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CUs on a roll as best of the best

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MADISON, Wis. (3/27/12)--Communities across the nation continue to recognize credit unions as the best of the best in a variety of areas.

On March 8, News Now featured a story on credit unions nabbing "best workplace" awards and said it might be a trend.  Here's more proof, with credit unions recognized as best in a number of categories, ranging from "best for families" to "healthiest employer" to "best bank"--and more.

There are many ways to recognize credit unions, but all of these have something in common: credit unions are recognized for the service they provide: to employees, to members, to their communities.

A case in point: In Herndon, Va., Northwest FCU (NWFCU) and NWFCU Foundation were honored as the Best Financial Institution at the Vienna Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce annual Youth and Education luncheon. The annual event recognizes local Vienna, Va., schools with students participating in special exhibitions. This year, more than 190 students attended.

At the luncheon, banks and credit unions competed against each other, marketing their products and services to students and encouraging students to open an account using play money. After visiting with each institution, students "voted" by opening an account with what they believed to be the best financial institution. They also evaluated each institution on products and services.  NWFCU and its foundation swept all three categories and were voted Best Service, Best Product and Best Overall Financial Institution.

Other credit unions that have seen recent accolades from their communities:

  • In Dallas, Credit Union of Texas was named the "Best for Families" winner in the financial institutions category by Dallas Child magazine because of the perks it has offered children under 12, as well as older students and their families, including a prepaid credit card to help teens spend wisely. It also offers Kids Savings Accounts & Dollar Dog Kids Club, and student checking accounts, the credit union told the Texas Credit Union League (LoneStar Leaguer Feb. 13).
  • Pelican State CU, Baton Rouge, La., was named "Medium Business of the Year" by the Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce for providing leadership and excellence in making the parish a better place to live and work, said the Louisiana Credit Union League (eNews Feb. 15). Credit union representatives attend all the chamber's membership meetings and fundraisers, and attend ribbon cuttings to welcome new business owners into the community. It sponsors the Antique Merchants Association and has volunteered in numerous community events, awards scholarships, and hosts a FREE Kids Bike Race for children under 12.
  • Arizona State CU, Phoenix, was awarded the "Valley's Healthiest Employer" award for its workplace wellness program by the Phoenix Business Journal.  The credit union's wellness program, begun in 2007, includes onsite treadmills, relaxation centers and yoga classes; offers gym reimbursements and weight loss incentives in a partnership with Weight Watchers.  It has more than 200 participants. It also has associate health screenings, which have encouraged behavioral change and saved the credit union more than $325,000 in claims in 2010.  The credit union was also ranked No. 1 credit union in Arizona by Ranking Arizona: The Best of Arizona Business, published annually by Arizona Business Magazine.
  • In Madison, Wis., UW CU was named one of Madison Magazine's 2012 Best Places to Work. The award is presented once every two years, UW CU also received the last award, in 2010. The award is based on six areas of engagement: trust, management, development, rewards, connection and life-work balance, and on organizations' environmental sustainability and diversity efforts. The survey is based on an employee engagement framework developed by Next Generation Consulting, a Madison research and consulting firm.
  • Freedom CU, based in Warminster, Pa., was named "Best Bank" in both Montgomeryville-Lansdale and in Abington in local community polls conducted by the Montgomeryville-Lansdale Patch and the Abington Patch. The unscientific polls asked readers to pick a favorite among the financial institutions in each area.  In Montgomeryville-Lansdale, Freedom CU received 52% of the overall vote with 228 votes, while in Abington, it received 59% of the votes.
  • Consumers CU, a $560 million asset,  Waukegan, Ill.-based credit union was recipient of  the 2012 Diversity Award for local businesses from the Village of Mundelein, Ill., for its outstanding community outreach program. Each year the award is presented by the Mundelein Human Relations Committee in three categories: individuals, organizations and businesses that demonstrate strong efforts to promote, create programs and advocate for cultural awareness.
  • Rogue CU, Medford, Ore., ranked No. 14 in the large employers' category of the 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon, presented by Oregon Business Magazine. Roughly 263 companies participated in the survey, which analyzes Oregon companies' best practices for creating great places to work. More than 14,000 Oregon employees completed the survey.
  • Chemcel FCU, an $88 million asset credit union in Bishop, Texas, was voted Best of the Best Reader's Choice 2011 in the Corpus Christi Caller Times. The Best of the Best is the top honor, according to the Texas Credit Union League (LoneStar Leaguer Feb. 2).
  • For the 14th time in 15 years, Vacaville, Calif.-based Travis CU was the winner of the Fairfield Daily Republic's "Readers Choice Award 2011." It was voted Best Credit Union in Solano County and Best Mortgage Lender in Solano County.  Each day, Travis surveys its members who make transactions at their branches or by phone. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 as the highest score, the average overall servicing rating the credit union received from members last year was 9.70.
  • Workers' CU, Fitchburg, Mass, was presented the Business Partner of the Year Award by Shriver Job Corps for ongoing participation in its work-based learning program. The credit union's information technology department has provided four-week internships to students during the past four years. Job Corps is a free education and training program that helps eligible youth at least 16 learn a career, earn a high school diploma or GED, and find and keep a good job (Worcester Telegram & Gazette March 24).

CU System briefs (03/26/2012)

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  • PORTLAND, Maine (3/27/12)--Maine's credit unions have launched their second search for an individual to represent Generation Y (ages 18-25) as the spokesperson for their Young & Free Maine program, said the Maine Credit Union League.  The "spokester" will connect with young people using social media networks, local events and more while developing entertaining educational content, tips and tools to help Gen Yers manage their day-to-day lives and finances.  The program's first spokester, Seth Poplaski, will complete his one-year term in June. Applications for the position will be accepted until noon (ET) April 20.  To enter, applicants must submit a 60-second YouTube video and write a blog post that demonstrates writing, editing and creative skills. The videos and blog posts will be posted at The public will vote on three finalists online May 4-17. The new spokester will be announced by May 30 …
  • PHOENIX (3/27/12)--Arizona State FCU has accepted 167 applications for the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) to help underwater owners obtain more affordable mortgages.  Homeowners who are current on their Fannie Mae mortgage but have been unable to obtain traditional refinances because their homes declined in value may be eligible for HARP, said the credit union. "If members can benefit from a lower mortgage payment, then we, as a local financial cooperative, need to meet this need," said David E. Doss, president/CEO of the $1.3 billion asset credit union, noting that it "can help Arizona residents rebound from economically challenging times."  HARP has been extended by the Federal Housing Finance Agency to help homeowners take advantage of historically low interest rates …
  • ST. PETERSBURG and TAMPA,  Fla. (3/27/12)--GTE FCU  has partnered with Suncoast Electric Vehicles, Florida's first all-electric car and truck dealer, to give away one Wheego LiFe, an all-electric car capable of driving 100 miles on a single charge. Members who close on a GTE FCU home loan through Aug. 31 will be automatically entered to win the car as the grand prize. Four finalists will be selected from all participants in September. One will drive home the car, which retails for $32,995, at GTE's member appreciation event, Memberfest, in October, in Tampa …

Verizon Most 2011 cyberattacks were avoidable

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NEW YORK (3/27/12)--Despite warnings that cybercriminals are using more sophisticated methods to hack data from financial institutions and other companies, 97% of the cyberattacks that occurred in 2011 used relatively simple methods to commit their data breaches, according to a study released Thursday by Verizon.

Of the 855 data breaches compromising 174 million records during 2011, more than 79% were attacks of opportunity.  "Target selection is based more on opportunity than on choice. Most victims fell prey because they were found to possess an (often easily) exploitable weakness rather than because they were pre-identified for attack," said Verizon's 2012 Data Breach Investigations Report.

2011 experienced the second-highest data loss since Verizon began keeping track in 2004. The annual report was compiled with help from law enforcement agencies in five countries--including the U.S. Secret Service.

Outsiders still dominated the data breaches, with 98% of breaches stemming from external agents such as organized criminal groups bent on making money.  But the single most important change was the rise of  "hacktivism" against larger organizations worldwide, said the report.   2011 was a year of activism on many fronts, including data breaches.

"Activist groups created their fair share of misery and mayhem last year as well--and they stole more data than any other group," said the report's executive summary. Fifty-eight percent of all data theft was tied to activist groups.

Only 4% of breaches were tied to internal employees.

How did the breaches occur? Roughly 81% used some form of basic hacking; 69% incorporated malicious software or malware; 10% involved physical attacks; 7% employed social tactics; and 5% resulted from privilege misuse.

The report noted that it was fairly easy to hack into most victims' programs; the sophisticated element of the hacks came later in the actual theft of the data, once the hackers were in. Then they often installed malware to acquire privileges, set up backdoors, enable remote control and seek sensitive data, while staying hidden on the network  and covering their tracks.

Other commonalities that were found to exist:

  • 94% of all data compromised involved servers;
  • 85% of breaches took weeks or more to discover;
  • 92% of the incidents were discovered by a third party;
  • 97% of breaches were avoidable with simple or intermediate controls; and
  • 96% of victims subject to Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards had not achieved compliance with the standards.
More than half the data breaches hacked the accommodations or food services industry, followed by 20% in retail trade. Finance and insurance accounted for 10% of the attacks, a significant decrease from the 22% that industry recorded in 2010.

However, when looking at the groups represented by the percent of breaches for larger organizations with 1,000 or more employees, the report gave a different picture--one of interest to credit unions.  Finance and insurance account for the most records breached--28%--at larger institutions. The study also noted that large organizations have different data breach experiences than smaller ones, with more complex issues.

An analysis of the types of data stolen indicated that payment card numbers/data and authentication credentials such as user names and passwords, account for the highest percentages stolen, 48% and 42%, respectively for all organizations, and 33% and 35% for larger organizations.

All other types of data are less than 4% each, including bank account numbers/data at 2% for all organizations and 10% for large organizations.

The report emphasized taking care of shoring up the basic security measures to prevent hackers from access in the first place. If they can't get in, they can't do the damage, the report indicated.

Iowa foundation receives 20K in Morrows memory

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DES MOINES, Iowa (3/27/12)--The Iowa Credit Union Foundation announced it received a $20,000 contribution from Affiliates Management Co. (AMC), the holding company of the Iowa Credit Union League, in honor of Warren Morrow, the late CEO and founder of Coopera. Coopera is part of AMC's family of operating companies.

"Warren had a tremendous impact on all of us and the credit union industry," said Patrick S. Jury, CEO, AMC and Iowa Credit Union League. "Beyond Coopera, the company he founded and led, one of the most significant legacies he left us is undoubtedly in the Iowa Credit Union Foundation (ICUF)."

Morrow was instrumental in ICUF's ability to obtain a $428,323 grant that provided matching funds to launch Iowa's first Credit Union Individual Development Account program and created ICUF's first executive director position five years ago, said Jury. In addition, Warren's wife Christina Fernandez-Morrow serves as an ICUF board member.

"The foundation would not be where it is today without Warren's talents and vision," said Marybeth Foster, ICUF executive director. "Warren dedicated his life to helping the underserved, and this very generous gift from ICUL and AMC will be used to keep his spirit alive through the foundation and our efforts to improve the financial lives of Iowans in need. The gift is an overwhelming and fitting tribute to Warren. We are all better people for having worked with and known him."

A native of Mexico, Morrow dedicated his life to helping the underserved Hispanic community achieve financial stability in Iowa and throughout the U.S. In 1999, he and his Grinnell College classmates founded the Latino Leadership Project to help Latino high school students in Des Moines strive and reach higher education.

Later, he transitioned the organization to Partners in Economic Progress. After co-founding Diverse Innovative Solutions, he started Coopera with the Iowa Credit Union League in 2006 to help credit unions grow their Hispanic market presence and create more banked families within Latino communities nationwide. Morrow passed away unexpectedly Feb 15. He is survived by his wife and 7-year-old daughter Ariana.

"Warren touched many lives and believed deeply in helping Hispanics receive dignified financial services," said Murray Williams, Coopera's interim CEO. "It was through his passion that Coopera was started, and his drive made Coopera the well-respected, successful entity it is today. The Coopera team is committed to carrying Warren's vision for the company forward and will continue to provide service to the credit union movement in his honor."

The Credit Union National Association has an exclusive, national partnership with Des Moines, Iowa-based Coopera to help credit unions reach out to Hispanics.

Movie filmed at CU in Michigan

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PONTIAC, Mich. (3/27/12)--Kensington Valley Community CU, Highland, Mich., was the site of a movie scene in a film produced by a local company.

Affinity Group CU was approached by Bright Horizon Pictures to film a scene of the feature film "Christmas Grace" in the branch lobby of Kensington Community CU (Observer and Eccentric News March 26).

Filming took place March 10.

Kensington Community CU is a brand of the Pontiac, Mich.-based Affinity Group CU.

Credit union employees were available as extras and the drive-thru remained open during the filming.

"Christmas Grace" tells the story of two rival toy store owners competing for business during several Christmas seasons. It is scheduled for release at the end of the year.

Bright Horizon Pictures is a non-profit Christian film company.

Who will be CU Hero of the Year

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MADISON, Wis. (3/27/12)--Credit Union Magazine is asking the credit union movement to help recognize four credit union leaders nominated by readers as "CU Heroes."

Their accomplishments have been published in the magazine, which is published by the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). Now it's time to select the 2012 CU Hero of the Year.

The candidates are:

  • Rudy Hanley, president/CEO, SchoolsFirst FCU, Santa Ana, Calif. His political involvement, work ethic, and integrity have benefited his own credit union and the credit union movement overall. Hanley took the helm of SchoolsFirst Federal in 1982. The credit union's charter has expanded over the years to serve public and private school employees in 10 Southern California counties.
  • Ron Kase, CEO, Landmark CU, New Berlin, Wis. One of Kase's proudest accomplishments is leading his credit union through remarkable growth, including the creation of 450 jobs in southeastern Wisconsin. During his 38 years leading Landmark, the credit union has grown from four employees, $2 million in assets, and 2,500 members in 1973, to its current 450 employees, $1.6 billion in assets, and 165,000 members.
  • Frank Matous Sr. (posthumous), former CEO of Tandem FCU, Warren, Mich. A credit union pioneer, he encouraged his four sons to stay active in the credit union movement. Matous and five other Chrysler workers each deposited $10 to form Dodge Truck Forge and Amplex FCU in 1941. Today, the credit union—renamed Tandem Federal in the late 1950s--has 3,137 members and $20 million in assets.
  • Joe Robertson, retired president/CEO, Our Community CU, Shelton, Wash. His credit union garnered a record $18 million increase in total deposits for 2009 (doubling the previous year's increase), during the slow recovery from the recession. Robertson's retirement comes on the heels of a 35-year career in the credit union movement--all of it at Our Community. He also served on the CUNA board of directors.
To vote, use the link. Voting will take place through April 30. This year's winner will be honored at CUNA's America's Credit Union Conference in San Diego, June 17-20.

Banks grumbling about Maryland CUs mergers

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BALTIMORE (3/27/12)--Several credit unions' mergers in Maryland have sparked local bankers to say that the mergers are creating a competitive advantage for credit unions.

SECU of Maryland, the state's second-largest credit union with $2.2 billion assets, recently announced it was merging with $82.4 million Anne Arundel County Employees FCU (Baltimore Business Journal March 25).

Rod Staatz, CEO of SECU, said he is open to more mergers if they would be a good cultural fit for his credit union.

In 2011, there were five mergers among Maryland credit unions. In 2010, there was one.

Baltimore's MECU, the state's third largest credit union with $1.1 billion in assets, merged with Lever United Community CU in 2006, one year after it merged with White Eagle CU.

Dorothy Stierhoff, a spokesperson for the MECU, told the Baltimore Business Journal the credit union would consider more mergers if the right opportunity presented itself.

If credit unions want to expand beyond their original charters, they should not be allowed to maintain their tax status and should convert to banks, said Kathleen Murphy, CEO of the Maryland Bankers Association in the article.

Compliance demands and a weak lending market are forcing smaller credit unions to seek merger partners, said Kip Weissman, a Washington, D.C. lawyer who represents credit unions.

Some smaller credit unions also are unable to offer their members the menu of products and services that larger financial institutions offer, said Johan Worth, chief economist with the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA). That was among the reasons Arundel CEO Rick Stoll cited for his credit union's merger with SECU.

Credit unions also have been hit with assessments to shore up the NCUA's credit union insurance fund. Credit unions faced $3.3 billion in assessments in the last three years, Worth said.

Assessments were among the reasons why United Maryland Employees FCU, Owings Mills, Md., merged with Destinations CU, Parkville, Md., said Roxanne Miller United Maryland's former CEO. United Maryland also lost one of its primary sponsor groups with the closing of the Solo Cup manufacturing plant.

To read the full article, use the link.

Americans confidence in retirement years remains low

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WASHINGTON (3/27/12)--Immediate financial concerns such as job uncertainty and debt are causing more Americans' confidence in their ability to afford a comfortable retirement to stagnate at historically low levels, according to a new report. This could impact how credit unions help members plan for retirement. 

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The most pressing issue facing workers and retirees is job uncertainty, said the 22nd annual Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS).

"Americans' retirement confidence has plateaued at the lowest levels we've seen in two decades of conducting this survey," said Jack VenDerhei, research director for the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and co-author of the report.   

Among the major finding in this year's RCS:

  • Confidence is stagnant: Only 14% of workers are very confident they will have enough money to live comfortably in retirement--which is statistically equivalent to the survey low of 13% measured in 2011 and 2009.
  • Employment insecurity looms large: Of the survey respondents, 42% identify job uncertainty as the most pressing issue facing Americans.
  • Concern about health costs: Worker confidence about having sufficient money to pay for medical expenses and long-term care expenses in retirement remains significantly below their confidence levels for paying basic expenses.
  • Little savings: Many workers report they essentially have no savings and investments. About 60% of workers report the total value of their household's savings and investments--excluding the value of their primary home and any defined benefit plans, is less than $25,000.
  • Workers' expected retirement age: About 25% of workers in the survey say the age at which they expect to retire has changed in the past year. In 1991, 11% of workers said they expected to retire after age 65. By 2012, that percentage has grown to 37%.
  • Retirees' experience: Regardless of retirement age expectations, half of current retirees surveyed said they left the work force unexpectedly because of health problems, disability or changes at their employer--such as downsizing or closure.
  • Reliance on Social Security: Retirees report they are more reliant on Social Security as a major source of their retirement income than current workers expect to be.
  • Expected versus actual pension income: Although 56% of workers and/or their spouses expect to receive benefits from a defined plan in retirement, only 33% report that they and/or their spouse have such a benefit with a current or previous employer.
  • Not calculating retirement needs: More than half of workers (56%) report they and/or their spouse have not tried to calculate how much money they will need to live comfortably in retirement.
  • Online technology: Only a minority of workers and retirees feel very comfortable using online technologies to perform tasks related to financial management. Relatively few use mobile devices such as smart phones or tablet computers to manage their finances. Only 10% of workers who use online technology say they are very comfortable obtaining advice from financial professionals online.

Altura CU re-opens closed branch

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RIVERSIDE, Calif. (3/27/12)--Altura CU is re-staffing a branch that it closed last year as part of a company-wide reduction in operating expenses, the Riverside, Calif.-based credit union announced Monday.

It will re-staff its Murrieta branch location, effective April 18. It had converted the branch to ATM-only on May 11, 2011.

"With the slow, yet steady improvement in the Inland Empire economy, and in Altura's financial performance, we are now able to return our Murrieta location to a full-service branch for our members," said Mark Hawkins, CEO of Altura CU.

After several years of financial losses tied to the collapse of the local economy, Altura reported net income of $8.43 million at the end of 2011, the third consecutive period of strong net income, and Altura's best since 2006.

"In 2010 and 2011, we implemented a series of cost-cutting measures to reduce our day-to-day operating expenses," said Hawkins. "Among these was the difficult decision to convert the Murrieta branch to an ATM-only branch with no on-site staff support. At the time, we reaffirmed our commitment to southern Riverside County, and that is why we maintained an ATM at the location."

The branch will be staffed with eight positions, three of which are internal transfers or promotions. One person is a rehire, and four staffers are new hires.