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The Big Market Opportunity That Was There For The Taking

Although the evidence at this point is just anecdotal and the final numbers have yet to be tabulated, it is believed that during the week of Feb. 6, credit union executives caused the sale of aspirin and other pain relievers to measurably spike.

Careful now, because I don't want you to inflame or aggravate an old injury, but that's the week Credit Union Journal broke the story on the effort to charter a credit union to serve multi-millionaire professional athletes and their families, leading to an applause-like chorus of forehead slapping by CEOs across Credit Union Land.

"Of course!" thousands of you responded like a well-tuned church choir, simultaneously engaging in aforementioned, Pavlovian open palm to forehead. "Why didn't we think of that? Such a glaringly, obvious market need! Those poor athletes!!!"

An hour later CU leaders were making a stop on the way home to grab a bottle of Tylenol and another bottle best kept in a brown paper bag.

Aggravated Amazement

How many times in our lives have we read a top-selling business book or watched in (aggravated) amazement on TV as someone shares the story of their ingenious "innovation," so often right there under our noses? The first thing to come to mind, obviously, is the Snuggie, but there are so many other examples I risk a wave of reader head injuries were I to list them.

And now we have the credit union version of the grand, missed opportunity: Serving the Overserved. Enough already with poor people and all their moaning about living paycheck to paycheck; what about dealing with all the pressures of a paycheck that requires an asset manager and two Swiss banks? Ask anyone who's suffered; it's not easy to be in a minority group. Now imagine being in one in which you are just the 1%!

Putting all of this into motion is Stacey Fielder-August, former wife of retired baseball star Cecil Fielder. Fielder had career earnings of more than $47 million, and he and his wife at one point owned a 50-room mansion in Melbourne, Fla. Today the former Detroit Tiger and his wife are divorced and, thanks to what Fielder says was a gambling problem, broke. Fielder-August described herself now as "one of the statistics."

You may be thinking, hey, just what we need, another member with a single-digit checking balance, but Fielder-August says her goal is to launch a credit union to help pro athletes and their families manage all that cash so it lasts long after they've taken off the uniform and blown off their last autograph request. She is working to get a charter for Player's Choice FCU, a virtual operation with a national FOM (which will not, as you might suspect, stand for Fistfuls of Money).

Fielder-August told Credit Union Journal that a "credit union is about helping people. It is a cooperative, and it teaches ownership...It is also a vehicle to educate."

She's right about that. Credit unions love to put on those member education seminars, and a CU for pro athletes seems to offer a full slate of educational opportunities:

• That 55,000-Square-Foot Crib: Why 2,500 Of That Might Make For A Nice CU Branch.

• The Importance of a Budget: But Not For You, For That 8-Person Entourage.

• Knowing When To Say When: When You Have Car Keys, But Aren't Sure For Which Car.

• How To Earn Debit Rewards When Paying the IRS, Lawyers, Hangers-On, and Child Support.

• Online Banking: For When You're Just Too Tired To Go Out In Public and Have People Fawn All Over You.

I could go on, but already you see the possibilities.

Credit unions like to talk demographics, and certainly the Fed Up Affluent have been overlooked long enough. It's time to rise up! Just like those mill workers who banded together to form their own credit unions when banks ignored them, so, too shall our nation's professional athletes, who have grown weary of all the banks wooing them.

Sure, there will be some challenges in getting the new CU chartered. For instance, just a few athletes with direct deposit should all but submarine that capital ratio. And this may be the first time loan officers must be trained in borrowing from members.

About That Little Man

Ms. Fielder-August is determined to put her own stamp on the Little Man Under the Umbrella. In this case, it will be a little man holding an umbrella to shade the athlete who's sitting poolside, but the concept is similar.

Being a start-up may mean finding secondary capital, and Fielder-August may have to consider reaching out to the various charitable foundations with an appeal. And if that doesn't work, there's always Plan B; her son, Prince Fielder, just signed a $214-million contract himself to play baseball.

It isn't every day you have a member who is an asset size peer group unto himself.

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

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