How Will ABA Respond To Fifth Third's Promise To Play Nice?

Whether it's a matter of heading critics off at the pass or reacting to critics who have already arrived there, NAFCU President Fred Becker has sent an e-mail to the trade group's member credit unions addressing what has, at least on the surface, the appearance of a potentially thorny dilemma.

NAFCU, which like CUNA must expend considerable resources and credit union dollars in Washington countering bank attacks and misinformation, has entered into a relationship with Fifth Third Bank through the group's subsidiary NAFCU Services Corp (NSC). Fifth Third, named for the intersection of the two streets at which it is located in Cincinnati and not, presumably, for its math skills, has been named a "preferred provider" for ATM and debit card processing by NSC.

Becker's letter to NAFCU members seeks to address a potential paradox that many a bright CEO will deduce in little time, which is that Fifth Third is a member of the American Bankers Association, meaning credit union dollars will go to build the bottom line of the bank, which in turn will help pay those ABA dues, which in turn go toward the bank group's anti-credit union lobbying efforts, which in turn the credit unions' NAFCU dues dollars will be used to respond.

Becker, along with NSCU President David Frankil, wants FCUs to be aware that Fifth Third has "committed to not taking a negative position with respect to the rights of credit unions in public forums, and refraining from direct lobbying efforts against credit union rights and powers."

"I hope that Fifth Third's written acknowledgement of the legitimacy of credit unions' position in the 21st century marketplace will serve to answer any concerns you might have with this newest preferred partner," Becker said in his e-mail. In fact, Becker added in an interview, while he has heard "positives and negatives" from NAFCU members regarding the partnership with Fifth Third, he believes the strongest negative reaction will come from the ABA itself, because a member bank has pledged in a contract that it will not engage (directly) in anti-credit union activities. But what about those "indirect" anti-CU activities conducted via the ABA?

"Credit unions exist in an integrated financial services marketplace," said Becker. "There's an ABA routing number on every check, meaning money goes to the ABA every time a credit union cashes a check. We could have chosen one of the (credit union) cooperative networks (as a preferred provider), but if you go with one versus another you're going to get beat up, too. It's important to think strategically."

By strategically, Becker means much bigger picture. The NAFCU president has for some time been attempting to get the bankers to put down their rocks-or at least quit throwing them at credit unions-and recognize that CUs and banks share some strong common interests, especially reg relief, and that they should work together to achieve them. Of course, the real challenge there is that the ABA's primary constituency isn't banks, it's itself, and by keeping banks focused on a "common enemy" the troops aren't as likely to notice some divisive internal issues. They're also more likely to renew their dues, Fifth Third included.

Recently drove past a new outlet called "Checkmate Check Cashing." Wonder if their customers ever notice the irony?

In another sign of the changing times, WesCorp has started to embed video in its news releases. The move follows WesCorp's purchase of webcast services provider, CIA Studios, from The Rochdale Group (the studios were already located within WesCorp's headquarters facility). Apparently recognizing that editors are easily entertained, it can now include full-motion images and sound in releases sent to the media.

"Rather than a static release, we wanted to use a little different way to give perspective," explained WesCorp's Director of Public Relations, Walter Laskos.

Laskos, who gained experience in shooting video in a previous position with KeyBank and who also oversees the video-based "Operation Best Wishes" program, said the plan is to take its video gear on the road to the various sources quoted in news releases and have them elaborate.

"This allows them to deviate from the quotes in a written release," he explained. "We're not limited to the one to two pages you would have in a standard release." The video will typically run from 90 seconds to two minutes. "This is just the beginning," said Laskos. "We're going to do interviews with people at our Economic Forum and with speakers."

If you want to see some examples, go to www.wescorp.org. And if you also want to see another cool use of online marketing, click on the CO-OP ad on the CU Journal's website at www.cujournal.com.

In this issue the Credit Union Journal examines the low savings rate among Americans, which has been negative for the past two years. In a sign of generational differences in attitudes about saving, credit union auto buying service Autoland recently awarded $15,000 in a giveaway to SESLOC FCU members Betty and Byrle Schoepf. The couple said they plan to "invest" their winnings. The Schoepfs are in their late 70s.

Publisher Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann<at>cujournal.com.