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Optiva No More

The board of directors made several mistakes in bringing its proposal to change the credit union’s name to the membership. Those mistakes mostly boil down to transparency and process, but one mistake in particular became apparent during tonight’s meeting: the board misunderstood the purpose of focus groups. This became most obvious when the board was asked, “Why didn’t you consult with the membership?” They did, they replied, through focus groups. How many focus groups they held they didn’t say—I wish I’d asked; but really, how many they held doesn’t matter. A focus group can be many things—it can be a representative sampling of a larger population; it can be a source for a variety of observations, from the droll to the interesting; if the group’s organizer is savvy, it can be what tells you exactly what you want to hear—but it cannot, however, on its own be a representative of the voices of others. Or, as Tate Linden more succinctly put it, “Focus groups just focus.” When the board treated its focus group data as representative, it mistook information for the process of informing. That mistake resulted in tonight’s 806–631 vote to overturn October’s vote that changed the name of the credit union to Optiva. For now, the name will remain the University of Iowa Community Credit Union.

Little was said or done at the meeting that wasn’t previewed in Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s letters to the Press-Citizen. Board president Dean Borg was initially testy. (When he first began speaking, several people spoke up. He snapped, “What do you want?” “We can’t hear!” they replied. “It’s just about as loud as I can get it,” he replied, then leaned in. The same sound problems persisted throughout the meeting. At one point the moderator—who was really very good, not only open about the process but also intent to treat everyone fairly—coached another board member about speaking into the mic, “It’s like eating the microphone, treating it like an ice cream cone.”) He backed off, though, in part because he turned the meeting over to someone else and with the rest of the board kept his peace, except when answering a question. That the largest bloc of supporters for the name change was the credit union’s employees was also clear, a fact that by tonight had become a not insignificant source of mistrust about the board and management. (Who besides the most naive wouldn’t be a little suspicious of how they’d been coaxed to speak in so much favor of management? But the fact is, it really is a good credit union. Loyalty is easy to come by in such a place.) Finally, it was also clear that the most vocal of Optiva’s detractors didn’t always seem the most sensible. (“It sounds like a vaginal cream,” while true, stopped being a useful criticism in October; likewise, the imagined fate of Optiva Mortgage doesn’t really merit our broken-voiced sobs.)

The night wasn’t without its entertainment, too. When I walked in, a stern man handed me a sticker that read “I heart UICCU.” And I learned that Nicholas Johnson is a loud talker. He speaks pointedly, emphasizing every third word or so as if he were leaning forward and poking you in the chest. Then there was one “I did a Google search…” speech that drifted off into arcana about a plant in Australia. Later, during the “vote for Optiva” session, a tiny woman stepped up to the microphone. When she did, I was writing. (The basic claim, “We need to vote for Optiva because I love and trust our leaders,” gets old quickly; by that point I’d already heard it thrice.) She pulled the microphone down—she really was tiny—and shouted into it so loud I jumped. The woman sitting next to me laughed. Then there was the UI student whose mom works at a bank:

I am the youngest employee of the UICCU! And I love it! Everyone here is so great! I told a girl at school that we were changing our name to Optiva and she said it was pretty! She said that “University of Iowa Community Credit Union” sounds like a place you go when you get in trouble at school. I love the name Optiva! And everyone who doesn’t, I just want you to know that everyone who works at the credit union is wonderful! I’m one of the wonderful people who works here! We’re wonderful!

Which, while something, wasn’t nearly as great as this:

There are two reasons I’m at this meeting tonight. I am sick to be here. The second reason is that Jeff Disterhoft is one the best men I have ever known in my life. He’s one of the best CEOs. I have never been invited to sit in a president’s office before, and I have never had a CEO pat me on the back or call me “Buddy!” I wish everyone here had donated to my Bowl for Kid’s sake: ten dollars from everyone here would have made a lot of money! There are people dying of cancer! There’s people dying of AIDS! There are so many better ways to use your passion than on a name!

That, friends, is why I take pen and paper wherever I go. And my writing didn’t go unnoticed. At the end of the meeting, a man came up to me. “I see you were writing a lot. Are you a reporter, perhaps?”

“No,” I replied.

“Just like to keep a record, I guess.”

“Something like that,” I said. It was true enough. “I’m just a member.”

 

Comments

And Tate Linden weighs in.

As an aside, I like these blogs by branding and naming experts. It seems like a good industry in which to have a blog because it helps to make a rather complicated career accessible. Because it’s a complicated job too, that sits at the intersections of law, sentiment, and identity, the blogs have a lot to say, in rather fascinating ways, about rather fascinating things. And you’d never expect it. On a more personal level, anyone who can qualify praise with “(albeit wincingly)” would probably be worth reading no matter what job he or she had. (FWIW, the qualification is right on, too.)

Your idiosyncratic coverage is appreciated.

“idiosyncratic” s/b “smartass”

The “stern man” at check in with the stickers, was Tim Taffe, me, who was the fuel behind the whole petition drive, but i vowed to be quiet and let others fire the ammunition at the meeting.

it worked very well.

What we need now is a good candidate to defeat THE BORG on March 21st

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