Day 2 – The Credit Union Times Best Practices Conference, San Diego, California, Friday, October 09, 2009

John PorterDay 2 started with a compelling speaker, Tom Glatt of REALTORS® Federal Credit Union (  For those of you who have heard Tom speak before, you know he is full of provincial stories about growing up in Louisiana, complete with his Cajun accent.  While I find his act to be a little over the top, you cannot dispute that Tom knows what he’s talking about and conveys his messages effectively.  Tom has another feather to add to his cap—he started a new federal credit union (CU) in May 2009!  What’s more is that this CU is completely virtual; they don’t have a single branch.  Teaming up with the National Association of Realtors (NAR), Tom and his team have put together an impressive organization.  Tom admits that their competitive advantage is their association with NAR.  Another advantage this CU has is that since it is completely virtual, their cost of operation is low and will remain stagnant, with 31 vendors through whom they outsource everything (the CUs 20 some employees basically function as vendor management).  Most CUs’ cost of operation will only continue to rise.  The CU offers the complete suite of consumer products, except credit cards.  The CU started with a $15M gift from NAR to get things rolling.  Since opening four months ago, they have taken in $10M in deposits and made $6M in loans with 2400 members.  They have a VERY aggressive growth plan (especially in this environment):  By the end of their first year, he hopes to have 24,000 members and $100M in assets; by the end of their fifth year, he hopes for 100,000 members and $500M in assets.  I wish Tom and his team luck!

Our next presenter was Jim Perry of Market Insights, who effectively conveyed to us that every CU has a brand.  The question is, what are CUs doing with their brands (if anything) and are they exploiting their brands to their advantage?  According to Jim, brands are 100% perception and everyone (your staff) and everything (your staff does) contributes to this brand, positively or negatively.  It’s important for CUs to realize this and take conscious steps toward shaping their brand into something that not only attracts new members, but keeps them once they’ve come in the door.  CUs spend a lot of time on marketing pieces and coming up with promotions to bring in new members and increase business from existing member, but I doubt many CUs spend a lot of time molding their brand.  I think what Jim had to say is essential to CUs emerging from this financial crisis stronger, as they work toward differentiating themselves from banks and this includes everything from the smell of the CU branch, to the music playing in the lobby, to the appearance of the staff and the way the staff interacts with its members.

I think one of the most practical presentations of the conference was by Timothy Kolk, of TRK Advisors, LLC (  His presentation focused on the things CUs need to do in response to The Credit CARD Act to minimize losses in the short run and maximize profits in the long run.  His thesis was that we will never return to “normal.”  With fewer consumers qualifying for credit cards with other lenders there will be an increased demand placed on CUs to provide this service.  Timothy cautioned CUs not to be too excited about this market share opportunity because CUs are going to be stuck with a bunch of members who cannot afford to pay their bills on time.  Timothy also encouraged CUs to make changes to their credit card programs now, such as increasing APRs, moving from fixed plans to variable, and increasing fees across the board.  From a marketing perspective, it can be tough to sell this to your existing members; it’s hard to tell members that while you are now charging fees that you didn’t charge before, at least they’re not as bad as other lenders’ fees.  However, Timothy warned, if these changes aren’t made, it will be nearly impossible for CUs to have profitable credit card programs. 

The conference concluded with a cogent presentation by the Editor-in-Chief of The Credit Union Times (, Sarah Snell Cooke.  Sarah discussed with us the power of public relations, both as a way to bring free publicity to your CU, but also to establish yourself as an expert in the industry.  She gave us the following do’s (and don’ts) when interacting with members of the media and to increase your likelihood of being successful with your PR efforts:

  • Always be honest
  • Know and honor deadlines
  • Call back members of the media when they call you
  • Never say “no comment”
  • Pitch good stories
  • Know your relevant media outlets, know their audiences, and know their reporters
  • Be of interest
  • Send all press releases via e-mail with a clear, accurate subject.  Include press release as an attachment as well as photos.  Get to the point in the press release.
  • Don’t rely on press releases too heavily (too many, too often, OLD, and poorly written)
  • Don’t list somebody as the media contact on a press release who is going on vacation, out on maternity leave, etc.
  • Don’t combine PR with marketing (also suggests not using an outside firm)
  • Don’t be a pest

I think using the media to get your message out to your potential members is an excellent (and did I mention FREE) approach.  Along the way, you will be able to establish yourself as an expert in the field which will increase your clout among your peers and with your members.  Just be careful that you don’t turn into a media fiend like Donald Trump!

Overall, this was a worthwhile conference.  The topics were relevant, the speakers were qualified and some were even engaging.  The facilities were nice and the entire conference was well organized.  My hat goes off to Sarah and her team at The Credit Union Times for a job well done.

John B. C. Porter, Esq.


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