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Keep Touting Credit Unions in the Credit Crisis – And Do It on Your Web Sites!

Ah, the wonders of technology. As I write this at 3:00 pm on Friday, I know that 10 people have landed on this site since early this morning by doing a web search using terms such as “credit unions in credit crisis,” “credit unions safe and sound” and “credit unions and the credit crisis.” These kinds of search terms have been getting people here for months now – and the frequency is picking up lately.    

While your humble author is excited to be able to (hopefully) share helpful information with people who are rightly concerned about the financial headlines … I’m wondering what credit unions are putting out on their web sites to inform and educate members about the safety and soundness of credit union member deposits (not to mention the fact that NC credit unions are kicking some serious tail these days)?

I’m no search engine optimization expert at all, and if you happen to be, I invite you to share tips for credit unions from those who can help.

I suspect that a lot of the hits from people coming here are either concerned consumers who are curious about credit unions as an option … or they’re credit union members doing a generic search on the industry (feel free to comment if you like and tell us what you’re thinking right about now!).   

But the bottom line for CU folks is that your web site is the easiest way to communicate information to reassure your members and *not* putting out a reassuring message on the web has a definite downside.

Because if someone “Googles” your credit union’s name and the credit crisis, you want to make sure you are a relevant part of the search results — especially these days.


Crisis in the Markets: Why ‘Safe & Sound’ Is No Longer Good Enough

Back in July, the League, many credit unions and credit union organizations put the word out to the media and members that member accounts were safe and sound under the NCUSIF umbrella. At the time, the markets had tumbled and folks were nervous.

Looking back, it seems like those were the good old days.

The credit markets are seizing, and there’s pure panic on Wall Street this week. And people on Main Street are really, really worried.

So the League is speaking up again, but this time “safe and sound” is an afterthought in our message approach.

Why pull that punch with people so nervous? It’s simple really – nobody believes it anymore.

Here’s a few notable “reassuring” messages as of late:

  • “The strategic initiatives we have announced today reflect our determination to fundamentally reposition Lehman Brothers by dramatically reducing balance sheet risk, reinforcing our focus on our client-facing businesses and returning the Firm to profitability.” — Richard Fuld, CEO of Lehman Brothers, five days before the firm went bankrupt.
  • Bruce W. Harting, an analyst at Lehman Brothers, said that Fannie’s “capital appears much stronger than widely perceived“ and that neither Fannie nor Freddie “has an immediate need for capital.“ — As reported by Andrew Ross Sorkin in the New York Times, three days before the US Government you and I took control of Fannie and Freddie.
  • In an effort to squelch investor anxiety, WaMu insisted Thursday that it has sufficient capital to fund its operations … — As reported by Sarah Repro in the Seattle Times two days ago. As I write this, WaMu is up for auction in order to stave off bankruptcy.

Messages like that have been foisted on the public for weeks now, but like a weatherman forecasting snow in Miami every day, it doesn’t take long for them to be disbelieved (or worse yet, actually raise fear about the folks who are saying them). It’s also worth mentioning that a few of the above statements were factual!

So how do we cut through the perception problem and connect with people about the reality that credit unions are in much, much better shape? My take is you avoid talking about stuff people don’t understand and may not believe, and start talking about things people can hear that tell them you’re doing fine. And be sure to let your members know you’re there for them and you want to help.

A press release follows below that we’ll be sending out Thursday. And if you click here, you’ll see some of the wonderful messages some of our credit unions in NC are developing and sharing in an effort to reassure their members. These will be shared with the media, and as you’ll see if you click the link, those messages from our credit unions about the specific things they are doing to help people are the real difference-makers in this message outreach.)

NC Credit Unions Shine As Credit Crisis Roils Banks, Wall Street

As other financial institutions curtail lending in order to deal with the unfolding credit crisis, NC credit unions continue to help their members weather the economic storm, the NC Credit Union League (NCCUL) said today. The announcement came as many consumers worried about the state of the economy and the banking system.

“It’s natural for people to see the headlines and wonder if their money is safe,” said NCCUL President/CEO John Radebaugh. “Not only are credit unions safe, they’re a safe haven in this economic storm.”

Radebaugh noted that credit unions are fundamentally strong and a number of credit unions are reporting strong loan growth in 2008. “Credit unions made prudent lending decisions when other lenders didn’t, and so there’s no need for them to cut back on lending now.” He added that as cooperatives, credit unions do not rely on the stock market for funding.

As credit unions continue to stand out, NC consumers are taking note. The League offers a credit union locator service, called Find a Credit Union, on its web site. This site allows NC consumers to search for credit unions in their community that they may be eligible to join. “Over the past few months, we’re seeing a lot more searches on the site,” Radebaugh said. In fact, Find a Credit Union searches surged 62% in April – June over the first three months of the year. (To search for a credit union, you may go to http://www.findacreditunion.com/.)

Radebaugh also noted that deposits at all NC credit unions are insured by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF). NCUSIF, which is funded by credit unions and not taxpayers, provides up to $100,000 for individual accounts, and $250,000 for retirement accounts.

Short Takes and Atta-folks for a Thursday!

A busy week in CU Communicator-land, but that’s mainly because so many great things are happening, thanks to the generosity and commitment of some very special credit union folks! So let’s dive right in and offer tips of the cap to credit unions in NC and elsewhere that are really deserving of some propers …

American Partners Federal Credit Union cut the ribbon on a student-run branch of the credit union at Reidsville High School yesterday (September 10th). The Reidsville Ram Branch will offer deposit accounts, online banking access and debit cards. More importantly, students will receive financial education up-close-and-personal … and have the opportunity to learn budgeting basics by managing their accounts.

The opening of the Ram Branch comes thanks to credit union employees and the Rockingham County School System … but APFCU Marketing Specialist Stephanie Wilson is the one person who made it all come together. You’ll find complete story coverage and lots of pictures by clicking here.   

The holidays are fast approaching, and Carolina Postal Credit Union is once again mobilizing credit union people in an effort to deploy some good will to overseas troops. Operation CU Troop, now in its third year, is a collection of items for military men and women who are deployed overseas and separated from their families.

Operation CU Troop got started in 2006 when CPCU Staffer Nelle Baldwin’s son graduated high school and joined the Marines. Feeling the sting of separation, Nelle channeled her feelings into getting Operation CU Troop off the ground. In the years since, this effort has grown to include other credit unions in NC who pitch in to help bring holiday cheer to men and women in uniform. (Cooperatives cooperating … nice!)

If you’d like to roll up your sleeves and participate in this terrific effort, click here to get more information. The link includes a list of approved collection items and contact info for Marketing Diva Deb McLean, who can answer any questions for interested elves.

While the holidays are a ways off, we’re in the teeth of hurricane season in the meantime … and we have a bad one brewing in the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Ike is making steady progress toward the Texas Coast, and folks are already moving out of harm’s way.

Major, MAJOR kudos are due to Texas Dow Employees’ Credit Union as Ike approaches. The credit union is providing storm updates and relaying operational information through its web site and blog. TDECU is using all its tools in the disaster plan (Shared Branching, etc.) in an effort to keep members informed and help them cope in the event that Ike causes major disruptions to branch operations. Also, if you go to the blog you’ll find sensible, helpful, reassuring information for members caught in a stressful situation.

The blog is a TERRIFIC tool in times of crisis, and Social Media pacesetter Trey Reeme is to be commended for providing an interactive and relevant line of communications to members at a very critical time. CUs might want to look into TDECU’s strategy and consider adding some of these elements to their disaster planning and recovery mix.      

Finally, Team Little Guy successfully completed the Blue Ridge Relay Race on Saturday, September 6th. The 12-man team ran 208 miles from Grayson Highlands, VA to Asheville, NC in 32 hours. To support the team, credit unions in both Carolinas contributed $80,000 to the Carolinas Credit Union Foundation. Congratulations on a great effort guys, and thanks to credit unions who supported the Foundation with a gift. More information, pictures and a race recap can be found on the Team Little Guy  blog.

Short Takes and Atta-folks for a Thursday!

The dog days of August are upon us, and that of course brings vacation and a general slackitude in many companies. However, a few credit unions have been quite busy under that summer sun …

Members Credit Union continues to shine with its What Are You Saving for?  account and blog. WAYSF is a prize-based savings account and blog. WAYSF also includes videos of some of the monthly savings winners (including the little girl above). WAYSF is getting a lot of attention among the members of Members, and is also featured in this month’s edition of Fast Company! 

Not content to rest on the laurels of the national spotlight, Members is also back with it’s Football Pick ‘Em contest. If you aren’t familiar with the contest, check out the web site and video above, starring the credit union’s newest employee – “Mattaline.” Brilliant!

Truliant Federal Credit Union is also making a nice splash, as it rolled out its newest product, a Fuel Efficient Auto Loan product. This loan features a half-a-point discount on the loan rate for new & used vehicles that get at least 29 miles-per-gallon on the highway.

The Truliant product is a nice addition – some credit unions have added loan discounts for pricier hybrid vehicles, but these discounts did not always make enough of a difference for members who were thinking of getting a hybrid — especially now that the tax credits on them have run their course. This loan product allows members a little more flexibility to trade out of their gas guzzlers, and rewards them for making a purchasing decision that helps to moderate fuel consumption.

And let’s face it, that flexibility may help Truliant & its CUABS CUSO grab a few more sales at a time when vehicle sales are tanking.

North State Telco Credit Union is a single-sponsor credit union that is working hard in the summer sun to make life better in High Point and surrounding communities. The credit union has been collecting items for the High Point Battered Women’s Shelter for the past few weeks.  The credit union’s members have donated calling cards, dishes, umbrellas, furniture, pots & pans and many other useful items.

The collected items are used by the shelter’s clients as they make the transition back in to the community. Thus far, the credit union has made two deliveries to the non-profit, with a third heading out the door this week! Kudos to the credit union and the employees of North State Telco for coming together to meet the needs of families in the High Point community!

Even as this collection fades out like the summer, the credit union is also getting two other projects off the ground. North State is selling cookbooks to fund its new scholarship fund, and collecting old cell phones to donate to Victory Junction Gang Camp. Read more about all these North State Telco initiatives by clicking here.   

These are but three examples of credit unions in NC that are working hard to improve the lives of members and non-menbers alike in the communities in which they operate. Nice work!

Some Thoughts About Credit Union History … As A Legend of My Youth Passes

 I woke up this morning to the sad news that Atlanta Braves Broadcaster Skip Caray passed away Sunday. To anyone who is not a fan of the Atlanta Braves or baseball, this news may not be of any great importance. But to anyone who is a fan of the Braves, it’s a huge loss.

Skip called the Braves games for 33 years, including the 1970s and 80s, when the Braves were for the most part simply awful. But as the Braves played a blistering stretch of ball late in the 1980 season and actually contended into September, Skip’s funny, artful commentary on WSB-AM won over this high school senior. 

Listening to a baseball game on the radio is in many ways far superior to watching in on TV or even in person. The listener provides a canvas, and the commentator the color. The interaction between the two people, connected only by crackling radio waves, paints a vivid picture that is rich in texture.   

It was a summer of many magical moments for me listening to the Braves’ games on radio. Veteran players like Phil Niekro & Chris Chambliss joined forces with young players like Dale Murphy and Bob Horner to give the faithful a pennant race deep into September. That was a real shock given that the team actually started the season 1-9.

That 1980 team faded at the end to finish 81-80 for the year, losing out to superior NL West teams in Houston, LA & Cincinnati. But a lifetime love affair with baseball started on those hot summer nights in Georgia, thanks in part to Skip’s radio work.

And despite work stoppages, steroids, and prissy drama queen millionaire players, my love for the game has never waned in the years since.

Skip’s passing hit me hard, because he’s a part of my personal history and a big connecting point to my love of the Braves and the game of baseball. In the hours since I first heard it, my thoughts of course turned to my family and those who matter most, and making sure that I make more time for them.

But I also think about credit unions, and the older folks who have invested so much of themselves in this movement. In NC, the credit union movement helped to transform the economy and lift so many out of poverty during the depression … and some folks still living are keenly aware of that vivid history and knew some of the iconic names of this wonderful movement personally.

But time stops for no one, and more and more of these folks are leaving us.

So I encourage you to take some time, if you have not already done so, to spend a few hours with the men and women who have helped to make your credit union what it is today. Documenting that history represents an important piece of who you are — and their stories are intimately tied to the communities you have served for so long. If you’ve done this already, good for you! I’d love to hear your credit union’s stories – feel free to leave a comment.

Once these people leave us, the chance to really feel and understand that legacy is gone, and the opportunity to inspire future generations about credit unions passes on with them.    

Here’s a link to perhaps one of Skip’s greatest calls – the 1992 NL Championship Series … Game Seven against the Pirates … with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Braves needed two runs to return to the World Series.  

RIP Skip & thanks for the memories.

Truliant FCU Shines in Media Outreach in Credit Crisis

This is a bit of an update to the July 16th post about the credit crisis, and the insurance protection credit union members enjoy through NCUSIF. Credit unions across the state and nation have been busy sharing  important information with members during these uncertain times.

Truliant FCU has really done a masterful job of getting this information in front of the media through timely press releases. Last week, the credit union sent out a press release showing their mortgage closings shot up in the first six months of the year, even as the real estate market in Forsyth County and the Piedmont Triad struggled.   

A key quote from this press release:

“Our mortgage department stays extremely busy,” said Marc Schaefer, President/CEO of Truliant Federal Credit Union. “We take the necessary steps and time to analyze each member’s needs to ensure they understand all of their options and the costs associated with each. By placing this information within the context of all their financial needs we help them purchase a home that they can both enjoy and afford. As a credit union, we are member-owned and pride ourselves on doing what is best for our members.”

This quote really pushes out some clear points of differentiation for Truliant and just about every other credit union in America!

Of course, the IndyMac bank failure a couple of weeks ago also generated a lot of concern, and Truliant is taking the exceptionally wonderful step of scheduling seminars to help members understand and maximize share insurance protections. This info was also sent out to the media.

This information may or may not end up in newspapers or other forms of media – a lot of times, good news gets ignored at the expense of the sensational. And that’s too bad.

But at a clear inflection point in the economy and the financial services sector, these press releases do help Truliant differentiate itself in the eyes of reporters and editors. And in a movement that outsiders don’t understand very well, and the media sometimes forgets about, that can’t help but be positive. Keep it up!

As Fear Grips Markets, Credit Unions Share Reassuring Messages with Congress

About 20 NC credit union representatives met with members of Congress last week as part of Hike the Hill. For anyone who has ever attended these meetings, no two are ever quite alike of course – but it’s safe to say that there’s a real air of drama and concern in Washington these days.

The credit crunch, along with the stresses and strains showing up throughout the financial system, have transformed what would otherwise be a sleepy Congressional summer session in an election year. When we were there last week, the House passed a sweeping Housing Bill intended to help prop up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, while providing foreclosure relief to homeowners. 

Against this backdrop, credit unions were able to deliver some compelling messages, including the reality that while others made questionable lending decisions, credit unions made responsible loans … and while banks and other lenders continue to cut back on lending in order to repair their balance sheets, credit unions continue to meet the needs of members, and in many cases are doing their part to keep the mortgage market ticking.         

The above video summarizes a few of the highlights of the meetings with elected leaders. The League appreciates each and every person who took time out their schedule to attend Hike the Hill this year. There were so many great stories shared, I only wish we had time to put everyone on camera!

No one wants to see the economy struggle. It’s painful stuff.

But these tough times have allowed credit unions to show just how fundamentally different they are from for-profit banks.

As Markets Deliver Tough Love to Bank Stocks, Time for Credit Unions to Deliver Some Clear Messages to Members

Unless you’ve been on Mars, you know things are really bad in the banking sector & the US economy. The markets have punished bank stocks, credit continues to dry up for consumers, and the failure of IndyMac Bank caused a depression-style run on deposits.

Meanwhile inflation & unemployment are creeping up, gas is $4 a gallon and most experts agree that the economy is going to be a tough slog for a lot longer than many of us first thought. In short, it’s ugly out there, folks.  

With so much pessimism in the headlines, it’s little wonder that some credit union members are wondering about the safety and soundness of credit unions. Our compliance department has fielded multiple calls from affiliated credit unions looking for resources on the NCUSIF so they can soothe the nerves of some anxious members.

To respond, the League put together a press release for the NC media spelling out two key differences: our ability to lend in this environment due to our structure and the lack of risky loans in our portfolios … plus the insurance guarantee afforded credit union member deposits through the National CU Share Insurance Fund.

It remains to be seen if reporters will pick up on these differences and report them … but regardless, this seems like a good time for credit unions to be talking about these differences with members.

Here’s what we came up with, in cooperation with CUNA & NCUA. Feel free to use any of this info if you like.  (Kudos to Mark Wolff and the team at CUNA for their work on the safety & soundness document.)  

Also, here’s a link to to the home page of the Carolina Postal CU web site. CPCU posted a special message on their site letting members know their deposits are protected. (Special thanks to Deb McLean.)

There’s a lot of things for folks to worry about these days … but the health of their credit union and the safety of their deposits is definitely not among them.

Truliant FCU Ad Spots Win Telly Awards

Congratulations are in order to Truliant FCU and its Chapel Hill-based advertising agency, Jennings. The credit union, which worked with Jennings to produce two television ads designed to differentiate the credit union, won two Telly Awards!

The Telly Awards, which began in 1978, honor the very best local, regional, and cable television commercials and programs, as well as the finest video and film productions, and work created for the Web. The Truliant spots competed against more than 13,500 TV spots submitted from across the world.

Congratulations to the teams at Truliant and Jennings for these well-deserved awards! In a world of advertising filled with airbrushed models and soon-forgotten messages, these funky ads & the microsite that accompanies them stand out in the crowd.

Being There: Staff, Volunteers Advocate for Credit Unions in Raleigh

On Wednesday, May 28th, representatives of the Piedmont, Northwest, Foothills and Western Chapters paid visits to their elected leaders in Raleigh. The visits, which are part of the annual State Capital Connections program, came one week after members of the Tarheel, North Piedmont, Northeast and Southeast Chapters visited with members of the NC General Assembly.

Not unlike the Hike the Hill events in Washington, DC, SCC involves a lot of talking, walking and handshaking. But through each step, word and extended hand, important relationships are developed or renewed.

Fueling the meetings this year was the recent release of Dr. William Jackson’s study, which showed that credit unions saved their members and other consumers a whopping $529 million in one year! These results, which Jackson based on 2006 data, show the impact and value of NC credit unions — especially now that the economy is struggling.

Beyond the fact that the credit union folks relate stories that inform policy makers about the value credit unions bring to local communities, these meetings represent lobbying as its supposed to be: grassroots constituents sharing their perspectives. What these folks are doing is so far removed from the K Street nonsense that comes to mind when many think of lobbying.

In the above video, you’ll hear from Lori Thompson, one of those grassroots credit union advocates, as well as Dan Schline of the League and Rep. Trudi Walend (R-Transylvania), who graciously sat down for an interview despite her frenetic schedule. But the League thanks all of the credit union staff and volunteers who took time out of their schedule the past couple of weeks to join us for State Capital Connections.