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Lessons From Two Different Kinds Of CU Robberies

Below you'll find an interesting juxtaposition: one credit union has bad news and it tells everyone; another supposedly has good news, yet it refuses to talk.

Let's hope that last week's attention from two members of Congress into the planned conversion by Lafayette FCU into a bank lasts longer than just a press conference.

As reported on page 1, Reps Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) have sent a letter to the credit union and held a press conference asking it to provide the membership with considerably more information and disclosure than other credit unions that have converted or attempted to convert, including advanced notice before a ballot, a 60-day period for feedback, an opportunity for members opposed to the conversion to have access to books and records, and the ability to disseminate such information to other members and send ballots to members only after the 60-day feedback period. Both expressed a "significant concern" for the possibility of "unjust insider enrichment."

It will be interesting to see if Congress gets any more response from the "member-owned and controlled" Lafayette Federal than members at other converting CUs have, where information belonging to everyone is limited to the few (at would-be convert DFCU Financial, it is allowing members to review documents providing they sign a non-disclosure agreement), and discussion is thwarted. Any call by the press to converting credit unions is met by a "no comment," which is odd, since people usually want to crow about something that is supposedly good for everyone. Win win? More like sin sin.

Congrats to both Holmes Norton and Van Hollen for coming down on the right side of this issue. Let's hope they stay there.

Speaking of crimes, after 56 years of never having a robbery attempt, Fort Knox Credit Union was robbed twice in the same month. Yes, I know I joked here about a month ago about Fort Knox being robbed, but FKCU CEO Bill Rissel pointed out that robbers may be dumb, but they're not that dumb: they robbed off-base branches of the credit union and not the facility that is surrounded by 300 or so M1 tanks.

While The Credit Union Journal frequently reports on robberies on our website at www.cujournal.com, for most credit unions robberies are a rarity or, like Fort Knox CU, a first-time event. Rissel said his credit union has learned some lessons he hopes others can benefit from.

The best thing Fort Knox did, said Rissel, is move quickly. Not as quickly as the robber at its Radcliff, Ky., branch, who was at the teller window for just 26 seconds, but fast. It immediately offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the robber, and quickly grabbed a digital image from a security camera and had it enlarged. And there it learned lesson number one: while Rissel said FKCU had periodically checked its cameras, it had never taken time to simulate what would actually be produced. It found that had it simply made a simple setting change in its software, it could have improved the photo's resolution. "We are now blowing up a random image at every branch to see how useful the resulting image is," he said. "We found our marketing department's work with refining images invaluable in getting a good image of the robber quickly."

Also important: color photos, as the robber wore local school colors, which led the police to begin reviewing pictures in the high school's yearbook. The captured photo was e-mailed to police cars within minutes.

Rissel said teller training has proved invaluable. The teller who received the note was so cool that other tellers didn't even know a robbery was occurring. "I consider that one of our successes, getting him out as fast as possible," said Rissel. Another plus: the use of cash dispensing machines, which mean considerably less money in teller drawers. "It had never occurred to me it would mean having less cash to give a robber," said Rissel.

Rissel said an employee assistance program was made available to everyone immediately after the robbery, which he called "very beneficial. But some of the people who were most upset were employees who were not at the branch at the time of the robbery," he said, noting those absent wanted to help coworkers.

"We reopened immediately after the robbery," said Rissel, acknowledging that some credit unions prefer to close for a period of time. "The reason we reopened is there is always a certain amount of uncertainty after a robbery. I wanted that out of the way" (for both members and employees).

Arrests have been made in both robberies, in one case, Rissel said an eyewitness who had not come forward prior to the reward did so after hearing of the reward. He also pointed out that he wasn't aware of just how much robberies had increased in his region of Kentucky until the credit union reported its own robbery. "It may be a good time for a review of processes and procedures," said Rissel.

Among Rissel's other tips: Retain the robbery note, protect the scene for fingerprints, lock the door behind the robber, and retain members in the lobby.

In fact, from this point forward, that's how I intend to refer to the disclosure materials from converting credit unions-as the robbery note.

Frank J. Diekmann is Publisher of The Credit Union Journal and can be reached at fdiekmann<at>cujournal.com.

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