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Sometimes The Biggest Opportunities Aren't Hidden At All

There is always much discussion around the word "opportunity." Lending opportunities. Product opportunities. Market opportunities.

Google "opportunity" and you'll get more than 374-million matches. Search "opportunity" on Credit Union Journal's news archive and just in the past 18 months you'll find another 471 article matches. There is even a credit union named "Opportunities" (www.oppsvt.org if you want the opportunity to check it out).

Like Waldo, everyone is searching for opportunity and/or its even more popular relative, "opportunities." No wonder it's hard to find, as apparently it knocks only once. Why wouldn't it, as "opportunity" seems to bring out the aggressiveness in people. Folks of all stripes are usually in agreement that when they finally identify it-or it presents itself to them unannounced-they will get physical and "seize the opportunity" or "grab the opportunity," and they most certainly will not "let the opportunity pass." You may have noticed that no credit union conference is allowed to conclude unless at least one speaker observes that the Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word "crisis," with one brush stroke standing for danger, the other for opportunity (which often leaves me wondering what the Chinese symbol is for "we'll have to take your word for it").

All this brings us to a big, well, you know, right now for America's credit unions both individually and as a community. As so often happens, while CUs are spending money doing market research and focus groups and data mining and more, this opportunity is hiding right there in plain sight.

You may have noticed there is a financial crisis currently being felt by millions, if not tens of millions, of working class Americans. It won't be going away anytime soon. For many it may indeed be there own fault, livin' large when the paycheck was remainin' small, but many, many others who never really had much of an "opportunity" to get ahead, now find they are just falling further behind.

You see it in your lobbies not by who's there, but by who isn't-they're embarrassed and afraid to come in. You read it on the pages of the Credit Union Journal. TV screens are filled with images of foreclosure notices being hammered onto front doors, cars piling up on dealer lots, longer lines down at the Goodwill Store. Forget all that Fed data: the best indicator of how well the economy is doing should be measured by the How Wide is the Smile on the Face Of The Guy At The Collection Agency Index.

Credit unions have a chance to knock that smile right off his face (sorry, credit union collectors). Where the opportunity lies is in a national, coordinated effort to remind America that credit unions are here to help-especially when the times are tough. This newspaper has reported on the various, isolated efforts around the country-funds to stem foreclosures, financial counseling classes, payday lending alternatives. Emergency loans-and those are just the special products and programs. That doesn't take into account the everyday lower rates on loans and credit cards, reduced fees on checking and overdraft protection, and just the overall willingness to work with people.

It's time-excuse me, an opportunity-to be telling that story in a coordinated way. The Little Guy has been spotted all over Washington, but that's not where he's needed now. Surely one of the trade associations or even, dare we say it, a bipartisan group, could coordinate efforts targeted at consumers to help them help themselves; it's kind of the whole premise, isn't it-here's the ladder, you just need to climb it.

The Internet's vast promise could be tapped here to direct consumers to ways credit unions can come to the resource. One site, clean and simple, that offers financial education, potential financial resources, frank talk about finances, places to turn for help, and links to credit unions the visitor may be eligible to join shouldn't take that long to create. Much of that already exists, just in disparate places. It needs to be brought together in one place, and the mass media needs to be made aware it is there to help the underdog-and the media always loves the underdog. Surely some development educators (DEs) or members of Filene's i3 Group could turn something around pretty quickly.

The CU community crowed plenty when the economy was booming about their growth and success and PAC donations. Help folks out now and they will do the crowing for you.

Credit unions have been advertising for some time that they are the one place where "people are worth more than money." Real brands aren't slogans, they're experiences. What an opportunity.

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

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