This week I attended the 34th Annual National Director’s Convention in Las Vegas as a speaker on the topic of “Relentless Strategic  Leadership to Ensure Member Value ”.  The sessions were attended by both directors and CEOs.  The topic most commonly asked in both sessions were concerns about toxic board members who are defined as directors who are underperforming assets.  These directors take up critical spots on credit union boards.

My response to these concerns was that there is an answer and an approach that if done correctly, over time, can have people self-select off boards.  Our firm has taken boards through this strenuous and challenging process with incredible success.

The process involves the facilitation of a board assessment by an independent third party.  This initiative is efficient as it utilizes an online survey form designed for credit union boards.  The information is collected and aggregated for trends and challenges as to how the board is working as a whole and what challenges need to be addressed.  Comments on behalf of board members are confidential and never reported back specifically linked to individuals expressing their opinions.

What comes out of this effort is a working framework and foundation for the development of a better board culture which can handle the pressing and challenging work of boards today to serve their members more effectively.  It also puts into place a focus on continuous improvement and learning.

In this increasingly difficult economy, adaptability and responsiveness are critical components for credit unions to survive and thrive.   By focusing on learning and understanding where the world is going and how to adapt to it with changing members and members being in charge, credit unions can stay current with the right products and services for their members.

What is effective volunteer leadership?  In addition to understand fiduciary duties, including understanding how to read balance sheets and income statements – what does each line item mean, why is it important, does it change in value overtime and what does this mean for your credit union  – it is also critical to stay on the edge of learning so that you can assist your credit union in terms of understanding and approving its strategy as well as the need for new strategies that fit changing times.

Uninformed behaviors can put credit unions are risk.   For example, the average age of all 90 million credit union members in the United States is 47 years old, which is continuing to rise.  Why is this an important and a key statistic for credit union board members to understand?  Robust lending programs are needed to ensure the safety and soundness of all credit unions.  Peak lending age is between age 25 and age 44 as per Melinda Love, in her speech at the conference.  The average age of all credit union members is already beyond the peak borrowing age.  In fact, only 4% of all credit union members are between the ages of 18 and 24, down from 6% in the last years.  This is in direct contrast to the demographics of the U.S. which shows one third of the population is under 24.

By not recognizing the opportunities represented by new generations and not marketing to them, we are missing a huge market in which credit unions can play a huge role in helping them to have a secure future.   It is your role as a board member to educate consumers and make sure that this demographic becomes aware of the credit union industry and markets to them with modern messages they relate to, in mediums they use, such as Facebook and Twitter, and with services that provide value to them.

In fact, there is a huge opportunity in the area of member satisfaction among credit union members.  There is a 30 point difference between member satisfaction for those members who are over 60+ and those members who are under 30.  That’s a big difference in satisfaction for credit unions to address and boards should be thinking about these issues and addressing them effectively.  Gen Y wants convenience, accessibility, personal touch and high tech tools.  How will we as board members, effectively be able to address this if we don’t use these tools ourselves or if we don’t allow younger people onto boards who understand this market?

Where are your members and loans of the future going to come from?  Base upon the mission of the credit union movement and its directors, you play a critical role in strengthening America and getting us back on a path of stability, helping to make dreams a reality for individual members.  I believe these members are entitled to having the best directors serve them — ones who want to learn and grow, who study where the world is going so that they can be in the best position to ensure the survival and success of the credit unions they serve.

Stuart R. Levine is Chairman and CEO of Stuart Levine & Associates LLC, a strategy, leadership and governance consulting firm.