Not As Many 'Thanks' Will Be Around The Table This Year

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For many, the "thanks" being expressed around Thanksgiving tables this week will be a long drumstick removed from the "thanks" shared just a year ago. Thanks for having hung onto a job. Or the house. Or the car. Or, if those have been lost, perhaps a thanks for family or health or maybe even a credit union that is helping a member through tough times.

For many, Black Friday comes every seven days, not just this week. The economy has been an undercurrent of much in the country at large and credit unions specifically. Consider:

* Calls for a national brand campaign for credit unions come around every so often. In the latest reincarnation I've heard, some are lamenting that with all the bad press being given banks and with the widespread perception in the "credit crisis" that there is no "credit" to be had, it's too bad the CU community wasn't ready and waiting with a national campaign-making America aware that credit unions are ready to lend and making loans. Even among non-borrowers and the media, the campaign would have raised awareness of credit unions significantly, say the idea's proponents.

The problem here, of course, is that such a campaign would have needed to be in the works six months ahead of the "crisis," and imagine pitching to a board last Thanksgiving a campaign addressing some of what we're seeing today? Nevertheless, it's an idea that credit unions in local markets ought to explore.

* CEOs and CFOs at credit unions all over the country have their own financial metrics for determining the health of their CU and the larger economy.

In Maine, they can cite a different metric. Cans of vegetables. And peanut butter. And rice. Credit unions in Maine have been a primary force in raising funds for food banks across the state. In fact, since 1990, the Maine Credit Unions' Campaign for Ending Hunger has raised more than $2.7 million to help end hunger in Maine.

Not surprisingly, more people are going hungry now in Maine-and your neighborhood.

"What we are seeing and hearing from local food pantries is that there is a 25 to 30% increase in requests over last year," said Jon Paradise, spokesperson for the Maine league. "We are currently in the midst of the 7th Annual Maine Credit Unions' Ending Hunger Walking Tour, which is happening all month long and traveling throughout Maine, and are hearing that food pantries in many areas are unable to keep up with demand. They are also seeing a lot of first-time families visiting. Needless to say, our ending hunger efforts this year are needed more than ever and, hopefully, we can make an impact in easing the struggles for food pantries."

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* Another sign we're in a recession: when mundane activities become entertainment. Wade Edwards, VP with Fifth Third Processing Solutions, recently told a meeting that a particularly powerful attraction is when visiting the ATM becomes an "unexpected moment of delight." In this case, he was referring to giving away tickets to movies and events to surprise customers/members. And he's right. Imagine the kids "delight" when you tell them you're not taking them to the movies but down to the ole' ATM to watch the monitor.

* It isn't just forecasting the credit union's balance sheet that's tough. I talked to a CIO from a credit union in the Northeast last week who said he had prepaid his home heating oil this winter when oil prices were rising like a gusher and he wanted to lock in before he could no longer afford to heat his house. Since then, home fuel costs have dropped by nearly half, he said.

* The down economy could certainly be felt at last weeks' BAI Retail Delivery Show in Orlando. Annually one of the largest trade shows, an exhibit hall still three times the size of anything in CU Land was just two-thirds of what it had been in earlier years, and several people commented that the environment lacked "buzz" and enthusiasm.

* You may not have thought of them this way, but conference agendas are the unwitting time capsules of any industry. Case in point: the recent agenda at the CUNA Lending Council's annual conference in Orlando. Think credit union leaders of the future will be able to discern anything about 2008 from these topics: "The Mortgage Meltdown: Tools and Tactics"; "Hot Collections and Bankruptcy Topics in an Economic Downturn"; "Underwriting Risk for Underbanked and Underserved Consumers" (and those upbeat sessions ran concurrently!); "Home Equity Lending Risk Strategies"; "MBL Damage Control," and "Making Loans During Tough Times-Seize The Opportunity."

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at

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