I tried be polite about it, to tell him no thanks, but he had formerly worked as a time-share salesman and was keenly skilled at not taking "no" for an answer. He invited me in again, and once more I declined. His response was subtle and smooth; I was balking, he kept talking, and soon we were both walking toward the room he had been coaxing me all along to enter-was that his arm around my shoulder gently pushing me or was it some sort of apparition?
I stopped hard and firm, short of the door. "No," I said with determination. I was still feeling the haunting effects from Halloween 2006, when I had been tricked into a tour of the Credit Union Board Room of Doom. Now he was trying to sell me on coming with him again! "Just take a small step forward; you don't have to enter the room if you don't want to-just take a look," he said calmly, reassuringly. I felt a ghost-like hand on my shoulder again, and took the step into the room's doorway.
It was just what he claimed it was-a plush, richly appointed meeting room in a five-star hotel. There were pastries and several plates of fruit set out on a white cloth-covered table along one wall; a silver bowl of water bottles chilling in ice and two pots of coffee brewing. In the center of the room a long, pseudo-oak conference table; at each setting a legal pad with a vendor's name emblazoned across the top, a pen stenciled with the logo of another vendor, and a laptop computer and a padded container case on which was printed a credit union name. At one end of the room another PC, connected to a projector, faced a white screen that had automatically descended from the ceiling.
I felt an eerie moment of relief. Perhaps it wasn't another Halloween trick or treat; maybe it was just a harmless planning meeting by a credit union board of directors and senior management team, one of hundreds if not thousands just like it. I looked at the host again and felt a bit of a chill as he placed his hand on my back and not-so-gently pushed me into the room. Suddenly, as soon as I stepped across the threshold everything changed: the room filled with people in the high-backed chairs around the table and in the other chairs around the room. At the front of the room stood the phantasmal image of my host like some sort of supernatural illusion. "Don't tell me," I whispered nervously under my breath, "that I have entered the Strategic Planning Session of Terror!"
My host smiled his chilling smile: "Oh, it's much more than that," he said in an unearthly voice, making no attempt to whisper. "This is the Planning Retreat of Standing Defeat." I looked anxiously back at the room awaiting someone-anyone!-to acknowledge us, and then back at my host who seemed prepared for every question. "They can't hear us," he said almost dismissively. "They can't hear or see anything-except what I've put right in front of them."
I nodded toward several empty chairs with some renewed confidence: "I see at least a few escaped in time to warn credit unions everywhere." His pale, thin lips sneered and with a ghastly laugh he said, "They're working out their CTP ratios." Cost to production? Corporate transfer protocols? He let me stew over the acronym, before finally answering, "Coffee to pee." He motioned with his fat arm that I was free to walk about the room, and in doing so I could see he wore a handmade, monogrammed dress shirt and a Rolex. Unlike strategic planning facilitators who know credit unions from the inside out, this credit union had waited too long to hire someone qualified, and instead had opted for a premium-priced Phantom of Phoniness who had an attractive web page and a gift for creating great illusions through PowerPoint.
I looked over the shoulders of some of the board members as they followed the presentation on their laptops. "But they're only comparing themselves to other credit unions," I said in disbelief. "That's their competition," my host said confidently. "But what about the 94% marketshare credit unions don't have," I questioned, getting no response.
I kept moving. "Is this their new name and brand?" I asked, aghast. "'FinChoicOpMemAsysTral Credit Union? A global provider of monetary empowerment to customers?'!!! What in the world does that MEAN to anyone?" He cackled spookily at me: "A board committee settled on the name and slogan. We tested it with a focus group-of their spouses!"
"But they're not customers, they're members, and it makes for an important difference," I argued. Like the Grim Reaper reaching inside his cloak, he retrieved his retainer check. "Not to me it doesn't," he answered. "Members, customers, bank, credit union, what's the difference?"
I wasn't backing down and was prepared to defend my position when I noticed the meeting adjourning and the various members standing and stretching. "But there's so much left to discuss," I said in disbelief. "Growth issues. Internal issues. Surely they're just taking a break." He motioned me to join him at the window and nodded toward the view of a luscious expanse of green outside.
"Tee times start at 2," and he cackled again.
Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann<at>cujournal.com. (c) 2007 The Credit Union Journal and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved. http://www.cujournal.com http://www.sourcemedia.com