Lively Peer Talks Offer Ideas to Tweak, Reinvent Investment Programs
PHOENIX -- Alison Chamlet said she is always amazed at the amount of sharing that takes place in the credit union world.
As the vice president of wealth management and retirement services at $1.2 billion Arizona State Credit Union and with years of investment experience under her belt, Chamlet said the learning experiences are refreshing. She recently attended the Credit Union Professional Managers Association's annual meeting and was reenergized by the dialogues.
"I don't know if words can express the value that I get when I'm with a group of my peers," Chamlet said. "In the credit union world, we sometimes have folks managing programs that [have not yet gained] industry experience or haven't been licensed for a long time. But we're all at the some stage going through the same issues."
The CUPMA meeting, held in late May in Indian Wells, Calif., brought together 20 people to discuss of a number of issues relevant to investment program managers including broker-dealer compliance, fee-based advisory services and strategic planning.
Chamlet said it was a "safe environment" for exchanges: "What happens at CUMPA, stays at CUMPA," she joked. Still, she walked away from the two-day meeting with some general best practices that have worked at other credit unions. For instance, one consistent concern heard at the conference was connecting with members who do not come into the branches, Chamlet shared. One attendee said they decided to put a financial adviser in the call center so that if a member calls with investment queries, the representative can make a direct transfer.
"The financial adviser could meet with members and that might bring in new business," Chamlet deduced. "[At Arizona State CU], we view the call center as a separate branch. I thought it was a good idea."
Someone else had a suggestion for scant attendance at investment education seminars. Rather than the member having to call to RSVP, the credit union mails out tickets. The presentation is a bit more formal and the attendee said this method has helped to boost participation. To eliminate no-shows at first time appointments, one program manager said they conduct all first meetings over the phone.
"Which, I thought was brilliant," Chamlet said. "If it's a no-show, no one has wasted gas or time."
For Carolyn Cereghino, vice president of investment services at $8.4 billion Boeing Employees CU, being able to brainstorm on industry challenges and gleaning from success stories proved to be among the best takeaways from the conference.
"In some cases, you don't have to reinvent the wheel," said Cereghino who attended the CUPMA meeting for the first time this year after hearing about the group from colleagues. "It's a great venue to feed off one another and share what's working."
With the current volatile economic environment, Cereghino said the general consensus was members are more reserved and are on flights to safety when it comes to their investments. People who were thinking about retiring soon, are putting those plans on hold, she added. As a result, marketing ideas and what adjustments are needed during these nimble times were discussed. Being proactive in developing books of business and reaching out to build expand and build relationships were also some of the highlights for Cereghino.
It's these types of discussions that are welcomed and encouraged, said Sandra deChastain, vice president of investments at $7.5 billion SchoolsFirst FCU and one of CUPMA's founders.
"We start with our regular quarterly meeting and agenda and we don't hold ourselves to it," deChastain said. "We want to address what the people want to address."
The negative news encircling credit unions from stock market volatility and subprime lending raised questions about keeping an optimistic outlook, deChastain recalled.
"It was how to keep up referrals and morale and how are we compared to 2007. Some people said they were down since 2007 and others said they are up," deChastain said. "That was a healthy exchange."
Another popular session was presented by a chief compliance officer from a broker-dealer. Chamlet said it was helpful to hear how new regulations and rules are treated and what regulators are looking for. A panel discussion with six broker-dealers sparked even more intriguing talks.
"Think about it--you're sitting next to your competitors. We wanted them to be able to answer our questions," said deChastain, adding that a list of questions was provided in advance so that no one was caught off guard.
Regardless of the size of the credit union at the meeting, the topics affected everyone.
"Many have become community charters and some have chased their models," deChastain said. "That brings different types of challenges [such as] having to reinvent their business models."
Chamlet, who took ten pages of notes at the conference, said the ideas were endless. Many were still working through strategies to woo higher net worth members, she said. The disconnect often occurs when a member brings some of their money to a credit union but not all of it.
Others embraced the notion of a having a benchmark for only credit unions. Those in place now look at financial institutions across the board but very few are credit union specific, Chamlet pointed out.
"While we should compare ourselves to others, we need to look within too," she suggested.