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Were ready CUs tell nations media of switch movement
MADISON, Wis. (11/1/11)--The likes of NBC Nightly News, Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, Detroit Free Press and Minneapolis Star-Tribune were among the dozen or so well-known outlets reporting this weekend that credit unions are ready to step in and serve consumers fed up with fees charged by big banks.

In addition, more than two dozen reported on the latest news related to the nationwide Bank Transfer Day, set for Saturday. The Associated Press, Reuters, ABC Action News  were among them. Bank Transfer Day is the movement that began on the Facebook page of a California art dealer who announced said she was moving her account  because of bank fees. Many began suggesting that consumers switch to credit unions. The media barrage on the topic has gone on more than a month.

The Credit Union National Association (CUNA)  helped arrange an interview on Friday NBC Nightly News anchored by Brian Williams with BECU, Tukwila, Wash., about why consumers are switching to credit unions.

The segment hit bank fees hard and noted that while some big banks are pulling back from their debit card fee announcements, consumers should be on the lookout for "stealth fees" such as increased minimum balances to maintain "free" checking, a fee for using a teller, a fee for receiving a paper statement, and other manipulations.  If consumers want to avoid the extra fees, they can often do so at a credit union or community bank, the segment said. BECU, during an average month, attracts about 7,000 new accounts per month. Todd Pietzsch of BECU told NBC.  In October alone, it opened 16,000 new accounts. The program also noted that members joining credit unions have 28,000 ATMs accessible.

A number of major national media are reporting that big banks are rethinking their debit card fees in light of the outcry from consumers and the movement to transfer accounts to credit unions. The banks, however, are mum about their other fees.

The Los Angeles Times, in "Saying goodbye to your bank" (Oct. 30), noted the "torrent of ill will" unleashed by Bank of America's $5 monthly debit card fee. The article said that "breaking up is easy. Finding a financial partnership that's more satisfying could prove trickier."  It urged consumers that switch to do their homework.

"Credit unions…are set up for such hands-on service at a low cost. Owned by members who are linked by jobs or geography, their core focus is on consumer accounts, although some these days are doing more small-business lending," said the Times, which added the criteria for membership have broadened.

It mentioned several credit unions, the fact that they have 28,000 ATMs, and that readers can find a credit union to join at CUNA's consumer site, http://www.asmarterchoice.org.

Asbury Park Press, in New Jersey, highlighted New Jersey's credit unions as positioning themselves as the go-to alternative for big banks and their fees.  It reported United Teletech Financial FCU's campaign to attract new members at its "Bank Transfer Headquarters. Leo Ardine, president/CEO, told the newspaper that people are reacting to lack of control in the marketplace and are "tired of being a profit opportunity for others." The article also recognized First Financial FCU, which said it is seeing an uptick in new accounts.

NuMark CU in Joliet, Ill., was the focal point of a feature in the Morris Daily Herald (Oct. 27) about credit unions "as alternatives to fee-raising banks." The credit union noted consumers will find significant advantages to being a credit union member in addition to saving money.  It also reported that CUNA estimates the average credit union member saved $69 (or $132 per household) in the 12 months preceding June 2011--just by doing business at credit unions.

Meanwhile, credit unions are gearing up their campaigns to woo more members . Among them:

  • US FCU, Burnsville, Minn., which is "looking forward and prepared for the additional traffic" that Bank Transfer Day might bring as individuals make the switch. According to Bob Stowell, vice president of operations, each new checking account opened Saturday will receive a $50 deposit as a welcome to U.S. Federal. All its branches will be open Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Golden 1 CU, Sacramento, Calif., will extend its hours on Saturday to welcome new members. All branches, except those in limited-access locations, will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It noted that it continues to offer free checking accounts and debit cards with no monthly fees as well as other free and low-cost services. "Consumers are awakening to the idea that there are better choices than big banks," said Donna A. Bland, Golden 1's president/CEO.
  • Hopewell FCU of Heath/Newark, Ohio, said not to wait until Saturday to join. "Every day is a good day to join a credit union," said James G. Johnson, president/CEO. He noted that consumers who make the switch will find that on just about any given day, on average, credit unions offer higher return on most savings, lower rates on most loans, and lower (or no) fees than other financial institutions charge.
  • NEFCU, in Westbury, N.Y., said it wants Long Islanders to get the most affordable banking services, along with a host of other free benefits, and wants to help make the general public aware of how easy it is to join. "With the rising frees banks are adding to their customers' accounts, Bank Transfer Day is an opportunity to educate consumers about the value of joining a credit union like NEFCU," said Edward P. Paternostro, president/CEO. NEFCU offers one of the highest interest rates on Long Island, with a free checking account that pays a 3.5% annual percentage yield, which is almost unheard of today, said Paternostro.
  • At Belco Community CU in Harrisburg, Pa., "Now is the time to become one of more than 92 million Americans nationwide who are already enjoying the benefits of credit union membership,"said Lonny J. Maurer, president/CEO.  It already has seen an upsurge in new members, partly due to its Refer-a-Friend Dream Vacation Sweepstakes, which began in April and runs through December. Every 500th new Belco member receives a choice of an Apple iPad 2 or $500 cash and is registered to win a Dream Vacation for Two.
  • Members 1st CU, Redding, Calif., will open its doors for special hours Saturday to coincide with Bank Transfer Day. It will be open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. "Our Basic Checking account has no monthly fees, no debit card fees, and no minimum balances to maintain," said Nicki Crandall, assistant vice president/area manager. She noted an increase in new members the past couple of weeks "as people are bringing their business to us because of our fee-free account."
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