The Real Lessons Of Bank Transfer Day

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Bank of America put it out there and they lost. Debit card user fees don't float for most American consumers. The backlash was seen and heard on all the major television networks, radio talk shows, and in the blog-o-sphere. Even as BofA spent significant marketing dollars pushing their rewards programs, bleeding off customers would hurt more than they estimated.

Bank Transfer Day soon began traveling around the social media highway. The "vendetta" face, patriotically painted, showed up in Facebook, Twitter, and on media websites. Credit unions, it was touted, were going to win the day. Banks had gone too far.

And now, BofA has announced that it will not begin charging the $5 per month fee for using their debit card. I heard on the news that the consumer won a big battle. Good for us! But good for the CU movement?

Yes, I believe consumers are better off with a CU than a bank. I truly do believe that. But if we allow the banks to create our mantra (no big fees here), then are we really the masters of our own destiny? Is that what we want the average Joe and Jane who know little about us to understand? That we just don't charge the big fees like the big banks? Is that enough reason to change financial institutions? I don't think that has enough oomph.

The question is as it always has been — what differentiates credit unions from banks. Why us and not them?

Challenges For The Staff

I have challenged my own staff that 2011 would be the year of doing our What's the plus? It can be many things:

• Ask for the business. Our competitors have this down. We are far too polite too many times. We know what we offer is great, so ask for the business!

• Deepen the relationship. We know our members well. We probably know their children, their activities, and where they live. Offering personalized solutions that will help them save more money, make more money, save them time, and protect their assets can have a lasting impact on families-especially when these solutions are being presented by someone whom they trust.

• All fronts involved. It's no longer about the front office vs. the back office. My deposit operations staff interacts with members all the time. They can help build deeper relationships by simply asking a few simple questions after the initial transaction/interaction is completed ("I see you don't have your checking account here. Where is it? Why do you love that bank so much?").

• Question the process. Why do we do what we do? Because it's always been that way? Challenge the status quo and find efficiencies everywhere. Look at your daily work from a different angle and find ways to improve. Communicate with others what you know to help them become better at what they know. If there is a better way to do something, do it (as long as it is legal and compliant).

• Leverage our technology. We have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into great technology. Squeeze every drop of that investment out to serve our members better. Hold our vendors accountable. Hold each other accountable to make the most of our tools.

We, the people-helping-people, are the difference in the credit union movement. Our shops offer the same or similar products/services as most every other bank down the street. But we have something they don't. We have us.

We need to become more knowledgeable, more tenacious in finding solutions, more passionate about helping others, and more proud of how we serve our communities. This is the credit union difference.

It's not about fees. It's about you and me making an intentional difference for our neighbors, small businesses, and families. It's about helping others create a firm foundation for their future.

That's our difference.

Jim Johnson is VP-member services of 3Rivers Federal Credit Union in Ft. Wayne, Ind., and can be reached at 

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