I Thought I Had Seen Everything, and Then...

I've witnessed many a frightening sight standing in credit union exhibit halls, much of which does and should remain untold so as not to permanently scar younger readers and cause them to leave CUs.

I've seen people, usually board members, shamelessly filling their conference bags with trade show loot like Vikings sacking a village. I've seen just about anything that could be deep fried and attached to a stick served up (and eaten) as hors d'oeuvres. And I've watched conference attendees in a mad dash to get by vendors with solutions that could actually help their CUs and members as they trampled one another to get a photo taken with a mascot of some kind that they don't even recognize.

But I've never seen a man work a trade show in his boxer shots. Until now.

What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but for some of us the memory isn't going to remain there. While at the National Directors Conference I saw representatives of JA Bentley & Co. standing in the company's booth in the exhibit hall wearing dress shirts, ties, jackets, long, dark socks with sock garters and...no pants. No, it wasn't "The Hangover IV: Credit Unions Gone Wild." Rather, the exhibitors-turned-exhibitionists were looking to draw attention to their message, "Don't Get Caught With Your Pants Down" when it comes to lost opportunities to sell life insurance to members and generate revenue for the credit union.

Have You Lost Your Dignity?

Let's face it, lots of guys have been caught in Las Vegas without their pants, but that didn't make going pantsless at a trade show inside the Mandalay Bay Convention Center any easier for David Globke, VP with JA Bentley, who said it was just the second time he had done so and his first at a CU event.

That he observed, "The response has been tremendous!" is not exactly what I had expected. "The first question I get is 'have you lost your mind or your dignity?' But then they all want to know more," Globke said.

In this case, when passers-by asked for more info (and that's the goal of any exhibit hall vendor), Globke told them more about his company's life insurance sales solution. Which, when you come to think about the challenge of getting people to voluntarily enter a discussion about life insurance, it probably does require you to do something extreme.

"There's been a paradigm shift in how insurance is bought," explained Globke, standing there in his boxers and talking to me like I was his tailor. "Ninety percent of life insurance quotes start online. There were 11 million policies sold in 2012." So if a credit union isn't out there with an insurance product for members, it is getting caught, well, you know.

Globke said JA Bentley sells what he described as a "velocity tool" the company calls "Insure Direct" that a credit union can place on its website and which lets members shop for life insurance from 60 different providers. Should the member make a purchase, Globke said 90% of the commissioned sale is returned to the CU as income.

But isn't the very fact consumers are shopping for insurance online a disadvantage to CUs? Globke said no. While a Google search will bring up the brand name providers that have paid to be high in search results, he noted Google also geo-locates the person doing the search and delivers findings based on location. A CU member, therefore, would see their credit union included in results. Non-members can also buy insurance through the credit union's site.

All that's interesting enough, but let's get back to what really matters: what does it take to stand in your underwear at a credit union trade show? "At first it was scary," conceded Globke. "You never know how people are going to react. But we've had more pictures taken with us than with Elvis."

It's fairly certain your credit union or business uses an automated phone answering solution (leading to that 21st century phenomenon of flustered people yelling "REP-RE-SEN-TA-TIVE" into their phones). Calling a Sheraton Hotel recently, a prerecorded voice announced, "We set a high bar for service, and for that reason your call may be recorded." The phone rang, rang and rang some more until another recorded voice (and a gruff one at that), announced, "Your party is not answering. We're sorry. Your call will now be terminated."

Perhaps they didn't mean to say they're setting a high bar, but instead that they were in the bar. This is one reason it's always a good idea for every CU leader to interact on occasion with their own operation as if they were a member or prospect, and call the general phone line and try to use the various online options you offer. If you haven't, call now; but be aware it may send you to a local bar.

I would like to personally congratulate the Delta flight attendant who recently announced during boarding, "If there is no line in front of you and there is a line behind you, chances are good it's you holding up the line." While this likely had no affect on the oblivious narcissists either baffled by or indifferent to the flight boarding process, it felt good to hear it nonetheless.

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