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Media roundup spotlights CUs--from Romney to student loans

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MADISON, Wis. (8/31/12)--Media spotlights were on credit unions Wednesday and Thursday, with the Credit Union National Association and credit unions generating good press in Florida with their activities at the Republican National Convention, and with credit unions' student checking accounts receiving accolades from MoneyTalksNews and NerdWallet.

The story about CUNA, the League of Southeastern Credit Unions, and the National Journal

Group's leave-behind project in which Ann Romney, wife of the Republican candidate for president, Mitt Romney, cut the ribbon for a therapeutic playground at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, saw coverage across the state.

Picking up the story on Wednesday and Thursday were Tampa Bay Business Journal; the Tampa Bay Times (which featured two stories) and its online site, Tampa.com; GulfportPatch.com; SarasotaPatch.com, and BelmontPatch.com. Many of the stories had more than one photo and several posted videos of the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

CUNA and the league were featured as developing the playground though fundraising efforts and donations of credit union members. Use the links for examples of the articles and videos.

In another area, credit unions' services for college students were highlighted in an article entitled, "Credit Unions; Better for College Students--and Many Others," in MoneyTalkNews (Aug. 30), which talked about a recent NerdWallet survey comparing on campus credit unions and banks.

"A study of student checking accounts found credit unions usually beat campus banks. Other results: Average credit union rates are better on EVERYTHING, from checking to loans and credit cards," said the article in its first paragraph.

It quoted several statistics:  Credit unions have a lower average overdraft fee than banks--$28 to banks' $35; credit unions are more likely to offer free student checking (99%, to 82% at banks); they have an average of nearly twice the ATMs within a mile of campus than banks do; and they are more likely to have a branch on campus than banks.

"Credit unions are also a good place for students and recent grads to build credit, because they're often more flexible with lending. But they might make sense for anybody, not just students," it said. It also pointed to a video offering five reasons to join a credit union. To access the article, use the link.

Some CUs report flood damages in Isaacs aftermath

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MADISON, Wis. (8/31/12)--Early reports indicate that at least one credit union in Louisiana has suffered a major branch loss and seven others have reported minor losses due to the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaac, which hit the Gulf Coast Tuesday as a Category 1 hurricane before being reduced to a tropical storm Wednesday afternoon.

"As of 4 p.m., Thursday, we received seven reported minor losses and one major flood loss to a credit union branch office," said CUNA Mutual Group Media Relations Manager Phil Tschudy.

"With the exception of the flood loss, and based on reports we've received so far, it appears Isaac caused few and minor losses for our credit union policyholders," Tschudy told News Now.

"Tropical Storm Isaac is expected to continue to track slowly inland through Louisiana and into Arkansas and Missouri, causing flash flooding and isolated tornadoes. CUNA Mutual Group remains most concerned with New Orleans and the surrounding area. Although many credit unions in the New Orleans area remain closed, we have contacted most and are making on-site visits to those we can not reach," he said.

In Florida and Alabama, all the credit unions that had reported closures were back open on Thursday, according to the League of Southeastern Credit Unions' website.

The Mississippi Credit Union Association's Facebook page provided a morning update:  "We've been in contact with numerous credit unions this morning and most importantly, no credit union personnel injuries have been reported at this time and we are all thankful for that blessing," said the posting. 

"However, since this is the storm that refuses to move along, specific credit union plans are fluid (forgive the pun) as they determine conditions in their specific community/area. Members are advised to contact their credit union or visit their credit union's website to determine operating hours for today," said MSCUA.

The Louisiana Credit Union League's website posted closings by 26 credit unions on Thursday.  Several credit unions planned to reopen today. They included LES FCU, Louisiana FCU and one branch of Shell N.O. FCU. The league remained closed Thursday, but staff continued to monitor phones and e-mail, said the site.

Louisiana Corporate CU, in a member communication Thursday on its website, noted its contingency communication plan remains in effect. "The main office will reopen when power is restored," the corporate said on its website. "We will post an update to this site when we have a definite time for reopening the main offices. All systems and services remain fully operational." It provided contingency numbers and instructions for credit unions and said that transaction requests may be entered on automated systems such as CorPower, CorpACH, EBP and so forth.

Isaac, instead of moving north, sat on the Gulf Coast and created severe flooding in of Louisiana. The National Hurricane Center predicted that the storm would drop up to 25 inches of rain in some areas.  As of mid-afternoon Thursday, the huge storm was still pouring rain in many parts of Mississippi and Louisiana, two days after it first made landfall near New Orleans at 6:45 p.m. ET Tuesday. States to the north were bracing to be next along the path of rough weather.

Filene Too many product options are choice overload

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MADISON, Wis. (8/31/12)--Credit unions may better serve their members by promoting a smaller, targeted menu of products and services, according to a new Filene Research Institute report.

The report, The Psychology of Choice Overload, questions the assumption that offering credit union members more choices in the form of ever more products and services is better than offering fewer, more curated choices.

Rather than reducing the number of available options offered, the report suggests credit unions consider promoting a smaller number of options. As a result newer members are less likely to feel overwhelmed by the number of choices. "Sometimes just telling consumers which option is

the most popular is enough to help them make a decision," the report suggests.

Although conventional wisdom suggests that offering more options always benefits consumers, recent research shows consumers experience information and decision overload, and feel more pressure to choose the 'ideal" option.

Sales data obtained from the grocery industry show that a dramatic reduction of assortment size--an average of 54% across most product categories--increased sales by 11%, with about 75% of customers spending more money.

Consumers' reaction to assortment size is a function of their knowledge of features and benefits among different products, according to the report. For this reason, a company might choose to promote a subset of products that would most likely appeal to member/customers while providing options that are competitive or superior to the company's competitors.

The report offers two strategies for making an assortment more appealing to consumers: a best- seller strategy and a customization strategy.

The best-seller strategy involves carrying only the most popular options that are attractive to most target members. Despite its intuitive appeal, this strategy has two drawbacks. First, the needs of consumers with nonmainstream preferences are unlikely to be met. Second, focusing only on the most popular options limits a credit union's ability to differentiate itself from its competitors.

Customization helps companies offer smaller assortments while still offering a fit for different consumer preference. In industries where the degree of commoditization of products is relatively high--as is the case with many financial products--customization is also a means of strategic differentiation, according to the report.

For example, because of their close relationship with their members, many credit unions are in a position to offer payday/alternative loans in a way that benefits both the credit union and the member, the report suggests.

To download the article, use the link.

NCUF seeks nominations for three board seats (08/30/2012)

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MADISON, Wis. (8/31/12)--The National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF) is seeking nominees to take up a trio of open board positions: two credit union executive/director seats, and one credit union system affiliate seat.

Volunteers serve up to three three-year terms on the NCUF Board as long as they are re-nominated by the NCUF Nominations Committee and re-elected by the NCUF Board.

To qualify for the credit union executive or director position, nominees must be executive officers or directors of a credit union. To qualify for the system affiliate position, nominees must be directors or executive officers of a nationwide organization whose main focus is to support credit unions or some element of the credit union movement. Credit unions must also comprise a significant portion of the given organization's ownership or membership.

Qualified candidates interested in applying for the NCUF board seats can click "Volunteer for our Board" from the NCUF homepage for the declaration of candidacy document.

Applications must be received by Oct. 31.

There are currently two incumbents in the system affiliate and at-large seats up for election: Mark Twisdale, senior vice president of human resources at State Employees' CU, Raleigh, N.C., and Stan Hollen, president/CEO of CO-OP Financial Services.  Both members have said they would serve another term if called upon.

The applicant for the remaining board seat would replace Gary Oakland, former president/CEO of BECU, Seattle, Wash. Oakland has retired from his credit union and is leaving the board. The new board member would finish Oakland's current term, which is scheduled to continue until Dec. 31, 2013.

The 13 voting seats on the NCUF Board include representatives of national person credit unions, national organizations serving credit unions, corporate credit unions, state credit union foundations, state leagues and an at-large position.

The NCUF will hold an organizational meeting on Jan. 14 and 15 in Anaheim, Calif. The NCUF has also scheduled a spring/summer meeting for May in Tampa, Fla., and a fall board meeting and planning session in September. The fall meeting is scheduled to be held in Washington, D.C.

CU System briefs (08/30/2012)

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  • RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. (8/31/12)--The Richard Myles Johnson Foundation/CUNA Mutual Golf Tournament, held Aug. 20 in Newport Beach, Calif., raised $33,000 for the state foundation for credit unions in California and Nevada. Nearly 100 players and 14 sponsors attended. Madison, Wis.-based CUNA Mutual Group served as title sponsor. Other major sponsors included CO-OP Financial Services, CUDL, Honda FCU, Samaha &Associates Inc., SchoolsFirst FCU and California League Services Corp. Chairman of the tournament was Marv Jensen, board member of Episcopal Community CU, Los Angeles. Winners of the tournament are Ellen Schultz and Joe Weber of NCCI and Charles Papenfus and Tracy Arroyo of Inland Valley FCU. Three of the winners are pictured here. "Because of the wonderful supporters of this event, we will be able to continue to provide the foundation's new Bite of Reality interactive youth financial education program to teens in California and Nevada," said RMJ Executive Director Tena Lozano.  (Photo provided by the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues) …
  • COLUMBUS, Ohio (8/31/12)--The 2012 Ohio Credit Union Foundation  (OCUF) Classic attracted more than 170 golfers and 27 sponsors for a day of golf, networking and giving back. They raised more than $30,000 toward the foundation's 2012 fundraising goal of $200,000. "Every dollar raised this year will be used to support credit union financial education and outreach projects in 2013," said Executive Director Becky Hart.  All funds raised will enable the foundation to continue its 14-year tradition of promoting financial independence through credit unions in 2013. OCUF Chair Stan Barnes noted at a breakfast before the group teed off, "Since the beginning of the year, the foundation has granted more than $140,000 to credit unions, including grants for financial education programs for high school students, scholarships for young people with higher education ambitions, professional development for credit union staff and board members, and assistance to credit union members who were financial devastated as a result of the June wind storm." Frost Financial Services served as the lead "Eagle" sponsor for the event …

SECU Foundation state agency team on rehab housing

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RALEIGH, N.C. (8/31/12)--The SECU Foundation has partnered with the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency (NCHFA) to fund two transitional housing projects.

The SECU Foundation partnered with the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency to help fund the conversion of a jail annex into the new "Marvin E. Roberts II Transitional Living Facility," a rehabilitation housing center for men and women recently released from the correctional system.

The foundation, funded solely by members of State Employees' CU (SECU), Raleigh, N.C., provided a 0% construction loan to assist with funding the transformation of the former New Hanover County Jail Annex into the new "Marvin E. Roberts II Transitional Living Facility," a rehabilitation housing center for men and women recently released from the correctional system.

The 46-bed Transitional Living Facility is sponsored by Leading Into New Communities (LINC) Inc., a non-profit organization that provides or coordinates supportive services to clients 18 and older entering the program. LINC offers job and life skills training, job placement and case management and medical and mental health services. 

The SECU Foundation also provided a 0% construction loan to help build the James Street Group Living Dormitories, which serve as transitional housing for individuals recovering from substance abuse. 

The SECU Foundation provided a 0% construction loan help build the James Street Group Living Dormitories, which serve as transitional housing for individuals recovering from substance abuse. (Photos provided by SECU)

Sponsored by the Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers (TROSA) Inc., the project includes two new 13-bedroom dormitory buildings located on a 12.5-acre campus in Durham, N.C. The facility will accommodate up to 150 participants in a safe, supportive, and drug-free environment, said the foundation. 

TROSA, a non-profit organization, is a comprehensive two-year residential substance abuse rehabilitation program that moves individuals with severe substance abuse problems

out of the criminal justice system and helps place them into jobs where they can be productive, taxpaying members of the community. 

Among the services TROSA provides are vocational training, adult literacy or General Equivalency Diploma (GED) education, counseling, mentoring, leadership training and aftercare.

Maine league lends biz model expertise to British CUs

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PORTLAND, Maine (8/31/12)--To help meet a growing demand for member services, Association of British Credit Unions Ltd. (ABCUL) Chief Executive Mark Lyonette visited the U.S. last week to learn how a central business model developed for credit unions in Maine could be adapted for the British credit union system.

Association of British Credit Unions Ltd. (ABCUL) Chief Executive Mark Lyonette met with the Maine Credit Union League's Synergent subsidiary last week to learn how a central business model could be adapted in the United Kingdom. From left are John Murphy, Maine Credit Union League and Synergent president/CEO; Brian Branch, World Council of Credit Unions president/CEO; Mark Lyonette, ABCUL chief executive; and Gary Glenn, Synergent senior vice president.
Credit unions in the United Kingdom recently reached the million member milestone, but many institutions remain relatively small and financially restricted in terms of product and service development. As such, ABCUL's member credit unions have petitioned the trade association for a shared business model to centralize data processing and offer more products and services to an even broader population base. A data service bureau also would help reduce the number of third-party service providers the credit unions would otherwise have to contract with separately.

At ABCUL's request, the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) organized Lyonette's visit to Maine last week to learn how Maine Credit Union League's credit union-owned subsidiary, Synergent, has managed a central business model for 41 years.

Originally named the Maine Credit Union League Services Corp., Synergent was founded as a form-ordering service. Within a few years, it established a data processing center to meet the growing needs of Maine credit unions. Today, Synergent provides checking, ATM debit cards, shared branching and direct marketing services for credit unions. Synergent's operations also include writing custom code in response to credit unions' requests for tailored products and services.

Mark Lyonette, ABCUL chief executive, speaks with Roger Sirois, Atlantic Regional FCU president/CEO, about the advantages Atlantic Regional has experienced with a central processing system. (Photos provided by World Council of Credit Unions)
"Many centralized credit union systems achieve efficiencies by offering the same products for all credit unions," said Brian Branch, WOCCU president/CEO, who joined Lyonette in Maine last week.

Branch noted that Maine's core data processing system offers several choices for add-on products that allows credit unions to achieve both efficiency and entrepreneurial innovation in serving members.

Synergent, a credit union service organization, generates $27 million in revenue and $10 million in data processing annually. Its products and services reach about 600,000 members in northern New England, New York and southern Connecticut. The company bills credit unions per member rather than per transaction, and longer contract terms lower the per-member fee.

During his visit, Lyonette met with executives from Evergreen CU in Portland and Atlantic Regional FCU in Brunswick. Atlantic Regional FCU, with 18,300 members and $250 million in assets, began using Synergent's services in 1982. President/CEO Roger Sirois explained how shared branching has helped the credit union reduce expenses so it could keep branch offices closed on Saturdays when members can access services through other credit unions in the network.

Sirois emphasized the importance of the core processing system's flexibility, which he said drives innovation and allows small credit unions to offer a choice of products on par with larger financial institutions. He said that 2011 was the first time walk-in traffic at Atlantic Regional FCU was less than its Web traffic.

John Murphy, president/CEO of the league and Synergent, saw the opportunity to work with World Council to host ABCUL as a chance to help strengthen credit union popularity in the United Kingdom.

"The Maine league, Synergent and Maine's credit unions are committed to sharing information and collaborating with other credit union systems around the world to strengthen credit unions and promote growth globally," Murphy said.

The league and Synergent previously hosted similar visits with officials from the Rwandan credit union movement, Murphy noted.

ASmarterChoice.org logs in quarter million visits

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WASHINGTON  (8/31/12)--More than a quarter million visits have been made through July to the aSmarterChoice.org website developed by the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and the state leagues to help consumers learn about credit unions and find a credit union to join.

According to statistics from the website gathered by CUNA,  the website received 255,000 visits by 155,000 persons in the first seven months of the year.

What's more, consumers successfully conducted 137,000 searches for credit unions they could join using the site's credit union locator tool during the period. 

CUNA and the state leagues launched aSmarterChoice.org March 2011. The site includes basic information about credit unions, member testimonials, and recent media coverage about credit unions, and has as its centerpiece on online locator tool that enables consumers not only to find a credit union close by, but one that they are eligible to join based on its field of membership. All U.S.credit unions are included in the site's database.

On average, according to the website's manager, Jill Stevenson, aSmarterChoice.org is visited between 5,000 and 7,000 times per week--a level of interest in credit unions that accelerated in the wake of last year's run up to Bank Transfer Day.

Stevenson said that visits to the site had averaged a couple thousand a week last year. However, in September of  2011--when a major bank announced it would impose monthly fees on its debit cards--weekly visits rose dramatically to more than 23,000 in the week following the announcement.

The emergence of Bank Transfer Day, a viral and social media movement that called on consumers fed up with banks to transfer their money to credit unions on a single day, Nov. 5, 2011, had the number of visitors to the site running well above average through October.

The aSmarterChoice.org site saw nearly 70,000 visits on the day before Bank Transfer Day, and 40,000 visits on the day itself. "Since then and into 2012, traffic has continued at a higher pace than what we saw through most of 2011," Stevenson said. "People continue to visit the site by the hundreds daily."

Letter with white powder sent to Obama via Ohio CU

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (8/31/12)--An Ohio credit union received a letter Thursday that was addressed to President Barack Obama and that contained a mysterious white powder.

The letter was sent via mail to the State Highway Patrol FCU, located on Busch Boulevard in Columbus, Ohio (10TV.com Aug. 30). It contained political jargon describing dissatisfaction with the administration, investigators said. 

Investigators deemed the powder was not harmful. Earlier, the employee who opened the letter locked herself in a room to contain the powder to a single area, said the news report. Hazmat crews, which investigate hazardous materials, arrived on the scene at 10:30 a.m.

Officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Postal Inspector and the Secret Service were on the scene Thursday morning trying to determine who sent the letter.

State Highway Patrol FCU is a $61 million asset credit union.

CUNA closed on Labor Day

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WASHINGTON and MADISON, Wis. (8/31/12)--The Washington, D.C., and Madison, Wis., offices of the Credit Union National Association will be closed Monday due to the Labor Day holiday.

However, CUNA staff will be at the Democratic National Convention, which will open with family-centered activities on Monday and official activities beginning Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C.  Although News Now won't publish a regular edition on Monday, it will report on the pre-convention activities Monday.  News Now will resume regular publication on Tuesday.