From (Failing to) Tell the Story to Telling the Same Old Story

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It's always been one of the ironies within credit unions that the poorest job of marketing is done by marketing departments themselves.

The folks in charge of doing the talking usually fail when it comes talking about themselves. A radio ad about a new auto loan special? No problem. Demonstrating to others in management and the board the growth and ROI that marketing can deliver? Problem.

In this issue Credit Union Journal takes a deeper look at the state of marketing within credit unions. At anywhere other than the most progressive of credit unions, the role of marketing is typically overlooked and undervalued. Theirs is often the first budget to get the hatchet when the economy takes a downturn. Yet another irony is that those who wield the hatchet are often first to ask why no one knows the CU story and during times like these why consumers are making the switch. It's because the credit union story needs to be told and retold; the same can be said for the storytellers and the need to tell their own, as well.

• For our Northern U.S. and Canadian readers, the following will not only not come as a surprise, but will be received as only making perfectly splendid sense. I learned while in Washington recently that the National Gallery of Art owns a Zamboni. For many, of course, the Zamboni paints as pretty a portrait as any to be found in the Gallery's collection. In this case, it's used to resurface the ice on the rink at the outdoor sculpture garden, just off the mall.

• As Credit Union Journal reported earlier, SF Fireman's Credit Union CEO Diana Dykstra agreed to shave her head as part of a fundraiser for Credit Unions for Kids and Children's Miracle Network. In doing my part, I have decided to continue to allow my hair to continue to fall out slowly over the next 20 or so years. Please send your pledge.

• The proposed corporate rules out of NCUA are getting the headlines, but behind that glare is the agency's five proposed changes to its field of membership rules, too. During a recent Town Hall, NCUA General Counsel Bob Fenner reminded credit unions that once their keyboards cool off from the feedback on the corporate plan, time should be taken, too, to share any input on the FOM rules.

"What we're hoping to accomplish is for FCUs hoping to move to a community charter or seeking to expand the community charter, we want to make the process of determining what is a well-defined local community as objective as possible," Fenner explained. "We want to give folks, for the first time in more rural areas, (the ability) to come together and form communities. Third, for any community charter app or community expansion app, we also want you to include a business and marketing plan, with more and better guidance about what is expected. Fourth, we want to improve on the rules by which multiple group credit unions are able to open up and serve underserved communities. We want to improve on the merger process for credit unions in danger of insolvency, even to credit unions with unrelated FOMs."

When you're done filing your taxes, keep in mind the comment deadline is April 15.

• Speaking of mergers, many of those have and will lead to new names for credit unions, some of which, well... Here's a viewpoint on name changes from newspaper columnist and humorist Dave Barry: "So changing names is a sound idea, an idea based on the scientific principle that underlies the field of marketing, which is: People are stupid. Marketing experts know that if you call something by a different name, people will believe it's a different thing. That's how 'undertakers' became 'funeral directors.' That's how 'trailers' became 'manufactured housing.' That's how 'We're putting you on hold for the next decade' became 'Your call is important to us.'"

• The name that proceeds the words "credit union" may get all the attention, but it's those latter two that remain most important and yet which few take time to explain. But some do. Frank Berrish, CEO of New York's Visions FCU, shared his thoughts in a recent newsletter article headlined, "What is a Credit Union? It's a Co-Op That Stands By Its Members."

In the first graph Berrish explains how a CU works, noting "Services and fees are used to supplement the costs between income earned on loans and dividends paid to depositors. Since we are a cooperative dollars lent are taken seriously, as other members have lent them with the expectation that they would be repaid."

As noted in this space last week, this concept is lost (although it can't be if it wasn't ever explained) when CUs make decisions that are best for the cooperative, such as Nevada FCU's decision to encourage some deposit-only members to take their money and move on.

• From The Department of Headlines You May Have Read A Few Thousand Other Times, the Pittsburgh Business Times recently reported: "Bankers unhappy with Commonwealth Court Ruling that employer based CUs can hold community charters."

After reaching for the Uniform Response Song Sheet distributed to every similar association in the country, Frank Pinto, president of the Pennsylvania Bankers Association, was quoted as saying, "If credit unions want to act like a bank and conduct themselves like a bank, they can pay taxes like a bank. It's perplexing and I'm not happy with the ruling. It would give credit union more opportunities to expand more rapidly and still not pay taxes."

Apparently there was no comment on how much of those taxes went to TARP funds.

Frank J. Diekmann is publisher of Credit Union Journal and can be reached at

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