Extra! Extra! Hear All About It. What CUs Told Us

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Do you know who takes your member data home at night? Are some of your vendor contracts a rip-off? Would you ever consider sending your board to non-credit union meetings only?

I've seen some pretty intriguing credit union meeting agendas over the years, yet inevitably the best insights come from just allowing CU leaders to talk among themselves-and then listening.

That's just what The Credit Union Journal did with our sophomore effort at hosting what we have dubbed a CEO Summit, but what could have just as easily been labeled a Reader Meter or Sages for the Pages or, just as accurately, a focus group.

In 2004 we hosted a half-dozen California credit union CEOs at a meeting in Las Vegas in which we asked for feedback on what they wanted to read more (and just as importantly, less) about. To do that we probed for what those credit unions were incorporating into their strategic plans for 2005. Similarly we gathered another group of credit union leaders, in this case from credit unions from all over the country with assets ranging from $20 million to more than $900 million, in Orlando last week. The group was in town for BAI's Retail Delivery Show, and graciously agreed to share a few hours of their time to detail their strategies, to bounce ideas off one another, share experiences, opinions, and more to help us more effectively serve our readers.

The CEO Summit is off the record and we don't identify the participants so that all feel free to speak candidly. Below are just a fraction of the comments we heard.

* One of the first comments came from a senior-level exec who has been charged with overseeing his credit union's compliance in guarding the privacy of member data. What credit unions don't understand, he observed, is just how many places that data appears, such as laptops, that frequently go out the door with employees. "The same thing holds true for documents. You don't know where your member documents are or who has taken them home," he added

Another credit union said it periodically "spot-audits" its staff, checking to see not just what they are taking home but bringing into work. Twice a week it brings in professional-grade shredders to destroy all waste paper. Another is moving toward biometrics-not for members, but for its own staff in order to access PCs and even open some doors.

* Another CU, which is using biometrics for members, said the experience has been "for the most part positive." This person reminded, however, that "The group that comes in (to the branch) is different from the group that does their business online."

Here's some of what else we heard:

* One person observed that two-factor authentication can give the member a false sense of security, and make them more likely to be a victim of phishing.

* Another leader said they made a technology investment after BofA, did so first, explaining, "They cut my due-diligence time in half."

* There were varying levels of familiarity with CURIA-the Credit Union Regulatory Improvement Act-and whether its needed. "Anything that opens up the doors wider for us to better serve members is good," said one person. "What I find interesting is you get CEOs who bash one piece of it but who also say they really need another piece of it. I wish we'd go back to the pre-PCA system where the NCUA would work with the credit union to ensure it survives. Especially when you see what's happening in Louisiana...No one ever really thought what would happen if a disaster struck an area and our capital is eroded, it would be nice to get secondary capital."

Added, another, "It's interesting to see how banks can influence our legislation but we can't influence theirs."

* Business services received considerable discussion, as did this common lament, "Our host system doesn't really support the deposit side." Yet everyone agreed the deposit side is critical.

* One CEO who had just been through one of the hurricanes said that among the many issues its disaster plan hadn't anticipated was that "we didn't just need cash. Coins were desperately needed by all of the vendors. They couldn't make change." Added another, "None of our plans accounted for a complete shutdown of the city.

* There was some fascinating discussion of the different approaches credit unions are taking to recruiting, training and retaining staff; ("CRM is just a proxy to not do training," claimed one CEO); board education (one CU only sends its board to non-credit union meetings, such as an upcoming conference on shopping centers); concerns that constant threats to revoke the CU tax exemption are really "some unholy alliance between the trades and the legislatures so they can keep this alive"-and keep the money flowing; vendor contracts (one CU is reviewing and tearing up many of its contracts, which it said are just a "rip-off") and so much, much more.

In addition, the group had lots of questions for The Credit Union Journal and how we arrive at the stories we cover, where they're placed in the newspaper, and how other decisions were made.

It was an invaluable session for The Journal's editorial staff, and we believe you'll see the value in our coverage throughout 2006.

Frank J. Diekmann is Editor of The Credit Union Journal.

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