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From Heavens, That's Ironic, To Threats About Hell

Some random thoughts while cleaning out the notebook in this paper-based log, from henceforth to be known as a plog:

• In this issue of Credit Union Journal we provide an update on Bank Transfer Day 100 Days Later (see related story). In keeping with that, not sure if you noticed but among those that built aggressive marketing around Bank Transfer Day was Pacific Trust Bank in California. Using a guerilla marketing campaign, it offered up to a $60 annual cash rebate to certain customers who use its debit cards (it multiplied BofA's proposed monthly ATM fee of $5 by 12). What makes that so unusual isn't that it's a bank looking to take advantage of a day that was all about moving business from banks to CUs. It's that Pacific Trust used to be a credit union.

• Apathy is often cited as the reason most people stick with big banks, even if it means getting stuck in the process. At the other end of the spectrum we have not just the non-apathetic, but the zealots. Lost in all the news surrounding Bank Transfer Day were the efforts of some people who went way beyond old stand-bys such as mentioning the credit union to a coworker. One example: at the $3.3-billion Kinecta FCU in Manhattan Beach, Calif., one member personally brought in six new members to a member service center. And by "brought in," I mean actually carpooled all the folks to the branch to sign up for membership.

Moreover, this same person also handed out leaflets in front of a Bank of America branch on Bank Transfer Day that urged customers to make the switch. That, I believe, qualifies under the definition of "engaged" member.

• During November of last year, research was released that offered some insights to consumers and Bank Transfer Day, and the differences between what people say in surveys and do in real-life.

An online survey conducted during November by TNS, a research unit of WPP, found that approximately 12% of 2,500 respondents said they had closed their accounts or planned to do so in response all the hoopla surrounding BTD (sorry, but to be part of the Official Credit Union Vernacular, you must be an abbreviation). Of that group, 41% said they planned to leave BofA.

But the research also proves the old saying that there's a difference between what consumers preach and what they practice. The same survey found that just 2.3% of the respondents had actually closed their account with a big bank and moved that business to a credit union.

Saying you're going to move your account is a heckuva lot easier than doing it, of course, especially for those just a buck or two ahead of the last check they wrote or card they swiped. And BofA's decision to rescind its debit card fee had to have mollified the masses who were on the fence about moving, but fell back when BofA changed its mind.

There are a couple of other interesting findings in the TNS research. First, BTD was a Facebook creation, so you would think it would be younger consumers most likely to list it among their likes. Instead, it was consumers over age 60 who were "very" or "somewhat" familiar with it (44%). Just 22.7% of those under age 30 expressed similar awareness.

Interesting, too, is the research found it wasn't the "near-underserved" who indicated they were most likely to change banks; it was the overserved. In this case, 13.8% of those with incomes of $75,000 or more said they had closed their accounts or were planning to do so, versus 10.2% of those with incomes of less than $30,000. Again, this may come back to having sufficient cash in savings to make the switch.

• One more note related to BTD. American Banker, an affiliate of Credit Union Journal, reported that all that anti-big-bank negativity hasn't slowed their growth. Data on dollar amounts of deposits published by regulators continued to show growth at big banks outstripping growth at small banks during Q3 and Q4.

• I once wrote in this space of two bankers I had heard at a conference lamenting their small asset size limited their ability in the market. Each was from a bank north of $40 billion in assets. Here's another reminder that "small" remains a relative number. A recent "financial institution satisfaction" survey defined small banks as those with fewer than "300 branches."

• Who says credit union history is boring? As CU Journal recently reported, Holy Rosary Credit Union in New Hampshire has released a 196-page book called "Comme D'Or" (Good as Gold) to mark its 50th birthday. The book includes an anecdote about a planning board meeting related to the CU's building in which it reports, "The Monsignor, eyes blazing, turned left to look at the crowd and then right, as if to say, 'Should any of you heathens so much as contemplate speaking against this project, you and your entire family are going straight to Hell!' "

In its review of its own book, HRCU added, "The telling is enlivened by the author's frolicksome and sprawling vision. He arranges for cameos with Rocky Marciano, Marilyn Monroe, women in burqas, and Marvin Gaye, and riffs on permeable pavement, arachnophobia, and an unusually aggressive eggroll, all...inextricably connected to the credit union."

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

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