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You're more than just open for business. You exist to help consumers keep more of their hard-earned paychecks for themselves. You're there for folks when they're in a jam.

And for the most part the response is, "Big deal." For all its benefits, selling the credit union remains a tough task. Experts who have studied the sales process say the first and only question consumers want answered is, "What's in it for me?" So one would think that any business, such as a credit union, that can answer that question and demonstrate a tangible benefit would have more than just their foot in the door, but a whole leg. So you would think.

But as any business development manager in credit unions can tell you, it' ain't that easy. There's consumer apathy. Ignorance. Misconceptions about what a credit union is. Reluctance to move accounts, especially a checking account. Credit unions labor to create "sticky" web solutions at the same time many consumers are stuck doing what they always do. And that's just the people who have opened some type of account with a depository institution. I drive past brightly-lit check-cashing stores every day and in nearly all there is a line of what I assume are lower-income consumers who would benefit mightily from moving their business to a credit union.

And none of that includes all the small and medium-sized business owners across the country who decline to offer credit union benefits to their employees, even though it's at no cost to them. I mean what could appeal more to a small business owner than a no-cost benefit?!

For those reasons and more six years ago The Credit Union Journal created the CU community's only SEG & Business Development Conference (Don't be fooled by another organization that has not just borrowed the name of our conference but copied-and-pasted the very same format! While we're mildly flattered, this imitation is a cheap knock-off).

We're proud to be a part of this event, the biggest meeting of its kind for credit unions looking to learn and share strategies for attracting, retaining and penetrating both members and select employee groups. Our sixth annual meeting is now scheduled for the Renaissance Hotel SeaWorld in Orlando March 31-April 1, 2005, and I think you'll find the upcoming meeting looks to be the best ever. The agenda for our Business Development Conference is driven completely by feedback from attendees, who provide plenty of suggestions on what they want to learn and hear more about.

We've put together an outstanding conference based on those suggestions. To read more about the presentations and see why you should be there, visit www.cujournal.com and click on the SEG & Business Development Conference logo. There's something in it for you.

* Speaking of the question, "What's in it for me?" and folks not knowing what they're missing, it holds true within credit unions, as well. There's a program you may not know much about it, but you should. It's the National CU Foundation's Development Education program. Graduates of the week-long immersion in all things credit union are known as DEs, and sometimes viewed as somewhat suspect due to their passion (especially if they're recent grads). As the only journalist to ever complete the program (I believe they've since instituted some standards), I can tell you it's worth your time or that of some of your employees to spend a week in Madison, Wis., to participate.

In fact, I'd like to see the NCUF take some of its growing funding and underwrite and develop a mini, one-day DE program that could be taken on the road to every state league meeting in the country.

For the past few weeks within the DE program there has been considerable debate as to what their role should be. At issue has been whether the program has drifted from its roots in promoting development of credit unions outside the U.S. (in its formulative stages the DE program was called the "International Awareness Program") or should more attention be paid to developing credit unions within the U.S. While there are two camps within DEs on this issue (along with others straddling it), here's hoping folks don't lose sight of the fact the debate is healthy. It's a microcosm of the divisions that exist within credit unions on the future of the CU community and all its various aspects. The problem isn't when people debate a point; the problem comes when people no longer care to debate it. For more info on the DE program, visit www.ncuf.coop, and click on National Programs.

* It's early, but I have to give the Best Christmas Card (or as you'll read, perhaps I should say Late December Event-If-Wish-It-To-Be-One Card), to Englehart Dicken, the Indianapolis-based marketing agency. In a salute to how overboard political correctness has gone, the card states on its cover, "Best Wishes*," with the asterisk inside clarifying, "Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally-conscious, socially-responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral, celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced with the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice..." Text goes on in the same vein for another two paragraphs, concluding, "Enjoy whatever it is you're up to this year."

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

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