Shoveling Out From The Interchange Snowjob

If one of those big, bad companies (oh, for kicks, let’s just say it was a bank, our punching bag du jour) tried to mislead the public, what would the response be? Outrage. People would be up in arms, and politicians — especially the current administration — would be calling for legislation to punish the offender, and prevent it from happening again.

And, of course, our elected public officials would make a public spectacle out of it. Might even warrant dropping a few F-bombs, eh Carl Levin?

But what happens when those same elected officials, or some other politically-motivated individual, spews misleading information? Not only do they get a pass, but they get a platform to deliver those messages in publications like the New York Times and Huffington Post.

Examples: In a HuffPo article from February, California state assembly member Pedro Nava wrote:

On average, consumers pay $427 annually on interchange fees without even realizing it.”

Unfortunately, that’s simply not true, at least not literally. Consumers don’t pay an interchange fee. Merchants do. Whether or not that cost gets passed on to consumers is a different question of course, but if he’s going to expand the analysis to every cost a merchant incurs that works its way back to consumers, maybe Nava should start with the 8.25% sales tax that Californians pay.

More recently, the NY Times published an article written by Albert Foer, the president of the American Antitrust Institute, who wrote:

If the United States were to reduce the interchange rate from 2.0 percent to 0.5 percent, the savings would be $36 billion per year.”

That’s a true statement, kind of. $36 billion would be saved, but it’s really not clear who would reap those savings. With retailers’ profit levels declining, do you really think the savings they would accrue in interchange fees would be passed on to consumers? It’s possible. Just not on this planet.

The other fallacy in Foer’s analysis is that when companies are faced with revenue decline, most don’t sit back and do nothing. They try to find ways to recoup those shortfalls. This involves trying to find new customers, and/or offering new products, but may involve raising prices and fees in other areas. So, in the long run, those savings never materialize.

I’ll repeat that: Those savings never materialize.

If the same elected officials who are spewing falsehoods continue to (or try to) regulate firms’ ability to price their products and services, the outcome may be lower prices, but with a cost: Lower employment levels. As a firm’s revenue declines, so does its employment count.

But I should stop this rant — I’m probably preaching to the choir. If you’re reading this, you likely work in the financial services industry for a bank or credit union and agree with me.

The question that needs to be addressed: What should FIs do about this?

If there ever was a good opportunity for a national education/advertising campaign, this is it.

Callahan & Associates recently alerted credit unions to the potential impact of a cut in interchange fees:

If credit union’s interchange income was reduced in total by 75 percent (from Foer’s stated 2.0 to 0.5 percent), the lost revenue would drastically affect credit union non-interest income and the eventual value returned to members. Do your members know how interchange helps the credit union and subsidizes the true cost of providing debit and credit services?”

This is too narrow a view, though. The impact to credit union members is much broader than just the impact on their CU’s payout.

FIs — banks and CUs —  need to educate the public about what the interchange fee is. What it’s there for, who pays it, and how it helps pay for the rewards that consumers get on their credit and debit cards, and how it helps (will increasingly help) to keep checking account fees low, if not free. And how it’s a fee that merchants pay because it enables merchants to reduce the amount of cash they handle, reduces their billing costs, and helps prevent fraudulent activity.

As a VP of operations at a credit union was quoted as saying in American Banker “the current fee system puts financial institutions of all sizes on the same playing field in setting interchange rates. It allows the credit unions to compete with the largest national banks.”

This may cause a bit of a quandary for credit unions, however. After spending so much time and effort over the past 18 months distancing themselves from the larger institutions, I can’t help but wonder if this will cause some PR embarrassment for credit unions.

It doesn’t matter, though. This issue is too important.

Who Needs Vision?

This recent tweet from Sarah Cooke (@CookeOnCUs) caught my attention:

#NACUSO Tom Davis: “The credit union industry has no unifying vision.”

My first thoughts were: 1) What industry does? and 2) So what?

Here are some things I hold to be truths: 1) Consumers have different financial services needs. 2) Consumers have different preferences for the type of relationship they want with their financial services providers. 3) No single credit union can effectively serve the differences in needs and relationship types inferred by points #1 and #2.

Therefore….

1. Each individual needs its OWN vision that unifies the products, people, processes, and policies of that credit union.

2. It would be impossible (given the above truths) to have a unifying vision for the credit union industry that was meaningful on any level.

Whenever the credit union discussion turns to “shared vision” I can’t help but think of REI. Like credit unions, REI is a non-profit cooperative. Unlike credit unions, REI doesn’t obsess over how it’s “different” from Dick’s Sporting Goods or Sports Authority, and it certainly doesn’t worry about whether or not the cooperative sporting goods industry has a shared vision (because, of course, there is no cooperative sporting goods industry).

Instead, they compete — very successfully — by delivering a superior customer experience. Which isn’t some vague “our customer service is superior” claim. They have 1) extremely knowledgeable employees who 2) help customers (and/or members, it doesn’t really matter to them) find the right product for them (the customer) and support all that with 3) return policies that are very customer-friendly. And the quality of products is generally just as good (if not better) than what you would find at other stores.

So, I’m not very convinced that the credit union industry needs a unifying vision. Which isn’t to say that each credit union shouldn’t have a unifying vision. But I’m getting sloppy here with terminology. Because it isn’t vision that’s missing in many credit unions (and banks, to be fair), it’s strategy: How will we compete in the marketplace, with whom, and for whom (i.e., which members/customers)?

A number of years ago, creating a vision or mission statement was the consulting project du jour (@workingonstep2 will remember this well). They fell out of favor because: 1) Every consulting project du jour falls out of favor after 2-3 years, and 2) They had very little impact on the day-to-day operations of the business.

In other words, there was a huge disconnect between vision and execution. Which is another reason why credit unions would be wasting their time trying to come up with a unifying vision: They wouldn’t know how to drive that vision down to tactical and measurable initiatives. (To be fair, few firms do).

So before you (or your credit union) participate in any effort to create a unifying vision for the CU industry, you should really ask: Why are we doing this? What will we (all CUs, not just your own CU) get out of this? And most importantly: What will be different?

I’m betting that a “unifying vision” won’t change much.

Postscript: After writing this, I sent it over to a friend for feedback, and let it sit for awhile. The questions I had to answer before posting this were: 1) Is it valuable enough to publish, and 2) What am I really trying to say here?

My friend gave me the confidence that it was worth publishing.

But the answer to the second question didn’t hit me clearly until I read something by Chip Filson, who wrote:

Credit unions can make 2010 not only the Year of the Consumer, but also the first year in a new decade of credit union leadership.”

And that’s when I realized what I’m trying to say to credit unions. Chip is spot-on, but please don’t wait for every other credit union to get in alignment before making that happen.

What Small Businesses Want From Banks And Credit Unions

Banking Kismet did a good job of taking one credit union to task for ineffective marketing to businesses. The crux of George’s argument was that the attributes that the credit union was using to differentiate itself, and to establish its superiority over large banks, weren’t truly differentiating factors.

While Banking Kismet was referring to just one CU, I think we can all agree that this CU’s approach isn’t unique. [For a great discussion on this, see The Financial Brand’s Service is not what differentiates you].

But while Banking Kismet’s analysis is spot on, it didn’t address the question: So what would differentiate the credit union in the minds of small businesses? Put another way: What are small businesses looking for when choosing a bank or credit union?

I haven’t written about this topic before, because I thought everybody knew the answer already. Apparently not. It comes down to three things:

  1. Are you going to lend me money or not?
  2. Do you understand my business and can you help me grow my business?
  3. Do you provide technology to make banking more convenient?

That’s it. END OF STORY.

Crowing about “personalized service” is useless. Finding out that you don’t know my business well enough to help me is no better coming from someone who knows my name than it is from someone who doesn’t know my name.

And if you’re not inclined to lend me money, then your volunteer board of directors only does me good if one of them is my cousin or next-door neighbor.

Not every small business puts equal importance across the three factors (the list comes from a report recently published by Aite Group on small business banking). But you’ll reach a pretty large percentage of small businesses if you meet all three criteria.

Of course, that’s a lot easier said than done. You’ll need underwriting capabilities to determine the best risks from the poor lending risks. And you might want to figure out which types of businesses you want to develop a knowledge of, and competency in helping. Oh, and you might want to invest in technology capabilities like mobile banking, remote deposit capture, and electronic invoicing.

Or you could just beat your chest, scream about your personalized service, and hope for the best.

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Credit Unions' Credit Card Chimera

I don’t have stats to back this assertion, but it seems to me that credit unions are looking at the credit card market as a growth opportunity these days.

Anecdotally, after linking to a news story about how Chase would drop 15% of its cardholders as a result of the new regulations, one of my Twitter buddies tweeted “time to find a credit union card.” And the CU twittersphere jumps on every mention of CUs from Suze Orman, like this one:

Don’t get me started with these credit card companies….here’s the answer: Credit unions. So many credit unions are giving you no balance-transfer fees, low interest rates. [And] most credit unions aren’t staffed by the dumbest people you will ever meet.”

As a side comment here, I’m not sure why Ms. Orman thinks card issuers employ the “dumbest people you will ever meet.” Personally, I’m very impressed that my card issuer can detect fraudulent patterns in card use, and called me when they noticed that my card was used in both Massachusetts and Texas on the same day.

But the bigger question here is this: Why do credit unions think that the customers that the big issuers will drop are such a great business opportunity? Does it occur to credit unions that the reason why the large issuers are dropping these people is that they’re not profitable customers?

There’s a new definition of “good customer” in the credit card industry these days. The old definition: Someone who revolves balances and pays late. Translation: Someone who pays a lot in interest and late fees.

New definition: People who use their credit card a lot. These folks often don’t revolve, and if they do, don’t do it for long, and make way more than the minimum payment. They drive profits for the issuer through interchange fees, not interest fees. And they’re way more concerned about the quality of the rewards program than they are interest rates or balance transfer fees.

Translation: The card customers that credit unions are likely to obtain by digging through the large issuers’ trashcans may not be very profitable.

If credit unions see this a springboard to obtaining new members and growing the relationship, then why are so many CUs so proud of letting deposit accounts walk out the door when the member wants a good or better rate?

Credit unions can beat their chests all they want about how superior their card programs are. The reality is that only certain types of the cards they offer are a better deal. On the rewards front, the CUs are lagging. And that’s what luring and retaining the “best” cardholders today.

The Secret Of High-Performing Credit Unions?

Imagine that there are two groups of credit unions. We’ll call one group the HPs (for high-performers), and the other group we’ll call…the other group.

Over the past two years, average membership growth for the HPs has been three times higher than that of the other group. Further, the HPs’ two-year loan and net-worth growth have been nearly twice as high, and their growth in market share has been 20% higher than the market share growth of the other group.

Which group would you want your credit union to be in?

Duh.

The more important question, of course, is what did the HPs do differently?

Based on research on 54 credit unions that participated in a research study Aite Group recently conducted, I can tell you that: 1) We did find two groups, and 2) There is (at least) one very important difference between the two groups worth noting.

That difference? How the HPs manage IT.

I know you’d like to believe that it was their use of social media, or their focus on Gen Y or whatever other technology or product you champion, but I really don’t think that’s it. Because the HPs probably wouldn’t have made that investment in social media, or in other technologies, if it weren’t for how they manage IT.

When I talk about how they manage IT, I’m referring specifically to three dimensions: 1) IT risk tolerance; 2) executive support for IT; and 3) IT/business coordination.

Credit unions that show a tolerance for IT risk, have strong executive support, and enjoy excellent coordination between IT and the business outperform other credit unions — regardless of which technologies they invest in.

I’ve seen a lot of discussion online among credit union people about how to get their management team fired up about — or even remotely interested in — social media. Some of the recommendations from people revolve around “showing them the ROI.”

The paradox of the situation is that while there may very well be an ROI — or at least some tangible business benefit — the problem is that many management teams aren’t inclined to make the investment because they’re not tolerant of risk and/or don’t have a fundamental belief in the value of technology as a business enabler or competitive differentiator.

In other words, it doesn’t matter what the ROI is.

So, before you start advocating for Twitter, blogs, Facebook, etc., at your CU, ask yourself if your CU has a history of being comfortable with IT risk, executive support for IT, and coordination between IT and other departments. If not, you’ve got some work to do.

Imagine that there are two groups of credit unions (CUs). Over the past two years,
one group’s membership growth has been three times higher than that of the CUs
in the other group. Further, the first group’s two-year loan and net-worth growth
have been nearly twice as high as those of the second group, and the first group’s
growth in market share has been 20% higher than the market share growth of the
second group. Which group would you want your credit union to be in?Imagine that there are two groups of credit unions (CUs). Over the past two years, one group’s membership growth has been three times higher than that of the CUs in the other group. Further, the first group’s two-year loan and net-worth growth have been nearly twice as high as those of the second group, and the first group’s growth in market share has been 20% higher than the market share growth of the second group. Which group would you want your credit union to be in?

A Guide To The Financial Services Industry

The past few months have been a turbulent time for the financial services industry. With all that’s going on, I thought I’d give the confused, perplexed, and uninitiated a simple way to figure out who’s who in the industry.

Fundamentally, there are four types of firms in the industry. Those that:

1) Were banks, are still banks, but don’t want to be banks.
2) Weren’t banks, but now want to be banks.
3) Weren’t banks, don’t want to be banks, but tell the regulators that they are banks.
4) Aren’t banks, don’t want to be banks, but are told by regulators that they’re banks.

Firms in Category 1 include Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase who were banks (and still are), but through acquisitions of firms like Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch (not to mention Countrywide) clearly don’t want to be banks.

We used to know Category 2 firms as investment banking, brokerage, and credit card firms. Everybody from Goldman Sachs to American Express is applying to be a bank, so they too, can get in on the deposits gold rush of  ’08.

Category 3 firms are sometimes called credit unions. While they tell consumers that they’re not banks, they tell the regulators that they are, so they can get some of that juicy TARP money.

Firms in the fourth category are sometimes known as P2P lenders. Maybe you’ve heard of Prosper and Lending Club. While they say they’re not banks, the regulators aren’t buying that for a New York second.

Any questions?

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Credit Unions Need A New Vocabulary

Hey credit union people, got a question for you: Have you ever googled someone?

Of course you have!

And 10 years ago, did you have any idea what it meant to google someone?

Of course not!

My point: It’s possible to introduce new terminology into the lexicon, and have it stick. And credit unions need to introduce some new language into their vocabulary.

While driving home last night, I heard an ad on the radio for a Boston-area credit union who — like so many other credit unions — was going on and on about the “CU difference” and how it wasn’t a bank, yada, yada. Then came this line:

“Come to [name-of-CU] credit union for all your banking needs.”

How confusing. “We’re not a bank, we’re not a bank” but, “come to us for your banking needs.”

So what do you replace the term “banking” with? Well, I’ll tell you what you don’t replace it with: credit unioning. Bad idea.

Here’s my suggestion: “Come to [name-of-CU] credit union for your personal financial management needs.” Or: “Come to [name-of-CU] credit union to help you manage your financial life.”

Why is this better? Because “banking” is a verb that has a strong transactional connotation. And managing — or better yet, processing — transactions is not the area in which I think most credit unions are trying to differentiate themselves and compete (nor should they be).

Instead, it’s the advice, guidance, and education implicit in the phrase “personal financial management” that I think will help CUs truly differentiate themselves — and prove that there really is a CU difference.

Please note, however, that I didn’t suggest: “”Come to [name-of-CU] credit union for all your financial services needs.” That ain’t gonna fly. There are very few (let me repeat: very few) consumers out there who want to turn to just one firm — let alone a CU — for all of their financial services needs.

If you can come up with a good verb that captures “personal financial management”, let me know. I’ll do my part to help make it a fixture of the financial services lexicon.

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Led Zopalin

P2P lender Zopa has decided that wiith the leaves falling all around (here in New England, at least), it was time it was on its way. According to Zopa’s site:

While our model is doing very well in current market conditions, the US has been adversely affected in a way that just couldn’t have been predicted when we launched. So, sadly, our US colleagues have decided to withdraw from the US marketplace.”

When I read the words that it told me it made me sad, sad, sad. But on the Forum Solutions site (run by Forum CU, one of Zopa’s US partners), Doug True quotes Sarah Mason from Affinity Plus CU as saying:

As one of the credit unions who were partnered with Zopa, I would like to clarify that we have no credit availability issues and have changed none of our lending practices. This decision was made by Zopa.”

Hmmm. These would appear to be contradictory statements — but you know sometimes words have two meanings.

My take: I have to admit to being a littled dazed and confused. The “current market condition” — i.e., credit crunch — means traditional sources of funding (FI2P, or financial institution to person) is drying up. So, borrowers should be turning to alternatives sources of funds like P2P sites, no?

And with the steep drop in the stock market, investors/lenders are looking for places to put their money that will generate decent returns. So they should be turning to alternatives like P2P sites too, no? And feel even more secure about Zopa, since it’s (or was) backed by solid financial institutions, right?

In the battle for [evermore] customers, increased demand for alternative sources of funds + increased supply of funds available for alternative lending sounds like a stairway to heaven to me.

But apparently not. So what happened? I’m guessing it was a combination of:

1. The market not being ready. According to Forrester Research, consumers show “little interest [in P2P lending], mainly because they are skeptical of the benefits, are concerned about the risks, and are almost completely in the dark about firms that offer these services.”

2. The marketing not being sufficient. The flip side of factor #1 is that Zopa and its partners didn’t put enough marketing horsepower into their efforts. I remember a conversation I had in 2000 with Doug Lebda, founder of LendingTree. Although he believed that having “banks compete over you” was a better value proposition than the prevailing business model, he recognized that what he was asking consumers to change the way they went about getting a loan. And as such, he knew had to commit a lot of marketing dollars in educating consumers about this new approach and to create a new consumer brand.

3. The management team(s) not being able to focus. Management can’t disperse its attention to too many competing initiatives. So Zopa may be making a smart decision to narrow its attention and resources to the markets — namely, the UK and Italy — that promise to be the most profitable in the short term, and help fund its long term growth plans. CU contemplating starting new CUSOs should keep this in mind, too.

Bottom line: I wrote back in May that I thought Zopa had the winning business model in the P2P space. I think the key to P2P success is not through the disintermediation of financial institutions, but leveraging their risk management capabilities. I don’t think Zopa’s departure from the US is a sign that its business model was wrong.

But this should be a wake-up call to the existing players in the P2P market that their “better mousetrap” is no guarantee of success. Some marketing pundits love to say that all the rules of marketing have changed. They’re wrong. Social networks, word-of-mouth marketing, viral videos, etc. are just new ways of creating awareness, interest, and consideration among consumers. The need to manage the customer life cycle (awareness, interest, consideration, purchase) hasn’t changed — and never will.

Many dreams come true — and some have silver linings — but if P2P sites are going to gain any market share, they’ll need to spend a pocketful of gold on marketing.

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Reflections on the 2008 Forum Symposium

I shouldn’t be writing this now. I’m mentally exhausted. On the other hand, the conference is still fresh in my memory, and won’t be so 24 hours from now.

William Azaroff posted my key takeaways from the conference, so I won’t rehash that. Check out his blog to see what I had concluded, and to see his presentation.

At the risk of offending someone (stop laughing), here are some random thoughts about the conference:

Most speakers suck. As speakers that is. One of the reasons I proposed to Forum CU to try a moderated Q&A format is that only a precious few speakers can really hold an audience’s attention for more than 15 minutes. Too many speakers take too long to make their point, try to make too many points, or aren’t quite sure what point they’re trying to make in the first place. Most speakers aren’t able to read the audience’s mood and attention level, and so they end up just motoring through their slides, altering neither the pace or tone, and saying things that are obvious to the attendees, or irrelevant to the attendees.

But most speakers have something really valuable to say. They just say it better in conversation than in the artificial situation of a presentation. That’s what Forum was trying to do with the symposium. And that’s why I’m secretly pissed at a few of the speakers — because they shortchanged their opportunity to have a conversation with me (and, by proxy, the audience). [Please see comment #4 for clarification on this]

Vancity’s story is compelling and inspiring. The word “authenticity” came up a few times during the conference. Not during William Azaroff’s presentation, however. He didn’t have to say it — he and Vancity live it. People get authenticity at a gut level. You don’t need to tell them you’re authentic, they get it. No offense to the other presenters, but William’s was one of just a few of the presentations I thought could have gone longer and still held the audience’s attention.

If you work at a credit union, you should go to William’s site and watch his presentation. For many, it will be a painful reminder of why — despite all of the public proclamations your CU makes about how great it thinks it is — your CU doesn’t really know who it is, why it exists, and what it should be doing in the market like Vancity does. If you’re insulted by that, I’m sorry. But the truth sometimes hurts.

Presenting a vision is a great presentation device.
When those visions are compelling and tangible, that is. And Matt Dean of Trabian really delivered on this count. His wasn’t some high-falutin’, gee-whiz, science fiction vision, nor was it some cumbaya vision of some CU Eden where everyone holds hands, collaborates, and helps members achieve their financial dreams.

Instead, it was a tangible vision of what credit unions could be doing with their online banking platforms to ratchet up the value delivered and bring a social media aspect to their sites. It was a great vision, well delivered, and I can’t wait to steal his slides.

As a presentation device, some conference speakers could learn a valuable lesson from what Matt did. He could have gone up there and told everybody about the great work his firm has done in the past by showing pictures of the Web sites his firm has worked on. This would have basically turned his presentation into nothing but a commercial for his company (which is what one speaker did). If he had done that, he wouldn’t have been nearly as effective at establishing both his and his firms’ credibility. Nice job, Matt.

Numbers bore the hell out of most people. And they even bore the people who are into numbers when they’re not used properly. Unfortunately, there are times when conference speakers find a number that they think is impressive sounding, or that they think will help them prove something that they’re trying to assert. And sometimes it works. But sometimes it just leaves people wondering “so what?” I’d give you an example, but it would just make a friend get mad at me for calling him out in public.

WDTMTM? Every conference speaker should recite this acronym 100 times when preparing their presentation, and 100 times 5 minutes before they take the stage. WDTMTM? = What Does This Mean To Me? It’s what EVERY attendee is thinking while the speaker’s mouth is open. Unfortunately, there are some conference speakers who are seem more concerned with WATIWS (What are the things I want to say?).

Twittering questions from the audience was a terrible idea. What a disaster that was. Twhirl didn’t update anywhere nearly as frequently as we needed it to. Terrible idea. On the other hand, just the fact that we even tried it in the first place is a real testament to Doug True. When I proposed a moderated format, he said “let’s try it.” When I suggested using Twitter to capture questions, he said “let’s try it.” There was something else I suggested (can’t remember what it was), and his response: “let’s try it.” It’s quite possible that he’s just the biggest pushover in the world. But I’m betting that his response is the result of being an experimenter, willing to try new things, and to take calculated risks. And in the end, the fact that the Twitter experiment failed was no big deal. In other words, the risk of failure was low. But some managers don’t get that. They find every reason why something new will or won’t work and then weigh the probability of success versus the probability of failure — ignoring the risks.

Stand still. Using the stage is a skill. The best speakers use the stage as a prop and as a mechanism for helping them tell their story. They focus on stage placement — that is, different parts of the stage are used to convey different messages, so that when they go to a certain place on the stage, the audience is conditioned to know what to expect. Just because you walk from the left part of the stage to the right — and back again — does not mean you are using the stage effectively. It’s distracting. But not quite as distracting as pacing. Most speakers would do better to just stand still.

Less is more. And on so many different levels. First, as it pertains to a presentation. One message, few words on a slide, few slides. Video is good, but after the first or second video, it’s boring and overused. And building in down time into the schedule is critical. Less sessions, more networking time. Better to go to 5PM with an hour break in the afternoon, than to end at 4PM with just a 15-minute break.

Canada gets it. At least as it relates to the credit union world. They can keep their health care system, though.

You don’t need a social media strategy. I absolutely hate hearing from the social media experts that firms need to have a social media strategy. Firms need a customer engagement strategy — how they should  and could interact (or engage) with customers in a more meaningful way that creates and deepens the relationship. I will keep saying this over and over until the social media proponents begin to understand: Blogs and wikis and Facebook are not the only ways to engage customers. Face to face works. The phone can work. Direct mail can work. Any touchpoint can work. If you’re a bank or credit union, it doesn’t matter one single iota that 100 million people are on Facebook — unless they want to interact with banks and credit unions there. And that’s far from a proven fact. A customer engagement strategy incorporates all touchpoints — a social media strategy only deals with a subset.

[Update: For more discussion on this, go here.  Tomas rightfully argues that “what doesn’t work is marching into Facebook with the same old rusty weapons, looking for another “segment” to bombard with “messages”, with a “social media strategy” paper at hand.”]

The future of credit unions is in providing life management services.
Banks (and to a certain extent credit unions) have become increasingly adept at selling consumers financial services products. That’s nice. Unfortunately, what many people need is help managing their money. For many people, though, “managing their money” doesn’t mean allocating investments. And it’s not about “saving” more. It’s also about spending smarter. And making smart choices about what to spend their money on, what not to spend their money on. This isn’t just about financial education — it’s about hands-on involvement with consumers. It’s about intervening, getting hands-on, and engaging with consumers. It’s about helping them manage their lives, because we can no longer distinguish between managing our money and managing our lives.

It’s going to require a huge strategic shift in the industry, but it will happen. Not within the next 5 years, but perhaps in the 10-15 year timeframe. It has to happen. It’s the only way for credit unions to thrive in the long term, and the only way to develop a life long relationship with customers that isn’t based on the interpersonal connection between a member and somebody at the credit union. And if I were at a credit union, what I would be most afraid of is having a bank — or somebody else — come in and “out credit union” me.

I will never ever do this again. Moderating, or hosting, a conference, that is. I don’t mind the work it took to prepare — that was no big deal. But it’s too much pressure. Being mentally “on” for two days straight is incredibly draining. And if I didn’t do a good job, it wasn’t just me who would look bad, but Forum would look bad as well.

In the end, there are a bunch of things I would have done differently. I guess I could say “oh well, next time” — but there ain’t gonna be no next time.

I’d like to meet Gene Blishen’s wife. She’s been married to the guy for 35 years — she’s got to know his flaws. God knows I can’t find ’em.

Face to face rules. Twittering and blogging are great. But nothing beats seeing your Twitter friends in the real world.

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