CU Reps Turn Out In Force At Meeting That Used To Be All Banks

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If credit unions' visibility at BAI's Retail Delivery Conference is any indication, the CU community is on the verge of becoming a force to be reckoned with in the financial services market.

"Three years ago we wouldn't have bothered to bring our credit union products here," said Scott Hansen of Harland Financial Services. "We never considered this a credit union-relevant conference. Then just in the last two years, suddenly we found our credit union clients were coming to see us at BAI-we weren't looking for them, they came to us. They were coming out of the woodwork. Now, we wouldn't think of coming here without our full line of credit union products."

And the same reasons that credit unions are increasingly attending conferences that traditionally weren't considered credit union events mirror the growth and visibility of credit unions in the marketplace.

"Credit unions have grown so much in the last 25 years, and I think there's been an awakening that instead of waiting for something to happen, they're spending the time to find out more about what's out there," said Ron Congemi of Star Systems. "Instead of waiting to hear about it from their trade association, they decided to go out and get an objective viewpoint."

Or, at least, a new and different one, noted several credit union attendees of this year's conference. "It's important for credit unions to get outside their comfort zone and come to a conference like this where we'll have to think outside of the credit union box," said Al Perez of GECU of El Paso. "Different people from my credit union have been here before, but this is my first BAI conference, and it's been really eye-opening to see how other financial institutions are facing the same challenges we are."

'Know Thy Enemy'

John Deere Community CU's Doug Gilbertson agreed, suggesting that while there are important differences between banks and credit unions, there are also many similarities. "There's no need for us to reinvent the wheel on some of this," he noted. "There are some things we can learn by coming to conferences that aren't just for credit unions."

If nothing else, one credit union attendee suggested, it's good reconnaissance. "As the saying goes, it's good to know thy enemy," he said.

The proliferation of credit unions at BAI this year is also an indication of how much competition is heating up, not only between credit unions and other financial institutions but also within the credit union community itself.

"If you look at the attendee list this year compared to even just last year, it's a significant increase. They're here because they're ready to compete. There's a convergence [of banks and credit unions] we're seeing." said Mickey Goldwasser of Open Solutions, Inc. "And look at all the credit union vendors who are here. Sure, there are a lot of vendors here who have a lot of crossover among banks and credit unions, but you've got CU24 and other credit union-specific providers."

And while credit unions may have a lot to learn from banks, they also have a thing or two they could teach the banks.

"Nobody offers better customer service-or I should say member service-than credit unions," said Milton King of TWS. "What has made credit unions so strong? It's what they're known for: great service and at a low cost. Credit unions are here because they're expanding into new charters and expanding into new services like commercial lending, and they're becoming more competitive."

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