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After two weeks bank-fees backlash CUs still make headlines

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MADISON, Wis. (10/14/11)--It has been two weeks since big banks announced plans to charge new or higher debit card fees, unleashing a heavy backlash from consumers and providing a marketing opportunity for credit unions to tout their no debit card fee policies and other benefits of membership. Ditch your bank and join a credit union stories still going strong in the media. In fact, credit unions' efforts to play up the fact that large banks are raising debit card fees while credit unions continue to offer free or low-fee checking have been recognized by a number of press reports. For example:
* A blog on Bankrate.com (Oct. 11) noted that "credit unions aren't wasting any time exploiting the national mood over new checking fees to drive up membership." It quotes a press release from the Credit Union National Association in which CUNA President/CEO urges consumers to "give credit unions a close look and take advantage of credit unions' emphasis on service over profits, typically with fewer and lower fees overall." The blog notes "that bit difference in pricing between big banks and credit unions is already starting to drive up credit union enrollment…." * A Fox News report (Oct. 12) featured consumer reporter Steve Noviello proudly boasting he is a credit union member. He noted credit unions are a better deal, with lower fees, better rates, and an emphasis on serving members, not maximizing profits, and explained that while banks took advantage of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, credit unions didn't--"because they didn't need it." He noted convenience isn't an issue because credit unions have more than 46,000 shared branching locations and many participate in the CO-OP Network for ATMs. He recommended consumers check out credit unions on www.asmarterchoice.org to find a credit union near them because "smart people belong to a credit union." * Forbes (Oct. 11) wrote it is time for consumers to walk the walk and make savvier financial choices. Among its advice: "Switch to a credit union or local bank. Now is the time for credit unions and local banks to court consumers frustrated with big banks." The article noted several credit unions and community banks are increasing debit rewards programs and reaffirming no-fee financial products. "Coastal FCU and Randolph Brooks FCU are essentially paying members cash back to use their debit card," it said, adding, "for consumers fed up with fees, check out your local credit union or community bank." * Fox Business (Oct. 11) said in its "Five Ways to Hang on to Debit Card Rewards" segment that a credit union "may provide the solution for your rewards searching." The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) told the publication that some credit unions operate debit card rewards programs at a loss because of the demand from their members. "Credit unions are willing to offer products that their members want (and) that do not serve as a revenue generator," said David Small, NCUA spokesman.
Meanwhile, credit unions are adjusting their marketing strategies to make sure they get the word out about their no- or low-fee policies. In The Daily Iowan Thursday, Jim Kelley, senior vice president of marketing at the University of Iowa Community CU, said the credit union will spend more money on upcoming advertising campaigns to attract potential members. The credit union is stepping up advertising of its free-checking products. "We're spending more money on television, print, direct mail, etc.," he told the newspaper. The credit union does not charge a swipe fee and has no plans to do so. Andrews FCU, Suitland, Md., said it assured members it won't charge debit card fees and stressed its philosophy of "It's Your Money, Your Rule." It also communicated to members that fees are not assessed for monthly debit card use or other commonly used services such as teller transaction, ATM withdrawals and online banking. Member responses, received via e-mail and more than 400 postings to Andrews Federal's Facebook page, "were immediate and overwhelmingly positive," said the credit union. "We felt that it was important to remind members that Andrews Federal provides multiple ways to access their money at no charge," said Chris McDonald, Andrews Federal president/CEO. "Feeing members to access their money is not how we operate." The credit union will continue communications about its lower fees over the next few months and will target these messages to both members and potential members. North Jersey FCU President/CEO Lourdes Cortez told NJBiz.com (Oct. 11) that consumers' frustrations with big bank fees have brought consumers to her credit union. The credit union attracted 4,000 new members this year, bringing its total membership to 31,000. Credit unions are in a better position to capitalize on banking customer dissatisfaction thanks to a stepped up marketing campaign by credit unions and organizations such as the New Jersey Credit Union League, said Cortez. In the past couple of years the industry has "really gone out there and made an effort to explain the differences (between credit unions and banks), to promote the products and services we offer, and to get involved in financial literacy programs," she told the publication.

Ohio CUs Bump the Banks campaign in second year

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (10/14/11)--The Central Ohio Chapter of Credit Unions' Bump Your Bank campaign--in which consumers display a Bump Your Bank magnet on their vehicle for a chance at cash prizes--is in its second year. Anyone--including non-members--can pick up a free magnet at a participating credit union and register it at www.bumpyourbank.com. The magnet shows off how much the consumers value their local, community-oriented credit unions. And participants can register for a chance at weekly prizes or the grand prize of $1,000. Credit union spotters all over the Columbus look for the Bump Your Bank magnets. When they spot one, they enter the owner into the weekly random drawing. One person wins each week. Then, all spotted vehicles are entered automatically into the grand prize drawing. "Unlike for-profit banks, there are no wealthy investors sitting at the top waiting to make money off your investments," said Sandy Jessberger, a credit union member. "Instead, credit union profits are returned to members in the form of better loan rates, higher savings rates and lower fees," Jessberger added. Since this year's campaign launched in June, 18 people have won a weekly prize valued from $50 to $100. Weekly prizes will be awarded through the end of October, when the grand prize drawing will be conducted. Credit unions participating include:
* Central Ohio Community CU; * CME FCU; * CU of Ohio; * KEMBA Financial CU; * Marysville Goodyear Employees FCU; * Members First CU; * Ohio HealthCare FCU; * SMART FCU; * STE CU; * State Highway Patrol FCU; and * Total Assurance FCU

PSCU Fin. Services offers tips to promote free checking

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (10/14/11)--A checking account usually defines which financial institution consumers view as their primary financial services provider. And, with the widespread discussion by consumers, media and financial institutions on debit card fees the past few weeks, the time is ripe to market checking accounts, according to a St. Petersburg, Fla.-based credit union service organization (CUSO). "Now is the perfect time for credit unions to market their free checking accounts and win consumers who are not willing to pay new fees being assessed by their banks," said Kari Anne Arnosk, PSCU Financial Services' director of strategic consulting. The CUSO offers several tips to help credit unions expand market share and boost member loyalty.
* Launch direct mail campaigns that target non-members and members who do not have a credit union checking account. The added issue of free vs. fee will draw attention to the credit union, said PSCU Financial Services. "Plan to conduct several marketing campaigns a year that not only differentiate your credit union from the big banks, but also position your offerings as the most consumer-friendly." Adapt the credit union's messaging to attract target groups such as 18- to 24-year olds. Historically, January, spring and back to school season have been prime promotion periods. However, national coverage of rising bank fees has publicized credit unions as a safe haven for consumers. Therefore, it's important to act quickly to capitalize on this opportunity to gain checking account market share, said the CUSO. * Develop a multi-channel marketing approach. Free checking needs to be actively promoted on the website, in newsletters, through branch collateral and at the teller window, said the CUSO. Develop a product comparison chart that outlines the benefits of your checking account when compared with other local or national accounts. Incent staff to promote checking accounts at every opportunity. If the credit union decides to offer a special promotion, make it a competitive cash offer that requires direct deposit, eStatements, loan or credit card balances, first mortgage or deposit balances. * Offer several types of different checking accounts, but keep your checking products simple and easy to understand. An optimal checking portfolio includes free non-interest-bearing checking as well as interest-bearing checking accounts for those who fulfill other requirements such as higher minimum balances, direct deposit or use of other credit union products. * Offer multiple ways for members and non-members to open accounts. Allow members to open accounts at branches, at a call center, and through a fully automated online solution. Also provide members with convenient tools such as mobile banking that equip them to manage their accounts.
PSCU Financial Services is owned by more than 680 credit unions representing 16 million credit, debit, prepaid, online bill payment and electronic banking accounts. It offers consulting services that help optimize checking products and promotions to members and non-members

Pa. assn. responds to bankers potshot at tax status

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (10/14/11)--A potshot at credit unions' tax status by banks in a letter to the editor of the Harrisburg Patriot-News Wednesday drew strong response from Pennsylvania Credit Union Association (PCUA) President/CEO Jim McCormack. McCormack quickly responded with a letter to the letter from Jim Biery, president of the Pennsylvania Bankers Association (Life is a Highway Oct. 13). Biery blamed bankers' fees on Congress and regulators' interchange rule and said credit unions act like banks, face less regulatory oversight and pay no federal or state taxes. "Despite Mr. Biery's assertion, credit unions do not hold an unfair advantage over banks and do not face a lower level of government oversight," McCormack wrote. "In fact, one could argue that credit unions face more regulations and limitations from government oversight than banks. If credit unions did have an advantage, don’t you think we would see more banks converting to a credit union charter? To my knowledge, that’s never happened." McCormack took the opportunity to point out what consumers can do about banks' high fees. "Now is the time for consumers to evaluate the fees they’re being charged and to shop around for a financial institution that best suits their needs. For many that financial institution may be a credit union," McCormack wrote. He urged consumers "to find a credit union that’s right for you and steered them to PCUA's credit union locator, ibelong.org.

SECU opts for full CAMEL disclosure to members

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RALEIGH, N.C. (10/14/11)--North Carolina State Employees’ CU (SECU) is choosing to go “where no credit union has gone before”--requesting a one-year trial disclosure of its CAMEL code. The CAMEL rating system is used by the North Carolina Credit Union Division--and by most other federal and state financial regulators--to evaluate the overall health of a state-chartered credit union. SECU sought the one-year trial disclosure in an effort to test a new standard for full transparency. The CAMEL rating system is based upon five elements of a credit union’s operations: capital adequacy, asset quality, management, earnings, and liquidity/asset liability management. Examiners rate credit unions using a numeric scale of one to five for each component, along with an overall composite rating for the credit union, with one as the highest rating and five as the lowest. Financial institutions with assets greater than $10 billion should expect greater disclosure and compliance, said the $23 billion asset credit union. This trial disclosure of CAMEL rating transparency is yet another way for it to demonstrate its “Do the Right Thing” philosophy to its 1.7 million member-owners, SECU said. CAMEL ratings are confidential figures not generally published by regulatory agencies. SECU obtained authorization from the administrator of the North Carolina Credit Union Division to include its composite CAMEL rating of two for the period ending Sept. 30, in a footnote in its June 30 Audit Report. The CAMEL 2 composite rating has been typical for SECU during the past 10 years. “SECU is identified by its member-owners as a trusted provider of financial services,” said Mike Lord, SECU senior vice president of finance. “At a time when so many other large financial institutions in the marketplace are not viewed as trustworthy, SECU wants to uphold its positive reputation through full transparency. While there are no existing regulatory requirements for safety/soundness rating disclosure, SECU believes that, as a member-owned cooperative, it is always best to keep credit union members apprised of the overall level of financial performance of their credit union. “We welcome the opportunity to test the value of disclosure of this rating with our members,” he added. “SECU has traditionally published its ‘capital rating’ each year, and we feel the CAMEL rating may provide additional useful information. SECU remains ‘well-capitalized’--the highest category--under federal law.”

CAP COM differentiates itself with College Bound program

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ALBANY, N.Y. (10/14/11)--Paula A. Stopera, president/CEO of Capital Communications FCU (CAP COM), Albany, N.Y., led her daughter’s college search in 2006. Stopera was shocked by the time and knowledge the college planning process required. She realized then her credit union could serve as a valuable resource in helping for its membership. Today, $905 million asset CAP COM’s College Bound Program has two full-time specialists and hosts a series of workshops from January through October that help high school students sort through the process of applying and paying for college. “It is one of the most popular programs we have, and it is definitely a differentiator for us,” Stopera told News Now. The workshops $905 million asset CAP COM FCU offers include:
* College Prep--High school sophomores and juniors learn about choosing the right school, applying for college, completing the college interview process and finding scholarships. * College Admissions --This workshop for high school seniors provides information on the college admissions process, tips on applying for scholarships and completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application form. * FAFSA and Budgeting--Parents learn about the FAFSA process while students attend a budgeting workshop. * College Experience--High school seniors learn what to expect in their first year of college, along with available college funding options and credit union accounts. * Essay Writing Workshop--Presented by college admissions professionals, the workshop offers guidance on writing a successful application essay.
The workshops are so well attended they have been moved from the credit union to a local hotel, said Stopera. College-bound student families also meet with CAP COM FCU’s college specialists to discuss the application process, funding and loan options, and products and services. College Specialist Kim Donah said the college search-and-selection process is a negotiation process--and that’s one of the chief reasons she believes members value the College Bound service. “It’s not just about grades,” Donah said. “Colleges take a holistic approach to selecting their students. They want a college community of that mirrors the community at large. And we do help them with the process of financial aid and lending. Sometimes families can go back to universities and ask for more assistance. It’s all part of a process.” Donah estimated she will meet with high school sophomores and juniors two to three times and seniors four to six times. The College Bound program is the cornerstone of a life-stages relationship with the members, Donah said. “We stay in touch with the students through college and graduation and starting career. When they buy their first car, they buy it from us.” Households that participate in the College Bound program use an average of 4.3 products and services from the credit union, compared with 2.86 products and services used by households that don’t take part in the program, Stopera said. But Stopera said the relationships built through the College Bound program go beyond products and services. “It’s gratifying to give every student a chance,” she said. “Some of the most successful students in college are the children who get Cs and Bs in high school. We help them as much as we help the ones who get As and Bs. The good news is that there are success stories abounding within our membership’s families. And that’s pretty cool.”

CU zombies storm Wells Fargo wagon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (10/14/11)--Avoid becoming banker zombies by joining a credit union. That was the message delivered by live zombies who swarmed the Wells Fargo State Coach and "reached out" to festival goers to warn them about banks, during a recent Octoberfest in Hickory, N.C.
Zombies swarmed a Wells Fargo coach to deliver a message to recent Octoberfest goers in Hickory, N.C.: Don't become a bank zombie. Join a credit union. Zombies were from Carolina Postal CU, based in Charlottesville, N.C. (Photo provided by the North Carolina Credit Union League)
The zombies, keeping in touch with the current pop culture theme, "Zombies are this year's vampires," were from Charlotte, N.C.-based Carolina Postal CU, according to the North Carolina Credit Union League. They participated in the Octoberfest, warning festival participants to avoid becoming bank zombies by joining a credit union. In addition to the live "undead," the credit union is providing members with "survival" tips at a micro-site with a zombie video at www.survivebankerzombies.com. The information is also included on the credit union's Facebook page, direct mailings using the U.S. Postal Service's new Every Door Direct mail program, e-mail blasts, posters--"and a few squishy brains." Rumor has it that the credit unions' branches will all succumb to a zombie invasion on Oct. 31. PTP New Media was the brains behind the credit union's creative marketing plan. For more photos check out the Facebook page.

Member-focused video from Cheney promotes ICU Day

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MADISON, Wis. (10/14/11)--The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) has released a video in which its President/CEO Bill Cheney urges credit union members to be part of building a better world by celebrating International Credit Union (ICU) Day on Oct. 20.
Credit unions are invited to share the member-focused video on their websites and distribute it in other online communications to members. For instructions on how to provide links to the video, use the links. “For over 75 years, our philosophy in the credit union movement has been ‘people helping people.’ That is not just a catchphrase; it is what credit unions do,” Cheney says in the video. Your credit union pools your resources to build better communities and strengthen your financial well-being.” Cheney highlights the economic and social contributions that credit unions and their 93 million members make to their local and global communities. ICU Day will lead into the year-long 2012 International Year of the Cooperatives, Cheney adds. On Oct. 31, credit unions will join cooperatives from all sectors of the economy in celebrating the positive impact cooperatives have in reducing poverty, creating jobs and promoting social integration worldwide. Credit unions that wish to embed the video on their web sites can link to the CUNA press release.

WOCCU 1st vice chair selected to Poland Parliament

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SOPOT, Poland (10/14/11)--Grzegorz Bierecki, president/CEO of the National Association of Cooperative Savings & Credit Unions (NACSCU), Poland’s credit union trade association, and a member of World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), was elected to his country’s parliament during Sunday’s nationwide elections. Bierecki, who also serves as WOCCU first vice chair, was elected as a Law and Justice Party senator representing Biala Podlaska, a town in eastern Poland. It is Bierecki’s first election to public office. “As a senator, I can initiate as well as participate in the legislative process,” said Bierecki, who reportedly defeated his opponent by a 50% margin. “I can promote changes to the Cooperative Act and the Credit Union Act, as well as other important financial sector regulation.” Bierecki’s new role as senator is not considered a full-time obligation. The veteran executive will continue to serve in his capacities both with NACSCU and WOCCU. Bierecki was a former staff member in Lech Walesa’s Solidarity Party, which helped re-establish Poland’s credit union movement in partnership with WOCCU in 1989. The movement has since grown to one of the most successful in the world, said WOCCU. Poland’s 59 credit unions, operating under a unified marketing brand and from a central back-office platform, support 1,852 branches and serve 2.2 million members nationwide. Despite banking industry opposition, Poland’s credit unions have long enjoyed public and government support as the country’s only locally owned financial institutions. Last year’s death of Polish President Lech Kaczyñski, a long-time credit union advocate and former president of the Foundation for Polish Cooperative Savings and Credit Unions, eliminated one of the movement‘s chief government champions. Kaczyñski’s death hastened Bierecki’s run for election, according to the new senator. “Credit unions gained a strong voice in the senate on Sunday,” Bierecki said. Poland’s credit unions have always effectively represented their members’ interests, and Bierecki’s election takes political involvement to a new level, according to Brian Branch, WOCCU president/CEO. “Sunday’s election was a huge victory for credit unions both in Poland and worldwide,” said Branch, who last week led an engagement program of U.S. credit union league and association executives to NACSCU headquarters to study the Polish credit union system. “We are thrilled by the results of the election and happy that Poland’s credit unions once again have a powerful champion in the government who will be working on their behalf.” WOCCU will be holding its 2012 World Credit Union Conference July 15-18 in Gdañsk, Poland. For more information, use the link.

WOCCUs Branch on U.N. Year of Co-ops advisory group

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MADISON, Wis. (10/14/11)--Brian Branch, president/CEO of the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), has been named to the advisory group for the United Nations 2012 International Year of Cooperatives. Branch is one of 20 leaders from among the global cooperative movement, including individual organizations and governments, selected to serve on the group. The advisory group will provide guidance to the United Nations (U.N.) in implementing goals and objectives for the International Year of Cooperatives. The group also will encourage partnerships and external activities that support the role cooperatives play in social and economic development on a global basis. “Credit unions and other cooperatives have had a profound impact on the lives of their members. The International Year of Cooperatives will shine a well-deserved light on the value and empowerment that credit unions and cooperatives provide,” Branch said. Announced in December 2009, the International Year of Cooperatives is designed to increase public awareness about cooperatives and their contribution to global socio-economic development, promote the formation and growth of cooperatives for socio-economic empowerment and provide an enabling environment through policies, laws and regulations. In addition to supporting various member organizations’ activities, WOCCU is working with the Credit Union National Association, the National Cooperative Business Association and the International Cooperative Association to support and promote the year’s goals and objectives. The International Year of Cooperatives will launch Oct. 31 at the U.N. headquarters in New York with roundtable discussions and meetings. A leadership forum and press conference is scheduled for Nov. 1 at the Millenium U.N. Plaza Hotel. For more information, use the link.

NCBA video urges public to use co-ops

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WASHINGTON (10/14/11)--The National Cooperative Business Association has developed a “Choose A Co-op” YouTube video, urging consumers to make a difference in their local communities. The video was introduced at the NCBA’s Annual Meeting and Co-op Conference Oct. 4-7 in Minneapolis. The video informs consumers that co-ops offer an alternative to large corporations, including big banks, such as those responsible for the current economic situation. Most money spent at co-ops remains in the local economy, keeping businesses and communities thriving, NCBA said. October is National Co-op Month, with the theme “Building a Better World.” Credit unions will celebrate their cooperative philosophy Thursday on International Credit Union Day The United Nations and the cooperative business sector also will launch 2012 International Year of Cooperatives on Oct. 31.