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Community involvement gets equal billing in marketing

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MEDFORD, Ore. (8/7/12)--Rogue FCU, based in Medford, Ore., has mastered a marketing strategy of community event ownership and low-cost media coverage to the point that it has radio stations vying competitively for coverage rights to its community events, according to the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA).

The secret? The event--not the promotion--is the major focus, the credit union told NWCUA (Anthem Aug. 2). The credit union is still setting membership growth records nine months after Bank Transfer Day.

For example, it is gearing up for its "Cash or Gas" day, where consumers get gas for 50 cents per gallon below the listed price. Thirteen radio stations want coverage rights.  It is so popular that Rogue's executive vice president rolls up his sleeves to direct traffic until police arrive to assist.

Although its website touts its programs--investment planning, online banking, competitive loan rates, youth accounts and other products--equal billing goes to Rogue FCU's community involvement, with more than 20 high profile events such as "Medford Movies in the Park," "a Pear Blossom Festival," cruise events that attract automobile enthusiasts and youth baseball.

"There's no 'one thing.' It's just 'everything,'" Rogue President/CEO Gene Pelham told NWCUA when asked about resources the $542 million asset credit union commits to events. While some events tie to credit union promotions, such as a special vehicle purchase program during the Medford Cruise, the event, not the promotion, is the major focus. "And you can't just put your name on an event," Pelham said. "You really have to do it."

Its "Living Local" branding resonates because much of its community involvement is not a disguised marketing of the credit union.  Giving the community a positive event or activity without marketing hype helps to build trust, he said.

The same approach is used for its "Local Money Matters" radio show, which airs live on  Tuesday mornings and repeats on Thursday and Saturday nights. The broadcasts are videotaped and archived on its website. Rogue Federal broadcasts from high-traffic spots, such as branch parking lots and lobbies. It maintains control of the content but doesn't turn the broadcast into the "Rogue Federal hour." It focuses on creating content consumers can learn from, with experts featured.

The program's quality is appreciated by broadcasters with lean staffing and has earned consumers' trust, the credit union told NWCUA. As a result, when it suggests stories about initiatives such as raising credit unions' member business lending cap, the local media listen.

The credit union also partners with for-profit businesses to raise funds for community causes. Commercial inventory in the radio program is traded with for-profit partners for contributions. Rogue also charges auto and boat dealerships for display rights in lobbies and parking lots. The earnings go to local nonprofits through high-visibility check presentations. The businesses see the value; they keep participating month after month, the credit union said.

VSECU op-ed Banks pushing regulators bank action

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (8.7/12)--Vermont State Employees CU (VSECU) has fired the latest round in its battle with the state regulator over using the words "banking" and "[to] bank" for its marketing efforts--this time in an op-ed piece written by VSECU CEO Steven D. Post in the Vermont Digger (Aug. 5).

VSECU was issued a notice of intent to serve a cease-and-desist order by the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation (DFR) over the words, which the regulator said would confuse consumers, who might not understand they are banking at a credit union rather than a bank.

In the op-ed, entitled, "Post: Banking on common sense," Post wrote that the credit union "believes Vermonters are smarter than this" and that to believe Vermonters would be confused "is almost laughable, when indeed, the DFR itself regulates both Vermont credit unions and banks through its own office named the 'Banking Division.'

The Vermont Bankers Association (VBA) has "pressured DFR to take this action and has solicited support from at least seven banks in a letter-writing campaign to the governor, requesting that the administration support the action of the commissioner," Post wrote.

He challenged the DFR to demonstrate that the action "is consumer-focused rather than a reaction to the Vermont bankers." He noted the potential cost to Vermont taxpayers, "who could be left paying VSECU's legal expenses if DFR's position is deemed unconstitutional by the court."

"Banks and credit unions both bring value to individuals and communities. Both offer banking services such as deposits, saving, credit, mortgages, banking online, and much more. Our business model is fundamentally different and the VBA and the DFR know it," Post wrote.

The op-ed also discussed that comments attributed to the DFR commissioner that if VSECU uses the banking words, it should be labeled a bank, treated as a bank and taxed as a bank, which Post said is "a way of trying to back door the taxation issue, and it raises concern about the real motivation behind banker complaints. Is this about protecting banks and taxing non-profit cooperatives?"

Noting that the issue is "about being honest, open and clear about who we are and what we do," Post said the credit union has "never called ourselves a bank in any of our advertising. …I don't believe anybody could see, hear or read a VSECU advertisement and be confused about whether we are a bank or a credit union," Post said. "VSECU is proud to be a credit union."

To read the full opinion-editorial, use the link.

Co-op cyclers in Wisconsin endorse MBL bill

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MADISON, Wis. (8/7/12)--The Co-cycle Project, a student-led, bike-powered tour linking cooperatives across the U.S., stopped at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) in Madison, Wis., Monday afternoon to present a certificate endorsing member business lending (MBL) legislation.

Click to view larger image Charlotte Cadieux, second from left, who graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., this spring, read a proclamation Monday at the Credit Union National Association headquarters in Madison, Wis., from the U.S Federation of Worker Cooperatives, endorsing SB 2231 and HR 1418 to increase credit unions' ability to provide member business loans (MBLs) to small businesses. Cadieux is one of the 20 or so college student bikers from the Co-cycle Project, conducted in honor of the 2012 United Nations International Year of Cooperatives.
The coast-to-coast tour promoting U.S. cooperatives--which are celebrating 2012 as the United Nations International Year of Cooperatives--has received strong support from credit unions and is seeking more credit union assistance as it moves from the West Coast to the East Coast.

The tour was organized by students of Hampshire College, which is one of the membership groups served by UMass College Five FCU, Amherst, Mass. Among the groups making donations to the tour was the Massachusetts Credit Union League (News Now June 11).

With bikes in tow, the students from Massachusetts were formally greeted by Dane County (Wis.) Executive Joe Parisi; Madison, Wis., Mayor Paul Soglin, CUNA and CUNA Mutual Group. Local Madison co-ops were at the event. 

One of the 20 or so college student bikers, Charlotte Cadieux, who just graduated from Hampshire College, with a degree in climate change education, read a proclamation from the U.S Federation of Worker Cooperatives, authored by Executive Director Melissa Hoover. The proclamation, endorsed SB 2231 and HR 1418, which aim to increase credit unions' ability to provide MBLs to small businesses.

Jill Tomalin, CUNA senior vice president of association services, accepted the written proclamation from Cadieux.

Soglin and Parisi each welcomed the bikers to Madison, saying the local area is a great supporter of bicycling and cooperatives.  

The bikers had traveled from nearby Devils Lake State Park in Baraboo, Wis., to Madison, and arrived in the mid-afternoon. The group will stay in Madison until Thursday, and visit cooperatives in the Madison area.

The tour started June 2 in San Francisco. UMass Five FCU will host Co-Cycle's final stop in Amherst, Mass., on Sept. 3.

Click to view larger image Madison, Wis., Mayor Paul Soglin Monday welcomed the Co-cycle Project--a college-student-led, bike-powered tour linking co-operatives across the U.S.--to the Credit Union National Association's Madison office, saying the local area is a great supporter of bicycling and cooperatives. (Photos provided by CUNA)
The journey consists of regional legs, with each leg divided by events in key locations along the route. Events are hosted by different communities and some have included educational workshops or public showcases of cooperatives.

Earlier this summer, another bicycle tour on the East Coast also celebrated the International Year of Cooperatives. The Cabot 2012 East Coast Community Tour was a 2,300-mile bicycle trek along the East Coast Greenway. That tour started in Miami on May 12 and ended on July 7 in Portland, Maine. Cabot Creamery Cooperative is one of the sponsors of the Credit Union National Association's weekly Home & Family Finance Radio Show.

CUNA and credit unions are urging Congress to increase credit unions' MBL cap to 27.5% of assets from 12.25%. Doing so 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, CUNA said.

Sunrise-Fox Communities merger completed

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APPLETON, and GREEN BAY, Wis. (8/7/12)--The merger of Sunrise CU of Green Bay, Wis., and Appleton, Wis.-based Fox Communities CU became official last Wednesday, said the credit unions.

The National Credit Union Administration had approved the merger in May. Fox Communities CU is the surviving credit union.

Sunrise, with $18 million in assets was chartered in April 1951 to serve employees of the Wisconsin Telephone Co. It merged in 2009 with the Fire Department CU, Unity CU and Moore Employees CU, and changed its name to Sunrise CU. It has more than 3,600 members (The Post-Crescent Aug. 3).

The $803 million asset Fox Communities CU serves more than 66,000 members.

N.J. has pent-up demand for biz loans says article

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HIGHTSTOWN, N.J. (8/7/12)--Both credit unions and banks in New Jersey are seeing pent-up demand from businesses wanting to grow and needing business loans to do so, according to (Aug. 6).

Financial institutions in the state said they are competing to lend money to businesses that weathered the economic slump and can leverage low interest rates to finance new equipment, buy facilities and hire more workers, said the article, which noted a "pent-up demand by businesses to seize opportunities to grow."

In the article, one bank said its commercial lending has increased the first six months of the year because businesses had held back so long on buying equipment, building or inventory that once they saw more positive economic signs with their businesses starting to grow, they began investing in their business by borrowing.

New Jersey Credit Union League President Paul Gentile told the publication that in the state, the average size of a credit union business loan is $171,000, and "a lot of banks don't want to touch loans that small…It's important to have credit unions making those smaller business loans and filling that niche."

The article also noted the movement advocating legislation to enable credit unions to provide more member business loans (MBL).

The Credit Union National Association, credit unions, and state leagues and associations are advocating passage of a bill in Congress to enable credit unions to provide more MBLs to fulfill the gap in credit opportunities.  They seek to raise the MBL cap to 27.5% of assets, from the current 12.25% so they can offer more loans. Raising the cap would generate roughly $13 billion in new small business loans into the economy, helping creating 140,000 new jobs--just the first year. And that would be at no cost to the taxpayer.

The article also reported comments from management at three credit unions.

Marc Sovelove, senior vice president of Financial Resources FCU, Bridgewater, said his credit union expects to hit the cap within 18 months. 

Alan Feigenbaum, president of Advanced Financial FCU, New Providence, said his credit union is already at its cap and can't market its business loans.  If it weren't for the cap, the credit union would "certainly add at least another $2 million in commercial loans, maybe more, and fairly quickly," he added.

Bob Birkhahn, senior vice president of commercial lending at Affinity FCU, Basking Ridge, noted that businesses need capital, and while some are slow to expand, they need funds to run their day-to-day operations.

For the full article, use the link.

CU System briefs (08/06/2012)

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  • MERIDEN, Conn. (8/7/12)--The Board of Trustees of the Connecticut Credit Union Foundation voted unanimously to support the development of Fisher House Connecticut, which will provide a home away from home for military families whose service members receive medical care. The national Fisher House Foundation donates such houses to the federal government, which manages the facilities at no charge to military families. The foundation will donate $1,000 toward a fundraising dinner on Sept. 21 at the Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville, Conn. The house will be located on the campus of the Veterans Administration Medical Center in West Haven, Conn.  The foundation also will match the $50 purchase of a fundraising brick by any affiliated credit union in the state with the purchase of an additional brick on behalf of the credit union. In addition, the foundation will work with credit unions to offer brick purchases their members to support and honor those who serve or have served the country …
  • HARRISBURG, Pa. (8/7/12)--Rich Lenio, retired CEO of Frick Tri-County FCU, Uniontown, Pa., died Friday morning at the age of 75, according to the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association (PCUA).  Lenio served as PCUA board director from 1998 to 2001. He was the 2002 recipient of the Keystone Award, the association's highest award, which honored him for his service to the St. Vincent de Paul Society.  Lenio also was awarded the 1995 William W. Pratt Professional of the Year.  Funeral services were Tuesday. His wife, Maryann, preceded him in death in 2009. He is survived by six children. (Life is a Highway Aug. 6) …
  • FEDERAL WAY, Wash. (8/7/12)--Steve Albers, president and founder of Tacoma, Wash.-based Albers & Co., and a longtime credit union supporter, died Friday night after being injured in a bike accident.  He was 60.  Albers founded the company in 1985 and was a long-time credit union collaborator and a frequent tradeshow exhibitor at the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) Convention and Annual Business Meeting, said NWCUA (Anthem July 31) …

Former CUNA Mutual vp dies in swimming accident

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MIDDLETON, Wis. (8/7/12)--Charles "Chuck" Conklin, 74, a former vice president with CUNA Mutual Group, died Thursday in Bayfield, Wis., in a diving accident in Lake Superior.

Conklin retired as vice president of Market Promotion Services and Policyowner Relations for CUNA Mutual in March 1996.  He served the company for nearly 29 years.

Visitation will be at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Cress Funeral Home, 3610 Speedway Road, Madison, Wis., with a memorial service following at 2 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made in his name to the American Heart Association or the Dane County Humane Society.

He is survived by his wife, Jane (Ungrodt) Conklin; three daughters, Kathleen Marie Conklin, Patrice Alexandra Conklin and Julia Beth Prohaska (David); six granddaughters; and two sisters.

PCUA Card Services Lowest delinquency rates in years

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (8/7/12)--The Pennsylvania Credit Union Association's (PCUA) Card Services reports that in the first six months of 2012, credit card delinquencies are at their lowest level since 2007 (Life is a Highway Aug. 6).

Of 167,717 credit card accounts from credit unions on the Card Services credit card program, as of June 30:

  • 1.57% of credit card accounts are delinquent 30 days or more;
  • 2.3% of outstanding credit card loans are delinquent 30 days or more; and
  • Both percentages are at their lowest since 2007.
Credit unions on the program have charged off 607 accounts year-to-date, with an average account balance of $3,820. Total charged-off dollars year-to-date is $2,319,396.

Overall, credit card outstanding loans are down by 4.5%, compared with the same time last year. Also, 38% of total credit limits are used, which is slightly up from the same period in 2011, PCUA said.

"It is a great sign to see delinquency at a five-year low on our credit card program," said Sheba Wallish, manager, PCUA Card Services. "Credit unions are making sound lending decisions, and consumers are being responsible with the credit they have available to them."

Illinois small-CU conference kicks off today

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NAPERVILLE, Ill. (8/7/12)--Nearly 90 people representing 48 credit unions are expected for the Illinois Credit Union League's (ICUL) annual Small Asset Size (SAS) Conference for credit unions under $25 million.

The conference will finish out with an open forum and networking lunch, facilitated by Joni Senkpeil, ICUL director of small credit union development.

"We strive to be a focal point to help our small credit unions succeed and it seems this conference helps to address their concerns and needs year after year," said Dan Plauda, ICUL president/CEO.

This year's event is sponsored by ICUL, the Illinois Credit Union Foundation and CUNA Mutual Group.