Our Resolutions For Readers Of The Credit Union Journal

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There's an old joke about credit union board members who, when a consultant recommended they find out what members want, they asked each other. After all, they are all members.

The Credit Union Journal has always had its own quirky way of uncovering what readers want, but it hasn't involved staff interviewing each other. Rather-get this!-we ask readers. And then, in a radical customer service response we're sure we'll be duplicated elsewhere else someday, we work to deliver it.

If you're a regular reader of this space, you know this newspaper is always seeking feedback and suggestions from credit union executives across the country. Over the years we've employed a number of strategies to get that feedback. During our first two years we had a Reader's Council of nearly three-dozen senior execs who each quarter received a listing of all the front page stories that had appeared in the previous quarter. We asked participants to rate what they had read-and just as importantly, what they hadn't read. Knowing what readers don't want is valuable in the same way feedback from closed accounts at a credit union is (speaking of which, you'll find insights on just that topic on page 17).

Most recently The Credit Union Journal hosted the first of what will become regular events for this newspaper: a CEO Summit. In conjunction with the California/Nevada leagues' annual meeting in Las Vegas, we brought together nearly a dozen CEOs for more than four hours of terrific discussion about the kinds of issues they are facing, beginning with the question "What keeps you up at night?" and wrapping up with each person sharing their reading preferences. (I'm happy to report that "The Credit Union Journal" was not one of the answers to the first question.)

The CEO Summit was off the record, meaning participants were free to speak their minds without concern over how their comments might appear in the press. But without attribution, here's some of what we learned. For instance, the aforementioned "sleepless night" question elicited responses such as attracting talented staff (especially as housing prices soar), the debt loads being carried by many members, and misconceptions that credit unions don't offer every service the consumer can find at the local bank. That dilemma is especially troublesome among consumers in their 20s and 30s, observed one CEO, as credit unions are less frequently bound to an employer and are instead just another time-and-weather sign along the road.

Admittedly, all of the credit unions represented at the CEO Summit were large credit unions and peer-group leaders at that. I have to admit that one aspect of the dialogue that I found heartening was how seriously all of the CEOs took the issue of what what does it mean to be a financial services cooperative. While one CEO noted that "nobody comes in the door because we're a democratically run financial institution," his credit union has wrestled with communicating to members and the public what is it "that causes the auto rate to be better or allows us to approach fees differently or that makes the service experience better." Another CEO acknowledged his own surprise that a focus group the credit union had conducted "found strong equity in the term credit union, especially with non members." And another added, "The tax exemption must be leveraged, but for the right reasons or we will lose it. The tax exemption must be returned to the communities we serve."

As for what CEOs want as readers, one point that was repeated made us feel good that The Credit Union Journal remains on the right track. From day one this newspaper has strived to deliver readers information that is accurate, well-written and helpful-and provided in a concise, easy-to-read format. We are quite confident that one reason The Journal has enjoyed the growth it has is that our coverage cuts to the chase, providing points to ponder and not ponderous points, if you will. And that's exactly what many of the CEOs said-their in-boxes are inundated-they want, need and read a newspaper that lets them get out.

One final note: as we begin 2005 The Credit Union Journal will be introducing to readers a number of new features, some of which you'll find in this issue, including the fun Coffee Break Challenge (page 22), CUJ Q&A (which will feature some of the more entertaining folks in Credit Union Land), and Eye on the Competition (page 22), which will keep credit unions abreast of what other financial services providers are doing.

And, as always, we welcome your suggestions at any time.

Frank J. Diekmann is editor of The Credit Union Journal. He can be reached at fdiekmann cujournal.com.

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