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CUNA Mutual advocacy group saves CU employees time money

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MADISON, Wis. (9/22/10)--An employee benefits advocacy center established by CUNA Mutual Group for credit union employees needing assistance resolving insurance issues has reached $4 million in total savings since its inception. CUNA Mutual brokers group health insurance and other employee benefits programs to several companies. Ten years ago, it set up the Employee Benefits Service Center to help its Group Benefits customers resolve billing and claims issues, get questions answered and minimize difficulties that arise sometimes with insurance. The service center is a single, direct point of contact for credit unions and their employees to quickly and easily get information and assistance when they need it most, said Lynnae Cooper-Budde, director in CUNA Mutual's Group Benefits division. The center assumes the burden of resolving insurance issues. A team of four benefits specialists act as advocates for credit unions and employees by dealing directly with carriers and providers to resolve issues. "This saves time and money for credit union employees and human resources staff," said Cooper-Budde. "Our specialists know credit unions, the insurance industry and the ins and outs of carriers' policies and procedures. Leveraging that expertise, they negotiate with providers and carriers to reduce employees' responsibility through benefit clarification, claims reprocessing and written appeals. They also educate and train employees on products and plans so they're more knowledgeable about the benefits they have."
Jo Lynn Boggan of JSC FCU, Houston, turned to CUNA Mutual's Employee Benefits Service Center, which resolved a $500 health insurance claim on her behalf. (Photo provided by CUNA Mutual Group)
Jo Lynn Boggan, indirect lending buyer with JSC FCU, Houston, Texas, knows first-hand that insurance companies sometimes make mistakes. She knew her personal medical insurance claim wasn't being handled properly. The insurance company that CUNA Mutual brokered with to offer group health insurance was not covering the correct percentage of the bill--a difference of $500. After months of phone calls, paperwork and dead ends, Boggan was ready to give up her claim. Her human resources manager suggested she call the Employee Benefits Service Center. To her surprise, she called and spoke immediately with a person who understood her coverage. The CUNA Mutual benefits specialist, Sandy Melvin, took charge and pursued the claim. Ultimately, Boggan received the entire disputed amount. "Credit unions are experts at serving their members, not solving employee benefits problems," said Cooper-Budde. "Nothing is more frustrating and time-consuming than trying to decipher complicated forms, untangle billing snags or resolve rejected claims."

Study Expect large hike in prepaid debit payroll cards

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BOSTON (9/22/10)--By 2014, funds loaded by consumers into prepaid debit and payroll card accounts will increase to $164 billion from $44 billion last year, according to new research. Prepaid debit card account loads will grow to $104 billion from $25 billion. Funds loaded into payroll card accounts will also increase, to $60 billion from $19 billion, said Boston-based Aite Group LLC ( Sept. 16 and Sept. 20). Issuing prepaid cards can help financial institutions such as credit unions and banks to better serve the low end of the customer pool, said Aite Research Director Gwenn Bezard. Financial institutions that decline consumers requesting a checking or credit card account likely will use these cards as a "second chance" card instead of turning them away, she said. Prepaid debit card users will double--to seven million users from 3.5 million. The number of payroll card users is expected to grow to 5.4 million users from 1.7 million, the research firm predicted. The combined number of prepaid debit and payroll card users likely will total 12.4 million by 2014. That figure is an increase from 5.2 million users in 2009, Aite said. Of the combined users, 28% last year used their cards as an alternative to bank accounts, while 72% used them as a temporary alternative for cash or checks. By 2014, about 25% of the active combined users will be unbanked or underbanked, an increase from the 11% of users last year. Active prepaid debit cardholders will account for 14%, compared with 8% last year, while active payroll card users will account for 11%, compared with 4% in 2009. Prepaid cards are less expensive to manage than checking accounts, which will turn more costly as banks are forced to limit overdraft fees, said Aite. Aite Group analyzed 2009 data from issuers of prepaid debit and payroll cards and from discussions with 60 payment industry executives.

Bancography names Best CU Brands

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MADISON, Wis. (9/22/10)--Bancography’s 2010 Brand Value Index (BBVI) confirms that the economic downturn has affected financial institution brands in much the same way that it has impacted the overall economy. The company, in releasing its list of best U.S. credit union brands, noted that credit unions fared well. Bancography, based in Birmingham, Ala., provides consulting services, software tools and marketing research to financial institutions to support their branch, product and brand positioning strategies. “The 2010 BBVI reflects the fluid financial services landscape as providers continue to confront the aftermath of the recession,” said John Mathes, Bancography director of brand strategy. “Credit unions that pay homage to the pillars of sound brand strategy using clear differentiation and consistency of message reap the benefit at their competitors’ expense. It is abundantly clear that in the more stable geographic sections of the country, credit union brands were able to stay on point with their members by not dialing back effective dialogue and service,” Mathes said. Texas, a state that has weathered the recession better than almost all others, dominates the rankings of the strongest brands, while only a few institutions from the Southeast and West Coast regions reached the list. Among the U.S.’s largest credit unions (assets more than $1 billion), Austin (Texas) Telco CU boasts the most powerful brand, followed by EECU, Fort Worth, Texas, and Chevron FCU, Oakland, Calif. Three Texas institutions lead the rankings of credit unions with assets less than $1 billion: InTouch CU, Plano; Navy Army FCU, Corpus Christi; and First Community CU of Houston, along with 2009’s top-ranked White Sands FCU, Las Cruces, N.M. In the large credit union asset tier, only six of 2009’s top 25 retained their top-25 status in 2010. This shows a noticeable difference from 2009’s index, where 14 institutions repeated their top-25 performance and reflects the volatility in both the industry and the broader economy, Bancography said. In the large credit union tier, only Chevron and JSC FCU, Houston, return to the top 10; while 2009’s top ranked Police and Fire FCU, Philadelphia, placed 11th in 2010. Six Texas-based credit unions, four Wisconsin-based institutions and three Pennsylvania organizations combine to occupy more than half of the top 25 slots. Notably, these three states have also remained near immune to bank failures over the past three years, Bancography said. Twelve institutions returned to the top 25 in the $100 million to $1 billion asset category, including Navy Army; White Sands; Complex Community FCU, Odessa, Texas; Golden Plains CU, Garden City, Kan.; and Red Crown FCU, Tulsa, Okla. Newcomers to the list include Gwinnett FCU, Lawrenceville, Ga.; Mennonite Financial FCU, Lancaster, Pa.; AmeriCU, Rome, N.Y; Idaho Central CU, Pocatello, Idaho; and University First FCU, Salt Lake City, Utah. All but Gwinnett represented areas of the country that have survived the financial crisis relatively unscathed, Bancography said. Despite its sizable population base, no Florida-based credit union reached the top 25 in either tier, confirming the degree to which the recession has impacted that state’s financial institutions, Bancography said. Bancography’s BBVI provides a quantitative ranking of the brand strength of all U.S. banks, thrifts and credit unions. The index ranks financial institution brands by the premium the institutions’ brands add to their underlying tangible value. In calculating brand value, Bancography quantifies the proportion of each institution’s long-term value that is attributable to the intangible factors that constitute an institution’s brand. These factors include the institution’s reputation, service quality, image and market awareness. The brand value index identifies institutions that produce financial results beyond what their capital base, market conditions and competitive environments would predict. The calculations reward institutions that display consistently strong earnings and a reasonable cost of funds. Among more than 7,000 credit unions and 8,000 banks, the top performing institutions share consistent earnings and the low cost of funds that is inherent in strong financial brands.

CUs help business Mich. league tells IDetroit NewsI

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DETROIT (9/22/10)--Credit unions are in a unique position to make loans to help small businesses, the Michigan Credit Union League told the Detroit News in a letter to the editor Monday. Credit union business lending can spark new small-business and job growth immediately, with no taxpayer expense, wrote David Adams, league president/CEO. He referred to credit unions’ efforts in Congress to lift their member business lending cap. Credit unions in Michigan have been making business loans since their inception in 1925 “in the same prudent and common-sense manner that we’ve handled mortgages and personal loans,” Adams wrote. “Credit union delinquency rates for all of these categories are significantly lower than for other financial institutions, meaning greater stability, safety and security for members,” he added. “Because of this historic stability, credit unions have money to lend to businesses right now, and we’re doing it throughout Michigan.” To read the letter, use the link.

Fifteen N.Y. CUs help teens build financial skills

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ALBANY, N.Y. (9/22/10)--Fifteen New York credit unions offered financial education sessions this summer, teaching more than 200 teens crucial financial skills in a fun, interactive setting, said the New York Credit Union Foundation.
Click to view larger image Some participants from New York City-based Union Settlement FCU’s Money & Me session gather outside the credit union during a break. (Photo provided by the New York Credit Union Foundation)
The New York Credit Union Foundation developed Money & Me, a free weeklong program, which is delivered by credit unions to their communities. Through a series of hands-on lessons, participating teens learned about budgeting, saving, maintaining a checking account, credit advantages and pitfalls, planning for the future and more. The Money & Me program uses the award-winning National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) High School Financial Planning Program (HSFPP) as its core curriculum, with supplemental components from other programs. Concerns about not reaching enough students through in-school programs inspired the foundation to create the week-long program. This is the second year the foundation has offered the program to credit unions. “Over and over again in this recession, we’ve seen the profound impact of financial illiteracy on people’s lives,” said Diane LaVigna-Wixted, executive director of the foundation “By teaching youth about money management today, we can help them avoid common pitfalls and gain the skills they need to achieve their goals and dreams tomorrow.”

Michigan regulator orders fake CU to cease and desist

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LANSING, Mich. (9/22/10)--Michigan's Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation (OFIR) has ordered an entity claiming to be "Whitestone Credit Union" of Grand Haven, Mich., to cease and desist from doing business. There is no legitimate Whitestone CU, said OFIR. Officials said the entity's website, and its telephone answering service was posing as a legitimate credit union and may have attempted to steal consumers' identity and funds (Grand Haven Tribune Sept. 21). The bogus credit union allegedly encouraged consumers to apply for loans and provide personal information such as financial account numbers and Social Security numbers. OFIR Commissioner Ken Ross said that scammers were posing as a legitimate credit union to obtain information used in identity theft. He encouraged consumers who believe they were scammed to contact the OFIR.

Class Act FCU opens branch at Louisville school

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (9/22/10)--Class Act FCU has opened a branch inside of a Louisville, Ky., school--the first in Jefferson County. Class Act, of Louisville, opened the branch at Doss High School. A grand opening for the branch was held last week, said The Courier-Journal (Sept. 19). Students and staff can open accounts at the credit union. The branch will be a “hands-on” learning classroom, according to the high school. Students will learn about finance by doing, said Superintendent Sheldon Berman. Eleven students received training to work at the credit union branch, the newspaper said. The credit union has envisioned having an in-school branch for many years, Lynn Huether, Class Act CEO, told the newspaper. Class Act has $141 million in assets.

Coach to keynote Iowa CU convention

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BETTENDORF, Iowa (9/22/10)--Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State University men’s head basketball coach, will keynote the Iowa Credit Union Convention, beginning today and ending Friday in Bettendorf, Iowa. More than 500 credit union representatives are expected to attend the conference, which is themed, “Now is the Time.” The theme was selected “to represent a call to action for credit unions to demonstrate why they are truly different from others in the financial marketplace,” said Iowa Credit Union League President/CEO Patrick S. Jury. During his closing keynote, Hoiberg plans to tell a story about playing in the National Basketball Association and how doctors found a serious heart defect during a routine physical that changed his life, said the league. The conference will offer 17 education sessions. An evening reception also will take place Sept. 22 at the River Music Experience in Davenport, Iowa. Jay Johnson of Callahan and Associates will kick off the conference’s opening session.