Lessons From Credit Union Expo & Elsewhere Around CU Land

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If you knew nothing of credit unions, would you take a morning or afternoon off to travel to an "Expo" and find out more?

Credit unions in the Tampa Bay area now know that at least some folks will. They have just completed hosting their first-ever Credit Union Expo at the University of South Florida's Sun Dome, where nearly a dozen set up trade-show style tables and hosted seminars on financial topics. The idea is one of many different strategies that CUs have pursued in recent weeks and months both in response to the ongoing crisis of confidence in the financial markets and to the general lack of awareness about credit unions.

"We felt it had pretty good turnout considering it had only free advertising," offered Dave Richards of Grow Financial, one of the co-sponsors, referring to PSAs and one full-page newspaper ad announcing the Expo, which was themed "Discover the Difference."

The Credit Union Expo drew about 200 people on a Saturday when it had to compete against USF's homecoming football weekend and the surprise appearance in the World Series by the Tampa Bay Rays. "I think we were all a little bit disappointed in the turnout, but we did take lessons away from it that we will be able to use next year," said Richards, noting the Chapter has not confirmed it will do the event again in 2009. "What I thought was positive about the timing was that it was perfect as far as awareness of the stability of credit unions. And we did get the kind of people credit unions like to attract," including some families.

While the crowds weren't large, the Expo was featured in a local TV news report, which greatly extended its reach.

Richard said the seminars proved to be very popular, particularly a session on retirement planning. Other CU-led seminars included home and car buying and managing credit wisely. The event got its initial puck-drop from former Tampa Bay Lightning Captain Dave Addrewychuk, who keynoted.

Richards said the participating CUs had a "gentleman's agreement" that none would grab any prospective members for themselves. "This was an awareness event," he said. "It was very much a cooperative event."

In addition to Grow Financial, other participants included GTE FCU; Pinellas Educators CU; Railroad & Industrial FCU; San Antonio Citizens FCU; Tampa Bay FCU; University of South Florida FCU; Bay CU; Florida Central CU; Florida West Coast CU and Suncoast Schools FCU.

* Some recent newspaper headlines that required a second look: From the Derry Journal in Ireland, "Credit Union warns: Don't let loan sharks reel you in" (an interesting twist on the usual fishing dynamic); from the Salt Lake Tribune, "Credit Union Sends Food To Bank," (in this case it wasn't an edible bailout, it was a food bank), and from the Hamilton Advertiser in Scotland, "Affairs Committee Visits Credit Union" (apparently they take their relationship pricing a little too literally).

* From the Trivia Learned Recently Dept.: Herb Wegner, the 1970s CUNA president after whom the esteemed National CU Foundation awards are named, came from a family with credit union roots. His mother had worked as a CU organizer, among them California State Employees Credit Union #9 in Berkeley. Better known as Cal State 9, it would go on to be one of the biggest financial failures in CUs during 2008. There will be no award for that.

* NAFCU will host its 2009 Annual Convention at the new Gaylord Hotel in National Harbor, Md. Marketing materials note it is just eight miles south of Washington. Veterans of Gaylord hotels know the entire eight miles is inside the atrium.

* Looking to embrace Generations X & Y? Two recent observations worthy of note:

First, Matt Visccher, assessment manager of employee development at Canada's Envision CU, told credit unions meeting in Hong Kong, "There is nothing more dangerous than having a 40- or 50-year-old try to tell a 20-something what's cool."

Second: recently spoke with a VP at a California who questioned why, beyond longing for lost youth, credit unions remain infatuated with attracting youth. To paraphrase, he said, "They're lousy members. Not profitable. Hard to retain. Will leave faster than a text message. And when they get out of school and move they open new accounts elsewhere."

Your responses, as always, are invited.

* A reminder, two weeks from today, Credit Union Journal and CO-OP Financial Services, will be joining with America's first CU, St. Mary's Bank, to re-create the very first transaction at a credit union on Nov. 24, 100 years to the day after it occurred. Watch for complete coverage.

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann@cujournal.com

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