GAC Coverage: Stabilization Plan, Financial Crisis Take Center Stage in DC

The CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference is underway in Washington, DC! Nearly 80 people from NC have made the trek to participate in CUNA’s flagship political event.

The big topic of discussion is of course the NCUA Corporate Stabilization Plan. CUNA held a special session early this morning to update the attendees about the plan and the work that CUNA’s special committee has been doing to help soften the economic blow for credit unions.

The plan has of course generated a lot of concern and questions among credit unions. But it’s clear that NC folks are resolved to work together toward a solution, and committed to solving the problem using credit union system resources.

The stabilization plan and the ongoing financial crisis will likely be key topics of discussion on Wednesday, as the folks who have come here from NC will converge on the Capitol to meet with their elected leaders. Gregory Jenkins, a volunteer with Greensboro Municipal Credit Union, is one of the people who will head to the Hill to speak with his elected leaders.

This is Gregory’s first GAC – and he’s only been on the GMCU board for two years now. But it’s clear in speaking with him that he has a passion for serving the members of the credit union – especially now that the economy is in recession and so many are struggling. 

Gregory came to the GAC with fellow board member Matt Holmen to learn more about the stabilization plan. Like many here, he isn’t happy at the income hit the credit union will take. But like many others in attendance, he is committed to looking within the system for the solution to the problem. 

Gregory spent a few minutes with me on camera discussing how the credit union is helping members deal with the recession, his thoughts about the stabilization plan, and the message he will take to members of Congress on Wednesday.

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As Other Lenders Sit on Sidelines, Local Government FCU Steps into NC Bond Market

The US just held a so-called “change election” of course. Further down the ballot from the high-profile national races, many voters in cities and towns all across the country considered bond initiatives. These bond questions in essence ask voters to consider another form of change … by choosing whether or not to fund projects that are keys to growth and community life.

As a voter, some of these ballot intiatives might seem a little hard to understand, but when you consider that essential things in your community like parks, water and sewer lines, schools and roads may well have been funded by municipal bonds, you begin to understand and see their importance.   

In many cases, these are the types of improvements that can ensure future growth and improve the quality of life for citizens. But because the projects are so large that financing is involved, voters in those towns, cities and counties are often asked to decide what gets funded.

What has happened in the wake of the financial crisis, however, is that the bond market is giving the thumbs down to these projects, as investors flee credit markets in droves. Cities with home-run credit ratings can’t get bond money to finance projects, and that’s a real shame.

To counter the loss of confidence in the marketplace, Local Government FCU announced recently it is investing $50 million in the NC Municipal Bond Market. These funds will be used to finance some of these worthy projects statewide, and hopefully spur action among some other lenders to jump in to these very safe investments.

Kudos to the team at LGFCU for recognizing a terrific way they could meet needs in NC, and make a bold statement to their membership in doing so!

The Credit Union Century: Taking Solace in Our History of Bold Choices

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“Progress is not the mere correction of evils. Progress is the constant replacing of the best there is with something still better.” — Edward Filene  

I won’t bore you with the economic headlines – you’ve heard quite enough of those to know the situation facing consumers and credit union members. But on a day where the stock market is once again tanking and pessimism seems to be raining down lately like leaves falling off trees, I’m encouraged by the sheer power of the credit union story and how our history should give us great comfort.    

I came across this Online profile of Edward Filene in Jewish Currents recently. In reading Filene’s story, I started to reflect on the world of 1908. How different America must have been for the working class in the early part of the 1900s. And as the head of Filene’s, he had a front-row seat on these struggles as both “the boss” and “the merchant.”

You have to think in both these roles, Filene heard the stories of his employees and customers — the simple realities of day-to-day life of people working hard and achieving little success. The quiet desperation of life in a society that valued blue-collar labor without valuing its human worth. A society where hands got worked to the breaking point, only to be tossed aside upon the breaking.      

We all know the “what happened” when it comes to the birth of credit unions 100 years ago, and that’s a miracle in itself. But maybe the larger miracle comes in the “why” of Ed Filene & the credit union story.

Why would a guy like Filene bother to develop more humane worker policies in the age of Robber Barons and concentrated wealth? Why fight for progressive legislation that protected working people when he had all manner of comfort?

Why travel the world to learn about solutions to human problems that were based on self-help and empowerment — including the first credit union he laid eyes on in a small village near Calcutta in 1907?

And most of all — why would he fight bankers, moneyed interests and the corrosive rot of “that’s just the way it is” thinking to launch the credit union movement in America? Why fight the powerful on behalf of the powerless?

I can’t answer the why of Filene’s story, but I think it’s safe to say that doing nothing amid all this inequity & suffering was the easy choice for him to make. Perhaps the stories of employees and customers moved him to action. Or maybe he was just a fundamentally decent, visionary human being. And so, he fought to create progress as he saw it — the “replacing of the best there is with something still better.”

And a century later, here we are. 

“… without darkness
Nothing comes to birth,
As without light
Nothing flowers.”
— May Sarton

In many ways, this seems like a time of great darkness. The powerful argue for bailouts because they are “too big to fail,” then take junkets to luxury spas to bathe in their billions. Weak banks get taxpayer money to stay alive, and strong banks get money to “return shareholder value” (and because, well, everyone else is getting it – so why not?). 

But if you’re a consumer in need of a loan, good luck! Oh, and by the way thanks for the help – we’ll look for your check on April 15th.   

“Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.” — German Proverb

Like Edward Filene a century ago, many of you are no doubt hearing stories from your members today. Maybe it’s a loan someone needs to fix a car, pay a hospital bill or college tuition. Maybe it’s a member who needs more time to pay a loan after learning that the plant he’s worked at for 20 years is closing. Perhaps another member is in a bad mortgage loan and the walls are literally closing in on her. 

The headlines might tell you what the safe choices are right now for your credit union. But after one Great Depression, two World Wars, countless recessions and other times of national struggle, it’s clear that over the past century, the credit union movement was not built on making safe choices. It’s based on listening and empowering — on helping people “replace the best there is with something still better” in a very real and fundamental way.

And as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of credit unions in America — the powerful example of Ed Filene shines a light for us in this time of economic darkness.

Don’t let your fear make the wolf bigger than he is. Go be bold!

Charlotte Credit Unions Launch NCUSIF Awareness Campaign

Eleven Charlotte-area credit unions are rolling out a month-long awareness campaign touting the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF). The campaign, which kicks off in the Charlotte Observer on Sunday, will educate credit unions members and consumers on the federal deposit insurance coverage provided credit unions through NCUSIF.

The ad designs follow the Triad NCUSIF Awareness Campaign that launched earlier this month. The Charlotte campaign also has a web site (www.greatercharlottecreditunions.com) that relays information about credit unions and NCUSIF.

Kudos to the Piedmont Chapter for quickly coming together to make this happen!

Members Credit Union Launches Blog to Answer Member Questions About Credit Crisis

A quick nod to the folks at Members Credit Union for launching the Ask Jack blog this week (jackbraswell.com). The primary purpose of the blog is to answer member questions about the credit crisis and its impact on their personal finances.

It’s also a brilliant way for the credit union to communicate clearly with members at a time when, frankly, people are making a lot of false assumptions based on what they are seeing, hearing and reading.

The blog features President/CEO Jack Braswell answering member questions on video. At a time of great uncertainty & fear, Members is once again showing us the way to get the job done – be open, honest and upfront.

It’s important to be bold right now, but in the right way. Because when you get down to it, members really don’t care too much about “capital ratios” and whether or not you “did it better” than someone else three years ago. Because when they call, email or drop by and ask, “How is the credit union doing … are you going to be OK?” … what they’re really asking you is, “Am I going to be OK?”

Kudos to Members Credit Union for understanding this simple, powerful principle and providing a forum for people to ask some important questions.

Using Newspaper Ads & Web Site, Triad-Area Credit Unions Educate Public About Deposit Insurance

Daily stock market moves are becoming the stuff of Disney E-Ticket rides, and economic concerns continue to grow across the country. These key facts ensure that the financial crisis is with us for the foreseeable future.

In order to inform and educate credit union members and consumers about share insurance, 18 credit unions in the  the Northwest and North Piedmont Chapters (which covers the Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point areas) have joined forces to advertise in seven local newspapers over the next month. The half-page ads will underscore the safety of credit union deposits, and direct consumers to a web site (www.triadcreditunions.com) where they can learn more about the NCUSIF and credit unions.

This is a remarkable campaign on many fronts. The first conference call to put the effort together happened exactly two weeks ago today. The 18 credit unions on the initial call represent a lot of different types of organizations, from large to small, and community charter to single sponsor. But they all saw the need to come together to put out this vital message, and in the end all 18 committed dollars to purchase the ad space.

This outreach comes in addition to their own aggressive efforts to educate and inform their members about share insurance.

The ads roll out in most of the major newspapers of the region beginning this Sunday. The ad series was designed by Todd Lewis in the NCCUL Marketing Department.

Kudos to all these credit unions for working together not only in the good times – but especially now when times are tough!        

Guest Post: Tips on Boosting your Credit Union’s Safety & Soundness Message in Search Engine Results

(Christopher Morris is Web Manager of CUNA Councils in Madison, WI. He also blogs at YES CU Blog: Serving 18-to-30s. In addition to knowing his stuff when it comes to SEO, Christopher also has a really cool Batman Tattoo.)

In a previous and important post, CU Communicator rightly pointed out the importance of communicating information to your members on your credit union’s safety and soundness on your website. However, did you know that titling your webpage “A Message from CEO John Smith” is not doing anything to boost your results in Google? Your members are very likelyto visit search engines to find information on the safety of their funds with your organization. The following are a few tips on helping your message get closer to the top of those search results (it’s called Search Engine Optimization or SEO for those in the know).

Keywords are Key. What words/phrases are members using to look for information? Are your members searching “Message John Smith Money?” Probably not, this is why my example above is a wasting valuable web space.

Sit down and come up with a list of keywords and share with others for feedback. Hint: your credit union name is definitely the major keyword (also, don’t use “CU” unless it is how your members regularly address your credit union)! Most likely, members will be searching in terms such as:

  • ABC Credit Union money safe
  • ABC Credit Union money insured
  • ABC Credit Union member money insurance
  • And so on…

Thus your resulting keyword list would start out looking like:

  • ABC Credit Union
  • Money
  • Safe
  • Insurance
  • Member
  • Insured
  • And so on….

If you have access to good website statistics for your site, you can usually get a listing of keywords that visitors use to get to your site via search engines. There might be some good information in there to add to your listing.

2. Use Your Keywords Wisely. Back to my example above – Your title (what you see in the top bar of your browser) is the most important use of your keywords to the search engines. Do a Google search yourself – see that underlined blue bar for each result over the two-line description? That’s your title. Therefore, a title for your posted information should be something such as “Member Money is Safe & Insured by the Federal Government at ABC Credit Union.” Sounds bland and generic, but it is Google gold.

Next, continue to use the keywords throughout your posted message, using them in headings, bold, italics, bulleted lists and as much as possible towards the beginning. Also, do not bury them in images or videos (if you do post a video, accompany it with keyword-rich text – images, use the “alt” HTML tag). For bonus points, if you or someone else has access to the HTML code for the page, use the keywords in the <meta description> & <meta keywords> tags in the <head> section.

Note: don’t overdo it – if one word takes up more than 8 to 10 percent of the page content, it is considered spam by the search engines.

 This is enough to get you started. For advanced tips, I recommend doing a Google search for “SEO Tips” or “SEO Basics.” There is also many good books on search engine optimization – make it part of your overall credit union marketing strategy for your entire website.

Bonus tip – send your relevant webpage link (the one with your credit union’s posted message) with any PR you send out to the media and others. Having “trusted” sites link to your pages also give it a boost in search engine rankings.