More Highlights From The Long And Grinding Road

So here's how the trip started: 3:30 a.m. wake-up call in order to get to Orlando airport, catch a nonstop to Vegas and avoid a layover in Atlanta. At 6:05 a.m. the captain's announcement welcomes everyone aboard "our flight to Atlanta." Turns out it's what airlines call a "through-flight," meaning the aircraft continues on to Vegas and the flight number doesn't change. When I ask a flight attendant about it, she cheerfully informs me it's a "one-stop non-stop." Oh. On the Atlanta-Vegas leg I'm two seats from a guy reading a book I see being read by at least one person on every flight to Sin City: "How to Beat The Vegas Casinos at their own Game." Well, obviously, they're taking such a beating they continue to build new, billion-dollar casinos because they're gluttons.

The Numbers Begin To Add Up: I spent nine days traveling, covering one corporate (WesCorp), two rental cars, three conferences (California/Nevada CUL annual, CUNA Lending Council, BAI Retail Delivery Conference), four cities, and five different hotels, including two different stays in Las Vegas. And, frankly, if I learned nothing else it is that there is simply no excuse for the credit union margin squeeze. At two hotels I was charged a "resort fee," that is a fee to stay at the hotel at which I was already paying to stay. Genius! Ten-page fax? A buck a page. At numerous restaurants, an automatic "gratuity," which is defined in the dictionary as "something given without claim or demand," was added. No wonder serving the underserved has become so important. It's the net result of charging the overcharged.

From the Things Best Left Unseen Department: being seated at the counter in a busy Vegas restaurant afforded a view into the kitchen, where you could watch multiple employees reaching into a giant plastic bag of chopped lettuce to fill salad bowls. Ummm, tasty. And for you vegetarians, you're right-that looks a lot healthier.

Congress Should Try This: Observed by Pete Mitchell, a political consultant to the California/Nevada leagues, was how the vote went in Nevada on a ballot proposition that would have given a raise to state legislators (who meet every other year: "Guess how that went?" he asked to laughter. "It went down 70-30.") Later, Mitchell added that while Tip O'Neill's famous quote observed that "All politics is local," there are exceptions. "Every 20 to 30 years the election becomes federalized. That happened this year." Mitchell added that he doesn't think the Democrats controlling Congress will raise taxes, as such moderation would be a strong message in the 2008 elections.

From the Things Overheard At a Football Game Dept: First, from the UCLA/Oregon State game at the Rose Bowl, "Man, this is one tepid churro." Later, at the USC/Oregon game at the Coliseum: Man 1: "What are you doing here?" Man 2: "I'm attending an alumni event." Man 1: "You went to USC?" Man 2: "Dude, we were in some of the same classes together."

The CU/Bank Difference On Display: At the Bank Administration Institute's Retail Delivery Conference, where credit unions now make up at least 25% of the attendees, a session entitled "Corporate Citizenship: A Win-Win Situation" was marked "cancelled."

Cross-Celling: During the BAI RDC, numerous technologies were on display in the always-cavernous exhibition hall. Among the many trends to be spotted was the increasing emphasis on two-way video communication, such as between a member service rep and a member using a cell phone that allows the member to see the rep on video screen. It's semi-futuristic now, but so were the words "home banking" at one point. Other observations made by speakers at the BAI RDC that are worth noting: 32% of people bank with their institutions because they "know" someone there, and 75% of financial consumers under the age of 30 bank remotely via one kind of technology or another and 50% have no experience in branches.

Deal or No Deal: Two credit union execs unwittingly found themselves under the spotlight at the closing session of the BAI meeting when comedian Howie Mandel, host of NBC's "Deal or No Deal," singled them out by calling on them. When Mandel asked one person from Arlington FCU what they had learned during the meeting, she responded, "The customer experience is the most important experience." That got Mandel started. "Up until two weeks ago what was the most important?" he asked to audience laughter. "I mean, I love banking but I can't imagine coming home from the credit union and saying, 'Honey, come back with me and experience this! It started with this line and it just took off from there!' When Mandel asked if hugging members would be OK, the AFCU rep answered that it probably would not. "I thought you were supposed to know your customers," Mandel answered, adding, "This is turning into a breakout session."

Mandel then turned his attention to a representative of Utah's Beehive Credit Union, asking if the name means all the employees have "big hair." He also asked what the BCU rep learned at the BAI show. "Change the rules," was the answer. "OK, then how about the last guy in gets served first," proposed Mandel.

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