Sometimes It's a Good Thing to Have a Low Profile

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Frustrated that your own members often refer to you as the "bank." This, even though you've marketed the "credit union." You stress the "credit union" difference. You've trained your staff not to say good bye but to say "CU." And still people talk about the bank and doing their banking.

Hey, perhaps that's not always so bad. I mean, have you been reading the media reviews of the bankruptcy bill.

During The Credit Union Journal's recent SEG & Business Development Conference, Kevin Blair of Newground showed video of interviews his company had done with both children and adults who were interviewed about financial institutions. In nearly every instance the folks on the video talked about "the bank," even when they had been asked about the "credit union."

Videos such as that are the reason that every once in a while a group of CU folks will get together-often in a hotel lobby bar-and announce they're going to take a stand against not just the bank the noun, but bank the verb. From now on, they announce just before last call, transactions at their credit union will henceforth be called "credit unioning." Amazingly, this idea has yet to take off.

But in the wake of news reports surrounding the soon-to-be-signed Bankruptcy Bill (note to some: that's not the name of one of your members) it may be a good thing those efforts to raise the credit union profile haven't worked.

General reviews of the bankruptcy bill have all come down to the same themes: it strongly favors creditors, God forbid you ever get sick or lose your job, and the rich banks get richer. In news interview after news interview, both the experts and the consumers all refer to "banks" piling up the profits after "banks" made it too easy to get credit and then the "banks" stuck it to the cardholder when he or she fell behind.

Groups such as the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) have lambasted the bill, arguing the actual extra dollars credit unions will get by forcing more people who can repay to repay are quite small. Credit unions spent eight years working to get the bankruptcy bill passed, and spent God only knows how much on contributions to Congress in the process-(probably enough to put a good dent in actual bankruptcy losses).

So the perception remains that the bankruptcy bill is just another way that the man is sticking it to the working public, a perception that will only grow when the bill's provisions go into effect and a whole new round of news stories are reported. That's a perception most credit unions should be happy to let the media "bank" on. After all, if some of those CU efforts had worked we'd be talking about creditunionruptcy.

Couldn't sleep last week so I read through one of those disclosures that credit unions seeking to convert to a bank are required to send to their members. In this case, the document sent by Community Credit Union in Plano, Texas, to its members. Bill Clinton never parsed the English language with such precision, and the Bush Administration could even pick up a tip or two on positive spin.

Right from the beginning we're entertained with the riveting title, "Notice Of A Proposal To Approve A Plan Of Mutual Charter Conversion And Of A Special Meeting of Members." Members who can get past those 19 words will find the opening sentence, "The Board of Directors of Community Credit Union has unanimously approved a Plan of Mutual Conversion whereby Community Credit Union will change from a Texas state chartered credit union to a federally chartered mutual savings institution."

The subtle but key phrase there is "unanimously approved." Well, if a vote by OUR board of directors was unanimous, it must be good, right? The letter goes on to explain capital requirements (Joe Member will no doubt be taking copious notes by this point) and states that capital limits under the credit union charter have been "restricting" the credit union's growth.

That's interesting, given the credit union has more than a billion-dollars in assets, offers every product and service any member could want, and recently announced big enhancements to its commercial lending department.

Then, in more bold text at the close of the first paragraph, it notes again that the "charter change is in the best interests of our members and the community and the board unanimously (there's that word again) recommends that you vote FOR approval of the plan of conversion."

NCUA required earlier this year that credit unions disclose MORE when attempting to convert, and the CCU disclosure demonstrates how more can be less. The agency ought to have required a one-page, plain English letter that is required to begin with the salutation, "Hello Sucker."

Oh, and one other thing about the CCU letter: it conveniently never mentions the word "bank."

If you would know what the Lord God thinks of money, you have only to look at those to whom he gives it. — Maurice Baring

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