A Toolbox Full of Good Ideas, a Lesson From One Of The Worst

By the time credit unions get to Washington in late February for CUNA's GAC, there may not be any room for them. That's because, as the new year begins, it's hard to find anyone or any special interest who isn't currently in DC with their palms up seeking a bailout or a handout or even the scraps that might fall off the table.

And when the federal government is talking about spending as much as $1 trillion to get the economy restarted, one man's scrap is another man's feast.

The auto manufacturers. Their lending arms. Wall Street. Big banks. Small banks. City and county governments. State governors. Insurance companies. Each and every one of them avowed capitalists, except when, well, uhmmm - it's their capital.

Conspicuous in their absence (but only if they tell everyone) are America's credit unions, many of which have plenty of problems of their own but who have yet to receive any "fiscal stimulus" from the feds. Consider that rectified. In the name of the "pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstrapism" upon which credit unions were founded, Credit Union Journal unveils a fiscal stimulus package of its own for readers, beginning in this issue.

No publication is more driven by reader feedback and suggestions than this one, with CEOs and senior management making it clear what it is they want from Credit Union Journal: strategies, guidance and examples of growth across the enterprise. We have strived to deliver, providing concise but comprehensive coverage of just that. During 2008 Credit Union Journal introduced the Grow Show-a conference that is all about just what the name implies (and which will be even bigger and better when we meet again April 27-29 in San Diego for Grow Show). We included in nearly every issue a Leaderboard series, profiling credit unions identified as peer group leaders. We published yet another installment in our Best Practices series, with a single issue featuring more than two-dozen best practices from within the credit union industry. And the Journal published an issue that concentrated on successful, smaller CUs.

With this issue Credit Union Journal unveils a new tagline, "The Newsweekly Dedicated to Growing Credit Unions," to reaffirm to both readers and to our editorial team what the mission of this newspaper is. We don't fill our pages with fluff or flowery people profiles. We don't get bogged down in intra-credit union politics. We don't "fill space" with press releases.

The Credit Union Journal grows only if credit unions themselves grow. We know that. We sincerely appreciate the year of growth the Journal enjoyed during 2008, as well as the positive feedback from throughout the credit union community regarding the Journal's editorial focus. We will not be resting on any of that.

"Challenging" is the most-overused and yet most understated word credit unions use to describe the year that lies ahead of them. CUs will need a whole new set of tools to compete and grow, and beginning with this issue, Credit Union Journal provides just such a "toolbox." Look for coverage beginning on page 8.

* And now some notes found while cleaning out the 2008 notebook:

- DebitFacts.org, a website dedicated to being a resource about all things debit, has been introduced by PULSE. Included on the site, which PULSE said is also aimed at "debunking debit myths," are tools aimed at "making debit part of (consumers') money management strategy."

One such myth its research has turned up, PULSE reported, is a widely-held belief that debit cards are rampant with fraud. But those fears haven't precluded debit cards from boasting one of the sharpest adoption curves ever, and many young consumers will likely never write a check in their lives.

From the recent CUNA Lending Council conference in Orlando, some observations:

- Brett Christensen, who will be a keynoter at Credit Union Journal's Grow Show, noted that he once saw a member file on which there had been more than 1,200 inquiries. Later he wondered aloud, "How many CEOs and VPs of lending have been fired over failed indirect loans? I bet there has been more than a billion-dollars charged off (from indirect loans)."

- When Dale Frankhouse, director of lending with Sun FCU in Maumee, Ohio, asked an audience how many had foreclosed on a mortgage in the past 12 months, nearly every hand was raised, and most kept their hands up when he asked how many knew of at least one home in their neighborhood that had been foreclosed upon. Later, when showing a map of U.S. states in recession, he observed, "This map is the only one you'll see this week in which California is a red state."

- Dave Purcell, VP-business services at Travis FCU, noted in reviewing those who had registered for the Lending Council event that there were "208 men, 120 women, and 3 others."

* Here's a lesson for credit unions from another industry: always admit your errors when you make a mistake. Delta Airlines in late 2008 announced a program called "Coach Choice Seats" in which fliers could-for an extra fee, of course-purchase their preferred seat. Excuse the pun, but this did not sit well with members of Delta's frequent-flier Medallion program, those wedged-in-every-week-watching-the-benefits-recede-and-the-minimum-mileage-for-a-free-seat veterans who are the backbone of any airline. "We heard you loud and clear," Delta said in an e-mail, noting the "substantial feedback" showed "your dissatisfaction was crystal clear."

In short, said Delta, we're calling a "do-over" and going back to the old way of doing things. Sometimes a new year doesn't need something new.

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann@cujournal.com.