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No One Noticed, Yet Everyone Was (And Is) Looking

A few months ago at the California and Nevada league's annual meeting at Disneyland, keynoter William Taylor was giving such a good presentation he managed to pull off two great big ironies without anyone in the audience even noticing.

Taylor was talking about what makes for a successful organization, and what credit unions can learn from those companies that have grown themselves into market and category leaders-and then managed the even more difficult challenge of staying there.

Taylor, founding editor of Fast Company magazine, was a polished speaker, and like any pro he knew how to build up to a good, solid applause line. It was in that process that there should have been two "Hey, wait a minute" moments, but no one noticed. First, he leveraged all the anger and bile there is in America right now toward "CEOs," the boogie men (and they are almost always men) of 2010, even though a good half of those sitting in his audience held the same job title. Second, he got his audience charged up over a practice they themselves are almost certainly guilty of.

Thunderous Applause!

"All these companies and CEOs keep telling us how our calls are important to them," he asserted, before pausing and then unleashing his killer app, "then why don't they answer the frickin' phones!?!"

The line elicited a boisterous round of applause and cheers from California's and Nevada's credit unions, everyone looking to each other in satisfaction that someone was finally voicing their shared, I'd-like-to-come-through-this-phone-and-give-you-a-piece-of-my-mind frustration at corporate America's embrace of automated phone answering systems and resulting inability to reach a real, live human being. Lost in the ballroom-wide, group cheer-a-thon seemed to be any recognition that everyone in the audience was either an employee of or a volunteer at a credit union that has exactly the same impersonal phone system (including the offices of the California and Nevada league itself).

You can read more about Taylor's remarks in the Dec. 20 issue. Why bring up Taylor's remarks now? Because this issue of Credit Union Journal offers a couple of stories for which your own experiences, insights and emotions are often all the focus group research you need.

New Strategy? Looks Like The Old One

On page 1, we profile efforts to reach consumers and expand marketshare via their workplaces. All over the country right now in cemeteries far and wide, former credit union managers and field reps are rolling over in their graves faster than a one-hour CD at the news some credit unions are "discovering" the value of that quaint old phrase, the "select employee group," or SEG as it's known to those who speak credit union.

The concept is so popular, in fact, that a number of banks are getting aggressive with workplace banking programs of their own (see story, page 1). Perhaps it's a case of you don't know what you have until it's gone, but it's also a case of you don't know what you had until we take it.

Of course people like the idea of having their financial institution come to them, as well as the idea of getting discounts or bonuses or just simple recognition for being a part of something others are not (so what if the same bene's are available to people at other companies?-as long as someone thinks it's exclusive, it's exclusive). Don't you like the very same things?

Similarly, there is coverage in this issue of the Journal of credit union loan strategies in 2011 that requires only that you consider your own experiences and those of the people around you to arrive at some insights into where many consumers are right now. Not surprisingly, those CUs with any chance of succeeding in the new year have one eye looking forward, the other back at what was (and what remains) the financial flop of the past two years.

For a lot of Americans, their FICOs are barking like Fidos, their credit scores having sunk faster than a Las Vegas condo's listing. The great majority of CU employees may have hung onto their jobs, but many of their spouses have not-and you don't need Zillow to tell you what's gone on with home values. How often during the past two years do you think a member, distraught over their personal finances, has poured out their soul to a CU loan officer or counselor, unaware the person on the other side of that desk is thinking, "You think you got problems? Let me tell you...?"

There's That Word Again

This year may finally mark the economic turnaround so many have been waiting for, but the U.S. is a supertanker, not a speedboat, and it's going to take time.

It's not because they already pawned their watch and that heirloom cuckoo clock that many members don't have time-they need your help now-and where appropriate, they should get it.

Thanks to the mortgage crisis, the word "subprime" has all but become a disease classification, but as one credit union notes in this issue, subprime borrowers may be where the loan dollars are in 2011.

The challenge this year will be for every credit union to work with members when they call.

Of course, they're going to have to get past your freakin' phone system first.

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

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