Opportunities To Be Had, Opportunities To Be Worn

Although it shouldn't be the case, in this article you'll find something of a rarity in credit unions, and I don't mean the CU holding an emergency meeting on how to deal with all the surplus net income. Instead, I refer to Bellco CU in Colorado, which has been advertising its vast member access, thanks to shared branching.

As their assets have increased and as TV (at least in some markets) has become more affordable, we've seen numerous credit unions unleashing their inner Jerry Bruckheimer by taking to the airwaves. But the pitches are usually similar: auto or home loans, or a general awareness message that anyone in the community can join. Very few, however, have promoted shared branching. Bellco does so indirectly — it would need to buy several more minutes of airtime to explain it's not a reference to birds in a tree — but it does talk about "3,100 credit union branches nationwide, 146 in Colorado where you can do a face-to-face transaction."

Bellco CU concludes the spot with the tag line, "Unique." Indeed it is. You can also find related shared branching reporting here.

• You've likely been hearing a lot about all the "opportunities" available to your credit union. But it's unlikely you're aware of just how many opportunities you've had to hear about all the opportunities.

Since May of 2009, the word "opportunity" has appeared in a Credit Union Journal story 3,054 times, according to the archives at cujournal.com. I was motivated to search the word after hearing numerous vendors, credit union leaders, and conference-speakers all make frequent references to the "opportunities" that await credit unions in just about every aspect of their operations. Less well-defined is precisely where that opportunity lies, and, just as importantly, how to meet it and take advantage.

But at least one person is offering some thoughts. During "Blink," CSCU's annual meeting last week in Ft. Lauderdale, CUNA Chief Economist Bill Hampel went as far as to describe the pending CARD Act's regulations "an opportunity for credit unions to drive a truck through."

Acknowledging most have seen the legislation as more of a "nuisance," he said the long-time staple "plain vanilla pricing" will look more and more attractive to card consumers as banks roll out tricky new offers aimed at getting around the CARD Act's stipulations. Consumers are generally aware of the practices the CARD Act is designed to thwart, Hampel noted, and in turn recognize their CU has never been home to the teaser rate and fees bank cards have been. "The simple implication is that credit cards will take on a much more significant role than in the past," said Hampel.

The challenge to CUs, as always: throwing some sprinkles on that plain-vanilla message and getting it out there for members and consumers alike.

• During the recent Texas CU League meeting there was consistently a small crowd around one vendor's booth, and not just because they were giving something away. Credit unions have made an art of the golf shirt, but when it comes to T-shirts, CUs A) have yet to realize it's the wardrobe of choice among that younger demographic that's so coveted, B) when they're creative they can be an effective piece of the media mix, C) no one wears a boring T-shirt unless it's to bed.

That's why these types of messages were getting gawkers: "Chicks dig my CU." "If I were a bank I'd be billing you for this." "Kiss me I'm CUte." "When banking at a bank, always read the fine print*." And then in finer print, "We take your money and charge high fees."

Behind the T-shirts is Pasadena, Texas-based CU*Swag. A spokesperson at the busy booth told me, "We want to turn credit union members into walking billboards and spread the credit union love. It's the most effective marketing when someone spreads the word. Response has been insane. People love them and think they're awesome."

The company sells the T-shirts to credit unions (it has a T-shirt of the Month Club), which in turn give them to members. Check them out at cuswag.com.

• What's that saying again about "best intentions?" Was attending another meeting recently when a CU exec was sharing the story of a program at her CU that sought to help employees exercise more. Employees earned points and an extra hour at lunch for walking certain distances. This led some employees to accuse others of sandbagging (which can be good exercise in and of itself, by the way). Because the walking occurred inside the CU's facility, an HR manager was forced to review security tapes to see who was actually walking, and for how long. Oy vey.

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