Why Every Check Should Have CU Message, & More

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More thoughts that deserve your pondering:

* It's abundantly clear that credit unions have something of a perception problem right now. Sure, membership numbers continue to rise, but ask the average American to describe a credit union and you're likely to get one of those "Joe Millionaire" guy responses: "Umm, uhh, ummm." Or, if you catch him on a particularly articulate day, "Um, they're really neat. Plus they don't make me eat goat cheese."

The lack of knowledge about credit unions has always been and will always be a challenge. Nowhere is that more true than what's occurring in states where credit unions are under attack in legislatures. It isn't enough that most legislators seem to know credit unions only as "little tax-exempt banks," what's more problematic is that when a credit union has to turn to its members for help it doesn't have time to pull up a chair and explain the whole member/owner, democratically controlled, not-for-profit thing.

While every credit union should include a paragraph in its newsletter and on its website explaining what a credit union is, other ongoing educational steps are needed. So here's a suggestion: Every share draft/check issued by a credit union should include a single line of text that asks, "What is a credit union?" Brief text could then direct the reader to visit a website that answers the question and even help them to find a credit union for which they are eligible, perhaps through the California's league's Match-Up service, which now includes 21 states and D.C. Of course, this would require some cooperation among the trade groups and the major check printing vendors (which can be just slightly less challenging than getting a unanimous Security Council vote at the U.N.), but what a way to promote credit unions.

Credit union members write tens of millions of checks/share drafts every year. Those checks pass through the hands of small businesses, friends, relatives, etc. Even if just 1% of those who see and read the checks should follow up, it could mean tens of thousands of inquiries. And perhaps just as important, many of those inquiries might come from current members who can't answer the question of what a credit union is, and whose lobbying support may be needed some day.

* Here's a suggestion on what CUNA might do with all that vacant office space it's sitting on in Washington: Bank House. Stay with me here. As you may have read in The Credit Union Journal, CUNA has been unable to find anyone to sublease its old offices just blocks from the White House, and the lease has dragged CUNA's bottom line into the red. Since it's just sitting empty anyway, why not borrow on the idea behind its popular Credit Union House on Capitol Hill, but with a propaganda twist.

My idea: Rename it Bank House and fill the place with some of the once decadently expensive office furnishings to be had from the fire sales being held at Worldcom, Enron, et al. Pipe in some stuffy, rarified air, perhaps the smell of premium cigar smoke. An indifferent receptions could ask you to sign in, and instead of asking where you're from ask for your current balance. Once signed in you're told your wait will be determined by your profitability.

As for d?cor, I'd suggest on the wall behind the receptionist a large oil painting of the mean-spirited, penny pinching, cold-as-flint banker from "It's A Wonderful Life," Mr. Potter. Below the painting a small brass plate reading, "Our Founder." On the other walls artwork should include portraits of great robber barons from throughout history, while the eye is drawn toward a framed dollar bill upon which a spotlight shines and a small sign reads, "Our First Fee." While waiting one could be invited to play a game of Monopoly, where all the rules favor the banker.

Members of Congress and the media could be invited to visit Bank House to use the exercise room, which would feature a giant hamster's wheel inside of which an adult can run and run and run, but like a 21% APR credit card, no matter how fast you run you can't get ahead.

And to help CUNA generate some income and in keeping with Bank House, it should be free to enter, but a fee should be charged to exit.

* Credit unions continue to change names at a record pace. Worth noting: In Neenah, Wis., Wisconsin Tissue Credit Union has changed its name to Evergreen Credit Union, meaning a long-time name has given way to a name that implies a long time. Meanwhile, in Sacramento, Calif., Super U CU has merged with Triple S Credit Union, which could have provided some great new-name opportunities. Super Triple S. Triple Super U. Super U.S. Credit Union. Now all they need to do is merge with Double Eleven Credit Union in Indianapolis, Sooper CU in Denver, and Super Savings CU in Memphis, and they can change the sign to U Super Super Sooper Double Triple Credit Union. And who wouldn't want to join that?

* As you're likely aware, there's quite a bit of animosity in Utah between its banks and credit unions. And perhaps either wishful thinking or editorializing on the part of the Salt Lake City Tribune, which recently referred to Utah Bankers Association President Howard Headlee as Howard Headless.

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

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