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Competing Certainties, An Observation & A Beano

Some items found while cleaning out the luggage:

* Here's what the experts know for sure with absolute certainty. Mobile is the future and the branch is the Blockbuster Video of delivery channels. Here's what else the experts know for sure with absolute certainty: The branch is a key channel for outreach, especially to the mass affluent.

So what do all the rest of us now know for sure? That no one knows anything for sure.

The growth of mobile banking has been well documented in the pages of Credit Union Journal and got considerable discussion during our recent Grow Show. Investing in branches? Might as well pour your money into typewriters and fax machines, the conventional thinking goes. But then there was this recent analysis from research firm Synergistics: "While the demise of the branch has been long debated, it is far from dead as Mass Affluent consumers view it as an essential delivery channel for certain purposes."

Synergistics reported in its survey, "Connecting with the Mass Affluent Market," that when the average consumer is asked how often they visit bank branches, a mean of 2.3 -or a median of 1.9-visits per month is reported. But almost nine in 10 of the so-called mass affluent consumers visit their branch every month, with nearly 25% saying they have regular discussions about financial matters when visiting a branch.

More than half of "mass affluent respondents also indicated their most preferred way of being contacted by a institution representative to discuss their accounts and services ... is going to a branch or office," Synergistics found. "Three in 10 would prefer to have this contact by phone call. A small amount, 5%, would like a representative to come to their office or workplace."

* Callahan & Associates Chairman Chip Filson has been regularly speaking out on the cooperative model and other core CU issues since launching Co-ops 4 Change back in March. One recent observation deserves to be shared again, as Filson said of CUs and co-ops, "What is often lost here is that the more success you have the more success you can pass onto the future. All success today is paid forward. I can't think of another industry that is adding to the common wealth of this country in perpetuity like credit unions. I think it is an awesome responsibility. It needs to be more and more obvious at every level, the White House, Congress, NCUA."

* Credit unions in the U.S. are always talking about ways to generate more media coverage. Not so in Ireland, where CUs would rather be exiled from the pub at this point, following ongoing and often negative coverage of financial problems plaguing much of the movement there.

With finances in mind, Ireland's media regularly report how much CUs are spending on travel, and the recent World Council of CU's meeting in Ottawa was no exception. A headline in The Independent newspaper blared, "Credit union top brass to splurge ‚48,000 on Canada beano" ("Beano" is slang for celebration or party).

The story, which was accompanied by a picture of Niagara Falls (the WOCCU meeting included optional day trips to the tourist attraction), began, "The Irish League of Credit Unions, the body funded by the struggling credit union movement to represent its interests, is sending 19 of its staff and top brass on a 10,000 km round-trip to Ottawa in Canada for the World Credit Union Conference next month.

"The ILCU, which reported an operating deficit of over ‚18.8m last year, is spending an estimated ‚48,000 to send the delegation to Canada for the annual conference," the story continued, reporting on four-star hotels for the meeting and an optional golf tournament at an "exclusive" country club.

In response, the Irish League was quoted as saying, "While we acknowledge these are very difficult times for many of our members and we do not wish to appear insensitive to their circumstances, we also feel it is important that we continue to keep in touch with the progress and difficulties faced by the CU movement internationally, so that we might learn from the opportunities and the potential difficulties which lie ahead."

While this may not win Credit Union Journal a renewed subscription, similar travel expenses by CU execs in the U.S.-and their boards-may not merit media attention, but certainly deserve to be disclosed in full.

* At the recent National Directors Conference in Las Vegas, there was-as always at CU meetings-discussion of the underserved and predatory lenders. And yet very little discussion of predatory hoteliers. I was staying at the Cosmopolitan, where there is a $5 room delivery fee for room service plus an 18% gratuity (from the "Irony Dept." among the definitions of "gratuity" is "something given without claim or demand"). And that was for the benefit of paying $19 for a sandwich. The surcharge at the lobby ATM was $5.99. And then there is the always popular $25 "resort fee," an upscale-sounding euphemism for what could be called a "shakedown."

It's the kind of pricing that would make a predatory lender envious.

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

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