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CU System briefs (12/18/2012)

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  • ST. LOUIS (12/19/12)--A former employee of St. Louis (Mo.) Community CU has pleaded guilty to embezzling nearly $105,000 from her employer. Jamie Askew, 36, of Troy, Ill., pleaded guilty in a federal court in St. Louis to one count of embezzlement. The theft occurred between mid-2009 and this past May. Askew was indicted in August and sentencing is set for March 20. She faces up to 30 years in prison (Associated Press Newswires Dec. 18) …
  • OROVILLE, Calif. (12/19/12)--An off duty police officer conducting a transaction thwarted a robbery at Sierra Central CU in Yuba City, Calif., at about 10:30 a.m. Monday. The officer, David Bryning took the robbery suspect to the floor and with the assistance of another member, held him until more police arrived. The suspect, Alexander Scott Sears, 48, allegedly walked into the credit union wearing a hooded sweatshirt, sunglasses and stocking hat and refused to remove them when asked. The suspect allegedly placed a bag on the counter and announced the robbery, and told the teller to fill the bag with money. He did not display a weapon.  Bryning overheard and grabbed the man. Sears is charged with attempted bank robbery (Oroville Mercury Register Dec. 18) …
  • LANSING, Mich. (12/19/12)--Leaders from several mid-Michigan credit unions recently participated in an evening reception at the University Club on the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing for current state Senate Finance Committee Chairman Jack Brandenburg (R-Harrison Twp.) Brandenburg, pictured second from right, is shown with representatives from Lake Trust CU, Lake Michigan CU and the Michigan Credit Union League's government affairs team, who participated in the event. Brandenburg continues to be an important supporter of Michigan's credit unions, said the league (Michigan Monitor Dec. 17). Support for the event was provided byu the Michigan Credit Union League Action Fund, the league's state political action committee.  (Photo provided by the Michigan Credit Union League) …
  • ST. PAUL, Minn. (12/19/12)--Minnesota credit union representatives received an insider's look at the upcoming legislative session at a meeting with state House Commerce leader Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights) Monday. As incoming chair of the House Commerce and Consumer Protection Policy and Finance Committee, Atkins works closely with credit unions on legislation impacting them and their members. During his 10 years in office, Atkins has been a strong credit union supporter and worked with them on financial issues, said the Minnesota Credit Union Network. At the meeting, he discussed the state of the economy and the recovery of the state's credit unions. Attendees emphasized that credit unions are slowly rebuilding after the recession and asked him to continue to help strengthen the economy and create jobs. For the next legislative session, Atkins stressed the importance of educating elected officials about credit unions. With 40% of incoming lawmakers being new in 2013, teaching elected officials about the credit union difference will be more important than ever, Atkins said. He encouraged credit unions to keep an open line of communication with him on any issues the state Legislature should consider. Pictured are, from left, Atkins, MnCUN Board Chair Pat Pierce and MnCUN Vice President-Governmental Affairs Mara Humphrey. (Photo provided by the Minnesota Credit Union Network) …
  • GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (12/19/12)--Mark Richter, president/CEO of Grandville, Mich.-based First United FCU has been appointed to the board of directors of Xtend Inc., a Grand Rapids-based multi-owned cooperative credit union service organization. Richter fills a vacancy on the nine-member board. CUSO Board Chairman Steve Searfoss said that leaders from more than 10% of Xtend's owners expressed interest in the board seat. Xtend President Scott Collins noted that Richter has been an "adamant supporter of both Xtend and our partners over at CU*Answers for many years."…

FBI launches website to track robberies suspects

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WASHINGTON (12/19/12)--The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has established a new Wanted Bank Robbers website to house videos and surveillance photos of robberies in progress and to provide a map of robbery locations in an effort to solicit the public's help nationwide in nabbing the criminals.

Last year, robbers walked away with more than $38 million in cash from banks, credit unions, thrifts and armored trucks, said the FBI in a blog.  The money was recovered in one out of five cases. In the unsolved cases, surveillance images of suspects were often posted online on

FBI wanted posters and elsewhere to enlist the public's help.

The new site,, features a gallery of unknown suspects and a map function that plots robbery locations. Users can search by name, location or other factors. Search results deliver a "Wanted by the FBI" poster that contains more images, a suspect's full description, and a brief narrative about the crime.

"This website is an operational tool that will help law enforcement identify and prosecute bank robbers more quickly, with the public's help," said Jason DiJoseph, who runs the bank robbery program at the FBI's Washington, D.C., headquarters.

"The idea is to make it easier for the public to recognize and turn in potential suspects and to draw connections between robberies in different cities and states," he added.

The FBI has had a prominent role in bank robbery investigations since the 1930s, when John Dillinger and his gang were robbing banks. In 1934 it became a federal crime to rob any national bank or state member bank of the Federal Reserve System. The law soon expanded to similar crimes. Today, the FBI's focus is mostly on violent or serial cases.

"Bank robbery sounds like an old-fashioned crime, but it is a dangerous and often violent criminal act that still results in the loss of lives and takes a significant toll on local communities," said DiJoseph.

Bank crime statistics support the emphasis on the more violent cases. While demand notes are bank and credit union robbers' most frequently used tools (2,958 times in 2011), they are followed by firearms (1,242 times) and the threat of weapons (2,331 times) or explosive devices (154 times).

Even in cases where weapons are not used, the risk of violence increases each time a serial robber holds up another financial institution.

Of the 5,086 financial institution robberies, burglaries and larcenies last year, 201 included acts of violence and 70 involved the discharge of firearms. Thirteen people--the robber in 10 of the cases--were killed during robberies.

The new website will include the most pressing robberies from the FBI's 56 field offices. New features and more suspects will be added in the next few weeks and months.

Mazuma CU Interview Fair attracts 125 candidates

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (12/19/12)--Mazuma CU in Kansas City, Mo., experienced success Friday in its search for new job candidates through an Interview Fair at the credit union's main office. The fair attracted more than 125 candidates for interviews during the five-hour event, the $475 million asset credit union said.

Using a coordinated social media push that included Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Mazuma's website, along with printed flyers and posters, Mazuma invited interested candidates to its fair and encouraged them to "Make Friday Count," by dressing to impress for on-the-spot interviews and spending an hour to start a career.

Mazuma intends to quickly fill nine full-time and part-time open positions--ranging from member relationship guides (tellers) and member care advisers to loan officers and financial analysts. Among the 12 Mazuma leaders who conducted group interviews, five were hiring managers. 

"Make Friday Count" handouts and posters were used through nine branch locations and disseminated at local area colleges and universities. Also, Mazuma used its website with a special "Make Friday Count" online banner that redirected online visitors and members to a special careers landing page. 

"One of our objectives with the Interview Fair was not only to meet potential team members, but also to give those candidates a clear picture of who we are at Mazuma," explained Matt Monge, Mazuma chief culture officer and a recently selected member of the Filene Research Institute's i3 innovation group.

"Too many job fairs turn into a one-way sales pitch," he added. "We look at them differently. It's just as important for candidates to figure out if Mazuma is a good fit for them as it is for Mazuma to get a feel for whether they'd be a great fit for us. If either one of those is off, it's a recipe for a less than ideal work experience for all involved."

Interview questions focused on eliciting responses that match with Mazuma's new cultural core values, including a positive attitude; a fun atmosphere in the workplace; teamwork, creativity and innovation; and ongoing learning and professional development. The culture-driven interview questions such as "Give us an example of a time you've helped a co-worker get better at something" also elicited responses that gave Mazuma leaders insight into a candidate's past work experience.

Mid Cities CUs MBL aids local business owner

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COMPTON, Calif. (12/19/12)--Mid Cities CU in Compton, Calif., provided truck driver Julio Contreras with a State Treasury California Capital Access Program (CalCAP) Air resources Board (ARB) loan.

Julio Contreras, a truck driver and member of Compton, Calif.-based Mid Cities CU, poses in front of his new truck that he was able to purchase with a member business loan provided by the credit union.  (Photo provided by Mid Cities CU).   

The loan from the $24.5 million asset credit union helped Contreras purchase a new truck to become compliant with transporting in and out of the Port of Los Angeles.

The State Treasury CalCAP program is a loan guarantee program that ensures loans are made to small businesses to assist them in growing their business. Loans can be used to finance the acquisition of land, construction or renovation of buildings, or the purchase of equipment, other capital projects and working capital.

The ARB's Heavy-Duty Vehicle Air Quality Loan Program provides financial assistance to truckers affected by the Statewide In-Use Bus and Truck Rule and the Heavy-Duty Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Measure, said the credit union.

"I would have lost a lot of business, not being able to transport in and out of the port of Los Angeles, without the assistance from Mid Cities CU and the ARB," said Contreras. "Mid Cities made the application process easier for me by walking me through each step and acting as a liaison with the ARB, making sure my documents were in order, on my behalf."

The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and credit unions are urging Congress to increase credit unions' member business lending (MBL) cap to 27.5% of assets from 12.25% so that more loans could be made to small businesses. CUNA and credit unions say that increasing credit unions' MBL cap would open up more opportunity to offer MBLs, inject $13 billion in business loans into the economy and create as many as 140,000 new jobs, with no cost to taxpayers.

Holiday gift card sales up 119 says TMG

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DES MOINES, Iowa (12/19/12)--Holiday gift card sales have increased and are expected to continue rising in the week leading up to Christmas, according to The Members Group (TMG).

To date, TMG's financial institution (FI) clients have sold 119% more ATIRAgift cards this year, as compared with sales om 2011. TMG clients are averaging a 31%  increase of ATIRAgift cards sold per financial institution location over 2011.

"The growth trends we're seeing are in alignment with predictions of increases in prepaid this holiday season," said Konrad Christensen, TMG retail payments product manager.

One such prediction came from the National Retail Federation. In its 2012 holiday consumer spending survey, nearly 60% of respondents planned to buy gift cards this holiday season.

The increase in prepaid sales may be tied to consumers' increase in online shopping, according to Christensen.

"The Consumer Debit Payment Choice Research Study issued in October found gift cards actually top debit and credit cards as consumers' preferred way to shop and pay online," said Christensen.

About 71% of consumers surveyed indicated they feel secure using gift or prepaid reload cards to make online purchases, said the study.

Total card loads in 2012 are up more than $70,000 compared with 2012, according to preliminary results.

CUs do it right again in satisfaction survey

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BOSTON (12/19/12)--U.S. credit unions continue to achieve much higher satisfaction and advocacy rates compared to large regional and national banks, according to results announced Tuesday of the 2012 ath Power Ideal Banking Study, which assesses the retail member/customer experience at credit unions and banks nationwide.

ath Power Consulting, a Boston-based financial services research and strategy firm, is a provider of member/customer experience solutions for the financial services industry.

Findings from the annual study indicate that 41% of members/customers surveyed are satisfied overall with their primary banking institution, a rise from last year's 37%. For the third consecutive year, USAA ranked highest in overall satisfaction.

The study revealed higher satisfaction levels in areas related to bank behavior and general quality of customer service. Although the biggest U.S. banks still trail smaller banks and credit unions in the customer service category, they increased in satisfaction in 2012. Among the top-four U.S. banks, Chase made the most significant year-over-year climb, with a 14-point increase.

"Over the past few years, financial institutions have been driven to become more customer-centric in an effort to retain current customers and attract new prospects--a response to a tougher regulatory environment and added competition from non-traditional sources," said Frank Aloi, ath Power CEO. "Our research indicates that these initiatives are beginning to pay off. Even so, there are still numerous areas that show need for improvement, including proactive communication with customers and problem resolution."

While customer experience factors differentiate highly satisfied and loyal customers, convenience factors are often the initial reason for choosing a financial institution, according to ath Power's ongoing research. Despite recent shifts by many banks to eliminate it, free checking--along with online banking and direct deposit--are universally desired as primary banking needs.

Similarly, mobile banking is rapidly moving toward essential product status with current adoption at 36%, up from 21% in 2011.

The study also examines the consumer likelihood to switch banks. In the past year, 10% of customers changed their primary banking institution. Top reasons for switching include new/raised fees, dissatisfaction with customer service, home relocation and account errors.

Customers of top-20 banks are three times more likely to switch to another financial institution than credit union members are. The greatest factors customers say provoke them to switch are loyalty/rewards programs, reduced fees on checking accounts and special offers to join, the study said.

Credit unions also scored high in other national and local surveys on trust, loyalty and member satisfaction studies this year. They include:

  • Credit unions in the U.S.topped banks in member/customer satisfaction levels,in a recent nationwide survey released Dec. 11 by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) (News Now Dec. 12). Credit unions remain best-in-class for financial services and set the bar for customer satisfaction among all service industries covered by the ACSI. Although member satisfaction dipped 5.7% to 82, the survey said, that score is still higher than the banks' average of 79.
  • Trust in credit unions has remained high at 61% among Americans, according to the latest Chicago Booth/Kellogg School Financial Trust Index (News Now Nov. 6). The index also found that 23% of Americans say they trust the U.S. financial system. That is an increase of two percentage points since the last issue of the index in June and reflects a rebound of trust in the banking sector. The index has consistently reported notably more trust in credit unions than local and national banks, quarter over quarter, since it began in December 2008.
  • Credit unions were rated No. 1 in a survey of 5,000 consumers asked to rate the reputation of 34 business sectors in a study conducted by Denver-based Prime Performance (News Now May 14). Credit unions topped all business sectors in reputation with an average reputation score of 5.78 on a seven-point scale with seven as "very good."  They were followed by grocery stores (5.50), and community banks (5.40). Regional banks came in seventh at 5.04 and national banks 18th at 4.15.
  • Credit unions topped the list of U.S. financial institutions in member/customer satisfaction, according to the 2011 Customer Experience with Call Center Representatives Survey by Prime Performance (News Now March 9). Members/customers said they were more satisfied last year in their interactions with credit union and bank call center representatives than in 2010. Based on a recent interaction with a call center representative, credit union members rated their overall satisfaction with a net score of 83%. The comparable score for small banks is 79%. The industry average is 70%.  Falling below that are: large banks, 66%; Chase, 62%; Wells Fargo, 61%; and Bank of America, 56%.
  • Credit unions were among the top customer satisfaction rankings in Temkin Group's release of its 2012 Temkin Customer Service Ratings, which examines how U.S. consumers rate the customer service of 174 large companies across 18 industries (News Now June 28).
  • A National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA)/Consumer Federation of America (CFA) survey found more Americans think credit unions and other cooperative businesses have the best interests of their members and customers in mind more than do for-profit businesses (News Now May 3). The survey also revealed a favorable view of cooperatives in regards to their business trustworthiness and quality of service. Co-ops received higher marks across the board than for-profit businesses.
  • Credit unions outshone banks in consumers' perceptions of safety and soundness, with 40% of respondents saying they believe credit unions are the safest financial institutions, compared with 34% naming banks (News Now Feb. 23). Nineteen percent of respondents said they trusted both types of institutions equally. The numbers are the results of the 2012 Credit Union National Association (CUNA) National Voter Survey.
  • A CUNA survey in February found that 43% of respondents said credit unions were the best place for consumers to keep their day-to-day savings and checking accounts (News Now Feb. 22).

CDCU first in U S to certify all staff in CDCFC program

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BATON ROUGE, La. (12/19/12)--Pelican State CU has become the nation's first financial institution to certify its entire staff in the Community Development Certified Financial Counseling (CDCFC) training program.

The CDCFC training, testing and certification helps credit unions better serve their members who are experiencing financial challenges.

The program was created by CU Strategic Planning, a community development financial institutions grant writing and marketing consulting company.

The staff of the Baton Rouge, La. credit union completed the certification Nov. 30.

CDCFC's training focuses on lending to working-class consumers who need loans to establish better financial footing, according to Chuck Cockburn, CU Strategic Planning president/CEO. It works by allowing credit unions to "invent" their own qualified borrowers by coaching members to become credit worthy.

Another program offered credit unions is the Credit Union National Association's Credit Union Financial Counseling Certification Program. The program includes two parts of four learning modules each. When participants successfully complete the proctored exams for both parts (eight total modules), they become Credit Union Certified Financial Counselors, and can assist their members in reaching their financial goals.

"Since we have 10 branches located throughout Louisiana, the fact that our entire staff could be certified online was really appealing to us," said Jeffrey Conrad, CEO of the $200 million asset credit union.

The advantage Pelican State gains from having each employee certified is that it can clearly determine which members are in need of in-depth credit counseling, Conrad said. Credit union employees can identify the patterns and warning signs of a member who is in financial trouble and refer them to one of its full-time credit counselors for further assistance, which also includes loan officers or collectors for workout loans, debt consolidation or budgeting assistance.

The credit union has also developed its own community resource database for members who need non-financial help. Pelican can refer members to the proper organizations.

"For the sake of our members, we wanted to ensure that no matter which method they use to contact us, or which employee assists them with their needs, they were receiving information and guidance from someone with a strong financial education knowledge base," explained Conrad. "We are empowering all employees to be effective ambassadors for our credit union and project the knowledge they have gained through this certification."

CUNA Mutual financial strength affirmed by A M Best

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MADISON, Wis. (12/19/12)--A.M. Best Company has affirmed the financial strength rating of CMFG Life Insurance Co. (CMFG Life) at "A" (Excellent), said CUNA Mutual Group.

The ratings agency also affirmed the "A" (Excellent) rating for CMFG Life's property/casualty subsidiaries: CUMIS Insurance Society Inc., CUMIS Specialty Insurance Company Inc., Producers Agriculture Insurance Company and Producers Lloyds Insurance Co. 

The outlook for all of the ratings is stable, A.M. Best said.

A.M. Best cited CMFG Life's continued position as the leading provider of life/health insurance products to members and employees of credit unions. It also referenced the company's "more than adequate risk-adjusted capitalization as measured by Best's Capital Adequacy Ratio, consistently positive net-operating gains and its strategic initiatives to grow ancillary lines of business to improve product and revenue diversification outside its niche."

A.M. Best also cited CMFG Life's "supportive level of risk-adjusted capitalization, conservative balance sheet, overall-operating profitability and well-established niche position in the credit union and multi-peril crop insurance segments."

A.M. Best also upgraded a CMFG Life subsidiary, MEMBERS Life Insurance Company to "A" (Excellent) from B++ (Good) and affirmed its stable outlook.

The credit rating organization serves the financial services industry.

Conn foundation to accept donations for Sandy Hook families

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MERIDEN, Conn. (12/19/12)--Due to the overwhelming response of many across the country, and their desire to support families of those lost in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings Friday in Newtown, Conn., the Connecticut Credit Union Charitable Foundation will be accepting donations on their behalf.

The foundation trustees will work with Gov. Dannel Malloy's office in the coming weeks to identify an appropriate initiative to best help the families and honor the memories of those lost, said the foundation.

"As the families have requested, we are respecting their privacy at this time, but we expect to identify an actionable initiative for their benefit in the coming weeks," said the foundation.

Donations can be sent to:

The Connecticut Credit Union Charitable Foundation

1064 East Main St., Suite 201

Meriden, CT 06450

For more information, contact Tony Emerson, president/CEO, Credit Union League of Connecticut at 203-213-7829 or at

CUNA Brokerage officer elected to FINRA district committee

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MADISON, Wis. (12/19/12)--Tim Halevan, chief compliance officer at CUNA Brokerage Services Inc. (CBSI), has been elected to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) District Committee for District 4.

As a FINRA district committee member, Halevan will, among other things, serve as a panelist in disciplinary proceedings in accordance with FINRA rules; consider and recommend policies and rule changes; and educate FINRA members and others about the purposes and work of FINRA and FINRA Regulation.

As CBSI's chief compliance officer, Halevan is responsible for strategic oversight and supervision of the compliance activities of CBSI's registered representatives, advisers, licensing/registration and home office activities, said Jim Metz, president/CEO of CBSI.

Halevan joined CBSI in 2001. Previously he was director of corporate compliance at a large financial services holding company. His experience includes oversight for compliance in areas under the Securities and Exchange Commission, FINRA, Violent Crime and Control Act, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and Federal Sentencing Guidelines. He has served in the securities business for 20 years.