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Where Banks and CUs Are Similar, and Where Differences Remain

In at least one instance credit unions are finding themselves being lumped in with banks, and it's good. That's because in this case it's not the universe of "Banks," with a capital "B" that is typically preceded by "Big" and "Bad," but just the smaller, community banks that have a lot more in common with their not-for-profit brethren than they do the too-big-to-fail but not too-big-to-bail operations that belong to the same trade association.

In a world that has become germaphobic, the irony is an awful lot of organizations have set a goal of going "viral," at least with the videos they have produced. Some credit union videos have gained a bit of viral fame, such as the newest effort from Bucks Federal, although none have come close to "Charlie bit my finger" status.

One video, however, that has gotten a fair amount of play can be found at http://move yourmoney.info/ in which the modern day forces of Good (CUs and Small Banks) and Evil (Big Banks) are represented by George Bailey (Good) and Mr. Potter (delightfully evil) from the classic "It's A Wonderful Life." Click on the video tab on the site and you'll be presented with a video that uses clips from the film to sum up why its creators are urging consumers to "move your money." Setting aside a few historical inaccuracies, such as blaming the Great Depression solely on bankers, and it's a pretty intriguing presentation.

Some CUs might even want to consider linking to it from their own sites.

• Despite that kind of national attention, however, credit unions remain something of a mystery for many people. Consider this posting by a writer on the Kansas City Free Press' online site. Author Rachel C. Murphy, while seeking to promote credit unions, said she was not familiar with credit unions "until recently. Credit unions have always seemed elusive-you have to be a member and you get better benefits, but no one knows how."

So quit being elusive and get out there and tell your story-again.

• The recent April Fool''s Day passed by with very few credit unions finding the humor in anything. That wasn't the case, as one might expect, at State Employees Credit Union in North Carolina, which, beginning with its CEO, Jim Blaine, embodies the philosophy of taking the business, but not one's self, seriously.

SECU issued an April Fool's Day press release by noting it is "known for its flagrant communication efforts within the credit union industry," but it was nonetheless "pleased to announce the recent issuance of the organization's one millionth press release!"

We media were alerted that "despite reports that no one has actually ever read one of the releases, Leigh Brady, SVP of Education Services for SECU, commented 'That hasn't stopped us in the past, and it will certainly have no bearing on our plans going forward.'"

SECU went on to add "The historic...release capped off a whirlwind of releases over the past 10 years covering various topics ranging from SECU's introduction of its Badly Used Rental Car Giveaway promotion to SECU telling members 'where to go' with an RV loan, from the scratch-and-explode member dye-pack giveaway, to the midnight ribbon cutting for the 1,000th 'lizard themed' SECU Cash Points ATM in metropolitan Lizard Lick, NC."

To read the whole release from SECU, which also laid claim to inviting the Wright Brothers to North Carolina to test their flyer and which described itself as "This Awesome Credit Union," go to cujournal.com and search "SECU Press Release."

Of course, as any CEO worth his or her accounting and finance background will attest, humor has no place in the financial services business, or any business. After all, it's limited Raleigh-based State Employees to just $19.5 billion in assets, and everyone just hates those Southwest Airlines commercials.

• Today's tip of the hat for clever promotional name goes to 1st Advantage FCU in Virginia for its "Fee Diculous" campaign, which entered qualified members into a drawing for a new car (with every 50th person also receiving a $300 gift card). The CU sought to highlight the fact banks earn more than $4 billion annually in ATM fees just from their own customers, while it offers 784 fee-free ATMs in Virginia.

The credit union also got a bit of a lucky break. The car it gave away was a Honda Insight, the gas/electric hybrid. Imagine if the prize had been a Toyota Prius. The winner just may have found that Pri-diculous.

• At the beginning I talked of how credit unions and (certain) banks are alike. But how are they different? Robert Rubin, the CEO of FindABetterBank.com (and not the former Treasury secretary), noted recently, "Let's face it, if your bank makes it hard for you to speak with a customer service representative, it's because they don't really want to speak with you...So to help, we decided to measure how long it takes banks and credit unions to route us to a CSR."

Rube said it contacted 75 banks, nine CUs and five online banks each three times to create a "Time2Talk" (T2T) metric. Among the findings:

  • "It took us 36 seconds longer to speak to CSRs at big banks. But three big banks did a "great job routing us to customer service: Fifth Third Bank (48 seconds), TD Bank (51 seconds) and Wells Fargo (65 seconds)."
  • "Only 56% of big banks managed to route us to a CSR in under two minutes."
  • "Twenty-nine percent of community banks and credit unions routed us to a CSR in under 30 seconds. No big banks did."

Frank J. Diekmann is publisher of Credit Union Journal and can be reached at fdiekmann@cujournal.com.

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