Fewer People Helping, Hiring & Recruiting People

There are always rules when it comes to credit union gatherings, although those rules evolve. For years no self-respecting conference, for instance, could be held unless someone was there to talk about the "new paradigm."

At silent auction fundraisers, it's an unwritten rule that you have to write in a friend's name on one of the items, along with an accompanying bid that is triple that of the previous highest offer.

More recently, credit union folk can't gather unless there is some discussion of the economy-and agreement that the standard no-cursing-at-professional-events-clause be temporarily suspended. Podiums at hotel meeting centers now seem to come with an economist already attached, clicker in hand and ready to scroll through a PowerPoint ill-ustrating the latest dark clouds.

Inevitably, those economists will speak to the issue of unemployment and jobs. Companies need to hire more, the refrain will go, for this economy to improve. What few in credit unions ever seem to notice, however, is that they are as much a part of the employers-reluctant-to-hire picture as everyone else. While the reasons credit unions have had to freeze staffing or even make cutbacks are no secret-and in many cases have been a good lesson in how staff levels can become bloated-it's hard not to hear the irony when those economists and their message of the need for hiring are followed to the podium by speakers extolling solutions for doing just the opposite.

I was at one recent meeting at which there was considerable talk about all the technology that can be deployed now to reduce "head-count." Not just technology that helps in better managing the scheduling of tellers, but technology that eliminates the position altogether: kiosks and mobile banking and multi-function ATMs. Technology that automates back-office functions and provides "dashboards" to allow fewer people to manage more data. Technology that eliminates the need to travel (and stay in hotels, rent cars, etc.).

I wonder how many sitting at a CU meeting or a vendor presentation realize those very same technologies are being deployed in other industries, too, and never give that any thought as they make projections over when their own memberships will start seeing jobs again?

Media Perceptions Dept., Part I: East Allen County FCU in New Haven, Ind., recently found itself in the local news spotlight when it reduced the rate it's paying on core deposits to .1%. That's right, point one. But the coverage was pretty fair, with the CU able to explain why it has had to the move into Japanese savings rates territory.

CEO Karen Bishop was quoted explaining how a $2-million inflow in deposits for what had been an $11.9-million CU is not good news, although in the name of retaining readers, the news report did not wade into an explanation of how CU net worth ratios work. In fact, Bishop went on to share how some members have even said, "How much do you need us to move? And when? We'll get it done and when things are corrected we'll bring it back."

Media Perceptions Dept., Part II: DuPage Credit Union in Illinois has had to spend some time and effort refuting a report on http://www.nextbanktofail.com/ that it is among the "Troubled Banks" that are on their last legs. The report is apparently based on an allegation DCU had received $70,000 in TARP funds from the government.

CEO Bob Palumbo went to pains in local news coverage to clarify that the report is wrong, pointing out that the website's claim is "totally inaccurate" and adding that the inverse is actually occurring.

"Here at the DuPage Credit Union, we're currently having one of the best quarters we've had in years," Palumbo told Sun-Times Media. "Our profitability, equity growth and capital are all up, and to suggest we are having problems currently is false-nothing could be further from the truth."

The operator of the website, Bill Bartmann, however was sticking to the accuracy of his claims. But here is something that might give a bit of pause: Bartmann said that when it comes to his source, "everything we get comes directly from the FDIC."

Unfortunately, the reporter didn't realize CUs aren't regulated by the FDIC and didn't ask the obvious follow-up question.

The Filene Research Institute is out with a new report that has the usual nuggets of insight, although readers won't be spitting out their Corn Flakes at this revelation. "Most directors agree that attracting and retaining younger, more diverse directors with a broader base of backgrounds is a priority," the report notes. "Yet many respondents feel challenged to find qualified volunteers who are willing to commit. Unfortunately, many boards seem to be adopting a wait-and-see attitude rather than emphasizing more rigorous recruiting practices like evergreen lists. Several interviewees stressed that it is hard to remove underperforming directors-even when their terms are up-for fear of hurt feelings."

Any board whose plan is to "wait and see" who among the younger members will step forward and seek to serve as a volunteer will certainly be waiting. What they will see, however, is each other. As for those potential hurt feelings, the world of hurt that awaits such a strategy will come courtesy of the regulator when they're removing all the board members-even those who aren't so sensitive-and merging the operation.

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