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N.J. CU finds social media niche

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PARSIPPANY, N.J. (9/8/10)--Garden Savings FCU, Parsippany, N.J., has found its social media niche. The credit union entered the social media scene in early summer with a video featuring Garden Savings President/CEO Lou Vetere. The video received more than 200 views on YouTube. In the video, Vetere provides an overview of what the credit union offers its members (The Weekly Exchange Aug. 23). A second video the credit union released parodies the differences between credit unions and banks. The script was written by the credit union’s sales and marketing team. Mike Powers, assistant vice president of marketing and business development; Rob Anselmo, vice president and retail sales and service; and Daniel Czerniawski, assistant vice president of lending, appear in the video. In the video, the credit union exposes the holes in banking customer service. “We plan on using the video as an educational piece to display to members and potential members,” Vetere said. The $190 million asset Garden Savings has partnered with Grey Sky Films, which films and produces the credit union’s videos, and monitors its Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts. While Garden Savings doesn’t use TV ads, it ran a radio campaign and a print ad campaign in Portuguese newspapers in Newark, N.J. The ads reinforce the credit union’s dedication to the Newark community. Six of seven Newark branch employees speak Portuguese. The credit union is getting ready to launch new target marketing and reporting software in November to track its marketing. In the future, the credit union hopes to separate its marketing efforts between traditional, direct mail and social media at a percentage of 50/20/30, Powers said. “The hardest part of social media is to get people to follow you,” Powers said. “More members are signed up now, but it was difficult to start.” Of the 27% of companies without a social media marketing strategy, 80% plan to have one in the next year. Only 11% of companies without strategies do not plan to implement one in the next year, with 9% undecided, according to a recent survey by King Fish Media (LoneStar Leaguer Aug. 25). About 75% of companies plan to increase their social media investment in the next month. Of companies planning a social media increase, one-third are tying it to a specific project, another third will make social media an incremental marketing budget increase and one-fifth will fund social media by moving budgets, while 11% are not sure.

CUs mitigate high health insurance costs

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MADISON, Wis. (9/7/10)--Workers in the U.S. likely will experience a 14% increase in the cost to insure their families, according to Credit unions are taking a proactive approach to keep health costs down for their employees. Roughly two-thirds of credit unions provide some type of health insurance to employees. One-third of credit unions with health care plans reported making changes for 2010, according to the Credit Union National Association’s (CUNA) Credit Union Staff Benefits Report 2010. Among credit unions that made changes to reduce their 2010 health care plan costs, 41% increased employee cost-sharing for health care coverage, 37% increased/enhanced communications to employee on health issues, 34% studied health care data for cost of utilization patterns and 32% added use of their wellness program. Most credit unions that changed their 2010 plan increased the deductibles, employee cost-sharing of premium costs and co-payments. Among credit unions that made changes, about 45% increase employee deductibles for single coverage and family coverage, while 34% increase employee contributions to the annual premium for single and family coverage, said the CUNA report. Also, roughly 30% increased co-payments for prescription drug coverage, office visits and emergency room visits. About 10% to 15% changed insurance providers, changed the type of health insurance plan offered to employees, and set up health reimbursement accounts. Looking ahead to 2011, Meritrust CU, Wichita, Kan., has redesigned its employee health insurance plan for the next year. The credit union “married” the benefits of its health insurance with a wellness program that it launched five years ago, said Byron Stout, vice president of human resources. “We’re positioning ourselves for health care reform,” Stout told News Now. Meritrust has “unbundled” its plan with separate medical, dental and vision providers. It also implemented a mandatory generic drug policy, meaning that if employees choose to buy a name brand drug when a generic is available, they will pay the difference. The credit union added preventive care so employees are covered 100% for yearly doctor, dental and eye exam visits. The added benefits have increased premiums by about 8% on average for its three-tiered insurance program, but Meritrust anticipates a significant return. Of Meritrust’s 190 full-time employees, about 140 participate in its insurance program. The insurance is structured at 50-50, meaning that employees pay half until they hit their co-insurance limit, when coverage moves to 100%. Employees’ monthly premiums increased, but employees seem to be happy with the new plan. “There’s a lot of angst,” Stout said. He added that the credit union is aware of other companies that have had to increase premiums by 20%. Meritrust’s wellness program takes a holistic approach, allowing employees to earn points for wellness activities--including physical, mental and financial health. Employees who don’t have health insurance through Meritrust are eligible to participate in the wellness program. Credit unions need to be proactive with their health plans, and do their homework. Stout advised them to seek the help of a broker--but only brokers who will go above and beyond by providing them with more than just what they’re paid to do. “You know it’s the right broker if they provide you with other services,” he said. For example, Meritrust’s broker has connected the credit union with partners for its health plan. Credit unions also need to communicate with their employees on the cost of insurance, Stout said. “The first thing we did was tell them what the credit union pays out of pocket [for their health coverage],” Stout said. “The response was, ‘Wow.’ We do our best in educating and communicating to [our employees.]” Denver (Colo.) Community FCU said it isn’t sure what will happen with its health plans for next year, but its deductibles and co-pays on employee plans went up for 2010. However, the credit union was able to maintain a 2% increase, said Barbara Rash, human resources manager. “The employees were very understanding,” she said. “There’s tough news out there with the economy.” Keesler FCU, Biloxi, Miss., also is monitoring the health care situation. It isn’t sure yet what premiums will look like until after Jan. 1, as its renewal date for insurance is in May, but said it would let its employees know as soon as possible what kinds of changes to anticipate. “We will be communicating things as soon as we get our changes from our medical provider,” said Debbie McVadon, Keesler vice president of human resources. Employees have not voiced their concerns about healthcare yet, she added. Like Meritrust, the credit union has a wellness committee that plans regular activities, and Keesler is involved with the American Heart Association’s Start Walking program. Employees are encouraged to walk on their breaks, and participants can wear jeans and casual shoes on Fridays, she said. Employees can log the number of steps they take and those with the highest number of steps are eligible for prizes, she said. Keesler also will become a tobacco-free workplace Nov. 1, which means that employees, members and other visitors will not be able to smoke on the credit union’s properties. The credit union is hoping that it will deter people from smoking and reduce healthcare claims.

SECU gives members Another Chance on NSF fees returned checks

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RALEIGH, N.C. (9/8/10)--State Employees’ Credit Union (SECU) is offering its members “Another Chance” against non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees and returned check charges. The new program provides members another opportunity to better control their own financial well-being, with SECU serving as an ally, the credit union said. For more than 20 years, SECU has offered a “true overdraft protection” program which is used by over 85% of the credit union’s traditional checking accountholders. True overdraft allows members to designate two SECU accounts as protecting accounts for checking. If a need arises, funds are transferred from the protecting accounts to the member’s checking. As technology has advanced, SECU expanded the true overdraft program to minimize traditional returned check charges and to serve members with alternative checking needs. SECU has completed a series of updates to its overdraft program with an “all members are good folks attitude”--with the belief that SECU members are responsible consumers and are trying to “do the right thing,” SECU said. An extension in the business day cutoff and the addition of a mobile text alert system set the stage for Another Chance. Another Chance notifies checking account-holders via text or secure message when there are insufficient funds in their checking account to cover an item. An alert provides the members with an early “wake-up-call” reminder to make a deposit by the end of the business day to avoid an NSF fee. An additional way to help traditional accountholders avoid fees is SECU’s new NSF Fee Free Days, which saved credit union members more than $3.5 million in 2010, SECU said. NSF Fee Free Days were designed for members who may make an occasional mistake with their traditional checking account. By waiving any $12 NSF fees the member may incur on two days each year, SECU said it is giving members the “break” and support that they deserve. SECU also offers the new SECU Cash Points Global (CPG) account as an alternative checking service. Already being used by nearly 7,000 SECU members, CPG was put in place as a controlled spending account/card. Since all transactions are limited to the available funds in the account, the member avoids any potential for overdraft or NSF fees. The Cash Points Global account also includes availability of direct deposit, ATM access, Visa-branded worldwide convenience, and no-cost bill pay service. Enrollment for Another Chance is online. There is no charge for the service. Members provide mobile service contact information to SECU. “It has never been the focus of SECU to benefit from members’ errors, and we feel confident that our efforts over the past two years have resulted in an overall plan that will minimize returned items and any potential fees for members,” said Sue Douglas, SECU senior vice president of operations. “Another Chance is a terrific addition to SECU’s ongoing efforts to put financial literacy into practice and keep money where it belongs-- in the pockets of our members.” Based in Raleigh, N.C., SECU has $19 billion in assets. New Federal Reserve rules give debit and ATM card users additional options regarding overdrafts. Banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions must offer consumers the ability to make decisions about overdrafts for transactions made with debit or ATM cards.

CUs in position to help consumers

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MADISON, Wis. (9/8/10)--Credit unions have unique characteristics that allow them to help consumers in a troubled economy, according to some recent media reports. Some examples are:
* In an Aug. 29 letter to the editor of the Akron Beacon Journal, Susie Preston, CEO of Buckeye State CU, Akron, wrote: “Credit unions have found themselves in a relatively unique position as a result of the economy. Assets at Ohio credit unions are up nearly 8% in 12 months. When the stock market sours, consumers tend to liquidate and find a safe haven for their savings. Typically, credit unions offer higher interest rates on savings, and while savings rates are down universally, consumers look for any advantage when it comes to positive returns.” To read the letter, use the link. * A Sept. 2 post on the blog titled “Bank or Credit Union? You Decide,” touts credit unions’ differences over banks. “The profits credit unions make are passed onto members," for instance "in the form of lower fees," the article said. “That is why credit unions typically offer higher rates on savings, lower fees and lower rates on loans than banks. They also offer online banking, ATM’s with no surcharge and overdraft protection,” and, the blog posting noted, "credit unions offer financial education and counseling without giving potential members a hard sell on their products." Credit unions “focus more on service and less on profitability,” the article noted. To read the post, use the link. * Consumers who are looking to change banks also should consider credit unions, according to an Aug. 31 Chicago Sun-Times article, titled “Switch banks with caution; Lots of deals out there, but know ins, outs first.” “Shop around and include big banks, small community banks, credit unions and online banks in the search … Smaller community banks and credit unions may have a more limited product lineup, but consumers tend to get a better deal in terms of higher rates on deposits, lower rates and lower fees on many loan products, as compared to their larger bank competitors,” the article said. To read the article, use the link.

CUNA calls for director nominations

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WASHINGTON and MADISON, Wis. (9/8/10)--The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) is seeking nominations for nine positions on the CUNA Board of Directors. The following positions are up for election, and the successful candidates will take office Feb. 28, serving a three-year term, which will expire at the adjournment of the 2014 CUNA Annual General Meeting:
* District 1, Class A; * District 1, Class D; * District 2, Class B; * District 2, Class D; * District 3, Class C; * District 4, Class A; * District 5, Class C; and * District 6, Class B.
Also, there is one special election to be held. CUNA’s current District 6, Class C director has indicated he will step down from the board at the end of this year. The successful candidate in that special election will be seated Jan. 1, and will serve through the 2012 CUNA Annual General Meeting. To become an eligible candidate for a CUNA Director position to be elected by credit unions, an individual must be an employee or voting board member of the nominating credit union. To become an eligible candidate for a CUNA Director position to be elected by leagues, an individual must be a league president and must be nominated in writing by his or her league, and the nomination must be seconded in writing by at least one other league from the district. Nominations and seconds are now being accepted. The deadline for nominations and seconds to be returned to CUNA's Corporate Secretary is Oct. 22. Nominators must submit the appropriate forms and obtain consent of the candidate. Voting will take place beginning Oct. 27 and will close on Dec. 17. For more information, use the resource link.

Study CUs beat banks on trust--again

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MADISON, Wis. (9/8/10)--Banks could take a lesson from credit unions on building relationships, according to a recent Mintel Comperemedia report. About 36% of big bank customers trust their bank, compared to 57% of credit union members, the report said. Ten percent of participants in the survey also switched their primary accounts to credit unions from banks in the past year (Marketing Weekly News Sept. 11). Roughly 60% of respondents said trust in a brand is more important than price. Consumers said trust in financial brands is similar to trust in personal relationships, with “honesty” and “respect” at the top of their list of 12 attributes. Consumers would feel less resentful about paying fees if larger banks made a greater effort to do more relationship marketing with their customers, Mintel said. Such good results from consumer satisfaction surveys are not rare. For instance, just last month credit unions were at the top of a recent poll by the Chicago Booth/Kellogg School Financial Trust Index. About 62% of consumers said they trust credit unions, compared with 57% for local banks, 35% for national banks and 27% for banks in which the government has a stake (News Now Aug. 6).