit union’s service experience.

The bottom line is this: the responsibilities and duties outlined in the engagement description above, when they exist, are most often split apart, with various engagement responsibilities allocated to the parts of the existing “common” structure. Consequently, no one person is responsible for all encompassing strategy and strategic execution specific to the broad expectations of real engagement – and therefore the results related to engagement fail to occur.

Unifying Engagement

If you desire the results tied to deep member engagement then you need to unify the responsibilities of engagement into one single, dedicated role we’ll call the Chief Engagement Officer. As a matter of fact, you need to not only unify, but merge into the department all other areas that have direct bearing on engagement. Here’s what we mean:

  • Chief Engagement Officer
    • VP Marketing (general engagement for existing and potential members)
    • VP Retail (engagement specific to the physical branch/retail environment)
    • VP Virtual (engagement specific to the virtual branch environment – to include online and call centers)
    • Etc….

In this simple example, the Chief Engagement Officer is concerned with the level of engagement of all members. They delegate certain aspects of driving/developing engagement to other members of their team, and the job outputs of the parts of engagement all tie to the unifying mandate of the engagement department itself. In other words, marketing, retail, etc. are all focused on what the department considers its success metric: a fully engaged membership.

While you can get there with the common credit union org structure, it is a lot more cumbersome due to the inefficiencies that rise up when multiple people are “equally responsible” for an outcome (work by committee anyone?). Better to tighten up the focus on engagement through that recommended unification of job functions and responsibilities, at least in our opinion.

The PFI Dream

We’re on record through speaking events and past posts as dismissive of the PFI goal. We think there are better, more realistic and relevant ways to define a desire for deep relationships with individual members. That said, if you do seek to be a PFI and find the results more elusive than they should be, look to your structure. You’ll likely see that there isn’t anyone actually working hard to make it happen.

And for those of you who have moved past PFI language in favor of something more relationship-driven – great! However, don’t take your turn from PFI as a pass to ignore aligning your structure to the relationships and result you desire. That engagement officer is just as right for you as it is for others. We encourage you to take a moment to consider the impact on your credit union were you to be more intentional in structuring for engagement.


Have questions? Want to talk about this? Feel free to give us a call to discuss. You can schedule a complimentary 30-min. discussion using our online scheduler here:

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