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Why This Could End Up Being Lucky No. 13

After the past few years, it's hard to believe that anyone wouldn't be looking forward to a new year and a new start, and yet for some, 2013 is a couple of Zantacs past trepidation.

There isn't a great deal of research on credit union leaders who suffer from triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13), but it's likely we'll be able to identify them when they call in sick (or mortified) in September and December, each of which has a Friday the 13th.

There are any number of myths related to why 13 is considered unlucky in much of the western world, some as many as 4,000 years old (it is also not to be confused with hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia, fear of the number 666, or tetraphobia, fear of the number 4). Others date the superstition to the Last Supper, in which Judas was said to be the 13th to sit at the table (even though the Bible itself says nothing of the order in which the Apostles were seated). There are Viking and Persian and even old French superstitions around the number, as well, and it remains alive in some hotels that don't have a 13th floor.

 

Testing Your Luck

Here's a piece of trivia, by the way. In the late 19th century, when superstitions often ruled many people's lives, a group formed in New York called the Thirteen Club that met for the first time on Friday the 13th in 1881 at 8:13 p.m., when 13 people sat down to dine in room 13. They walked under a ladder to enter the room and sat among piles of spilled salt. Fate, consider yourself tempted.

Various other Thirteen Clubs popped up around the country for the next 20 years or so (five future U.S. presidents would all be members at some point), before finally fading away (or perhaps all the members each met with a bizarre and untimely ending).

Most credit union CEOs will agree luck always plays a role in any CU's success, such as having a strong sponsor or sponsors, operating in a state that doesn't have the word "Sand" in front of it, or having had a management team come together where the sum is greater than the parts. But for the most part it isn't luck or rabbit's feet or four-leaf clover in the grass out front that drives those numbers that show up on the 5300 every quarter-it's just good, solid strategy and management.

 

Potholes & Fast Lanes

But you already know that. What you also know is that Credit Union Journal has committed itself to providing resources and information to do all it can to help readers prosper so that luck doesn't have to be part of the business plan. For 2013, this newspaper again kicks off a new year with a forecast from experts and analysts of all kind on what the next 12 months will likely bring us, so that you can avoid at least a few of the potholes while moving into the fast lane.

Go back and read the 2012 Preview issue of Credit Union Journal and while it wasn't gloomy, it didn't elicit very many :)'s either. The view in January of 2012 might best be described as the Purgatory Forecast; credit union souls floating around in the ether, not moving forward or backward or even sure where they were headed.

This year, while we're clearly not in heaven, if there is a commonality in just about every forecast for 2013 it is something we haven't heard or felt in a while: optimism. That isn't too say that all the prognostication doesn't come with a fair share of caveats and asterisks and "on the other hands," but for the most part all the analysts interviewed by Credit Union Journal reporters are pretty upbeat about what 2013 holds. Or could hold if opportunities are effectively exploited.

What 2013 really reinforces is the power of housing in the United States to affect the economy. Of course, it's not like 2009 and '10 and '11 didn't already offer a monster-sized lesson on how housing can take the economy south (quite figuratively and literally); we only need to pause to remember how many of the headstones at the Sandy State Acres Cemetery are carved with the names of credit unions and corporates, may they rest in peace.

But now we're seeing the other side of housing's power. The Fiserv Case-Schiller index, for instance, is projecting 3.3% growth in housing through 2017. As CUNA Economist Steve Rick observed, "There are a lot of positives out there. The housing market is recovering nicely, pushing up home prices and restoring confidence." Other analysts noted that with a strong housing market comes all the related purchases, the furniture and lighting and paint (call it The Home Depot Index).

 

Improving Your Odds

Beyond that, there are areas of capital investment in 2013 that should pay dividends for years to come, especially in mobile services and other technologies. You'll find a number of views in this issue with ideas on where those investment dollars should go.

Of course, no year with '13 in it would be complete without some unlucky omens. Cost of funds could hardly be lower, yet margins remain ever thinner. Banks have decided to get aggressive on a little something called lending. And the government seems to feel the best cure for over-regulation is more regulation.

Will you be lucky in 2013? No one knows. But as this issue demonstrates, there is a lot you can do to improve your odds.

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

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