Lots Of Worry Over Flat Growth, Lots Of Ideas On What To Do

Before sharing the good news, I feel it only fair that a confession come first: I once played a pivotal role in organizing a conference that went so badly we expected at any moment that Mr. Murphy himself of Murphy's Law fame would arrive and present us with a plaque. We had fought to be among the very first to hold a conference at what was then the brand new Swan Hotel at Disney world in Orlando, only to discover what veterans of conference planning know all too well-you never want to be any hotel's first meeting.

At check-in, attendees at our event had to first go to their assigned room to see if the bed was assembled-or still in a box. The public elevators were not yet working, so everyone had to ride the freight elevators. A few speakers left in frustration over delays and confusion in getting their rooms. One speaker who unfortunately didn't leave actually used the "F" word from the podium. One of the meeting rooms was being painted-while we were in it! Let's just say the attendee evaluations were not what one would expect in the "Happiest Place on Earth."

Having been a part of that, it's all the more exciting and enjoyable to have been a part of Credit Union Journal's recent Business Development & SEG Conference in Boston, and not just because the Hyatt Hotel knew just what it was doing when it came to hosting a conference, and the bed in my room was already assembled. As the large group of credit unions who were on hand will confirm, the meeting was a solid two days of practical and pragmatic advice and strategies for attracting new members, retaining current members, and better penetrating both groups. Indeed, as the Journal reported previously, if there was a constant theme throughout much of the meeting it was that credit unions looking to new members are wasting precious marketing dollars when it comes to growth-there is plenty of business to be mined from the members you already have.

This will be the first of two columns sharing just a few of the observations made during the meeting. Subscribers to the Journal can get additional coverage by visiting www.cujournal.com, going to the "Search" in the left-hand navigation bar, and typing in "Bionic BD Growth Strategies."

From Paul Lucas, a Virginia-based consultant:

* If you're going to go community, a branch network is an absolute necessity.

* If you're a SEG-based credit union and you can't effectively market to them, how in the world can you do it as a community charter?

* If you're going to go community, you've got to be in the community.

* You can do good in the community, but make sure you get something in return. People want you to do cause marketing, but it won't make a bit of difference in having people choose you.

* If anything, when you go community you step up your SEG marketing.

* Track your key ratios for growth, tie your people's income to those ratios, and you will always be growing.

From Kelly Parks of Call FCU (who noted, incidentally, that the CU's Be The Office Hero campaign, which has won numerous awards, was not well received when first proposed:

* I think it is our creativity that will save credit unions. Our willingness to do things that banks won't do. You put on a cape and believe me, people take notice.

* Being rated a 4 or a 5 on a survey of service really doesn't mean that much. It's in the comments that people make that make the difference. We have empowered people over the years to lead better lives and we realized that is our brand.

From Bert Bryan of CU Business Capital, which has trademarked the phrase, "Every business needs a credit union":

* Sometimes there is a disconnect between credit unions and businesses. But businesses need all the services that you need. Remember, you are a business.

* About 37% to 42% of bank clients are businesses, not consumers. You may say 'We're not here to service businesses.' Oh yeah, well what are SEGs?

* (On how hard it can be to reach SEG employees). They will tell you that you can talk to their employees at 7. You ask, "When does everyone go home?" They say, "5."

* If credit unions knew the value proposition and opportunity in small business we would not be seeing all this discussion of charter changes and mergers.

* Branch profitability will not happen until you service businesses. There is more than enough business in a two-mile radius around every branch to do this.

* You earn 30% more in interchange income on business debit cards than consumer debit cards.

* This is all doable and within the control of credit unions. It falls within the philosophy of people helping people.

Watch soon for more of the valuable content from the CU Journal event, and plan to join us when we meet again in 2008!

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