Daily conversations, weekly ALM meetings, monthly ALCO committee get-togethers and annual planning retreats have all had a pretty common theme for the past year or three — and I'd like to think it doesn't need to be mentioned.
At credit unions large and small, you've got the mother of all misguided management if you're not talking about the eyelash of a spread that's available; the fact that rates last seen in It's A Wonderful Life still haven't brought in borrowers; and the fact that home values have cratered like the only housing development with properties for sale is a place called "Radon Acres."
Through all of that it's been so easy to be caught up in your own credit union's balance sheet that it's become even easier to forget the deep worries others have over theirs: your members. Now is the time to not just remind yourself but to put into practice one of the key reasons for being: to help those "Everyday Joes" not spend every day worrying.
Despite a blogiverse of views on what motivated Standard & Poors to downgrade U.S. debt (great observation by Jon Stewart, by the way, that the company's name translates into "average and below average"), all of the news reporting the announcement has done little to build member confidence. Indeed, a poll conducted on CUJournal.com found 89% of respondents saying the downgrade will "only enhance negative consumer sentiment, and depress borrowing."
Members aren't thinking about loan-to-share ratios, unless it's their own personal metrics. What they're thinking about is next month and next year and when and if things will ever get better, and if there is a better place, Mr. Credit Union, can you help me get there?
The response from every credit union should be a definitive, "Yes, we can. And here's how." Like the PTA, credit unions remain some of the last practitioners of the old-fashioned newsletter, and in addition have also been quick to move to online communications, blogs and social media to get their messages out. You may not want to admit it, and the marketing department will swear on a stack of advertising competition entry forms that it's not true, but 99.9% of the time members and consumers only interaction with those messages is the delete button.
Now, however, is that rare yet critical 0.1% of the time when members want to hear from their credit union. They are seeking a sense of direction-be their compass. They want encouragement-offer it. They would like to think that maybe there is a place somewhere where consumers just like them have come together to pool their finances so that everyone can work together, cooperatively-what a great opportunity to remind, remind, remind them that you happen to know of such a place.
Your marketing messages right now are likely very product specific, with generic clip art and ultimately forgettable headlines for your car loans such as "Great Rates!" (some times with extra exclamation points to prove that either your marketing director is 19 years old or that is their creative peak-perhaps both)!
But most members aren't thinking "product," they're thinking "process," i.e., what's the process for either achieving that American dream or, more likely, somehow hanging onto it. The credit union is and should be that process, that path.
When CUNA was first formed in the 1930s it called the newsletter it would publish in the decades to follow "The Bridge." That may be the best word of all to describe the role a credit union plays (and wouldn't make a bad name for a credit union, either).
So remind all those members standing at the flood's edge that you have a bridge for them to cross. After don't forget to remind them that they helped build it, too.
In this issue of Credit Union Journal, readers will find an extensive report on strategies to prevent fraud. After reading through it I began thinking that perhaps the issue would have been better timed for Halloween, given the range of scary, real and potential threats to every credit union. If there is good news, it is that many of those interviewed advocate some simple but effective steps every operation can deploy to fight fraud.
This Special Report is one of a number of recent Special Reports that are in response to reader feedback and requests. Credit Union Journal has also recently provided expanded coverage on Compliance and Strategic Planning. Our mission is to help credit unions to prosper and grow. We welcome your additional feedback and suggestions.
If you enjoy a good quip and an even better retort, then the World Council's recent meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, offered the best of both.
With much discussion occurring in the U.K. about the appalling phone hacking conducted by reporters over at least one of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers, Louise Petschler, an Australian who was moderating a panel discussion, made sure that everyone knew, "A lot of people call Rupert Murdoch an Australian; he became a U.S. citizen a long time ago."
That led CUNA Mutual President Jeff Post-who was a panelist-to almost immediately respond: "Ninety-percent of our values are formed by the time we are age 10, and I would like to remind you that Mr. Murdoch was still in Australia at that point."
Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at email@example.com.