Many Conferences Morph as Credit Union Travel Budgets Get the Ax
The latest to feel the pinch of restricted CU budgets was the Marketing Association of Credit Unions, which called off its annual meeting slated for the end of next month in San Antonio.
"Like many other industry groups, we are forced to postpone our live conference for a year in the interest of our brand, our members and our vendor supporters," explained Darlene Kindelberger, MAC chair and vice president of marketing at Kern FCU, Bakersfield, Calif.
The conference, which usually draws 175 and was slated for the Grand Hyatt Hotel May 27-29 this year, saw a nearly 60% drop-off in advance registrations, said Kent Lindeman, executive director of MAC. The conference is being replaced with online programming for each of the three days.
MAC was hardly alone among trade groups in sharply trimming conference expenses in the wake of the corporate assessment and continued economic gloom in many parts of the U.S.
For one, the California/Nevada Credit Union League said, in the interest of saving on members' travel and hotel costs, it was relocating its annual CEO Summit Roundtable in January 2010 from Hawaii to Arizona, perhaps Phoenix.
The CEO Roundtable, held last January at the Fairmont Kea Lani on Maui, ordinarily draws top CU managers from half a dozen Western states. The 2010 Roundtable was originally scheduled for the Ritz Carlton at Kapalua, also on Maui.
Cancelation of the MAC conference follows a March announcement by Credit Union Direct Lending Corp. of Ontario, Calif., and Prime Alliance Solutions, a Seattle CUSO, to also postpone for a year a joint annual conclave in Las Vegas at the Bellagio Hotel.
That meeting, which had been expected to draw 800, also saw early declines in advance registration, prompting the decision to call off the Driving Lending Home Symposium.
Meanwhile, the Credit Union Executives Society, also citing member concern said its Directors Leadership Institute, scheduled for July in Barcelona, Spain, would be shifted to New York to save on attendee expenses. Typically it draws about 50 participants.
CUES officials point out that turnout and registrations for other major CUES education events are holding up well, including those at the Darden School and at Wharton underscoring the uneven nature of CU reductions.
Meanwhile, CUNA said its numbers for its June America's CU Conference and Expo in Boston "are running behind last year's pace," blaming the economy and corporate stabilization costs.
To help stave off the anticipated downturn, CUNA said it has stepped up marketing, including online promotions and a Twitter page that discusses how CUs are being "revolutionary."
"If a CU 'tweets' about how their CU is being revolutionary, they can receive a $200 discount off their individual registration," said Mark Wolff, senior vice president and head of communications.
MAC's Lindeman stressed that virtual seminars will be broadcast each day of the conference. That allows MAC members "to still receive important educational content including information on those top campaigns and competition winners."
Kindelberger said the MAC Board agonized over the decision to cancel but in the end decided it was both "responsible and prudent." The conference will resume in 2010 in Palm Springs, Calif. she said.
"In polling our membership, the common response was that our conference offers value education at an affordable price, but that travel has been put on hold or eliminated and they just couldn't attend this year," said Kindelberger.
Featured presentations May 27-29 include sessions on member retention and competitive strategies, plus "best of" components. The registration fee for the conference is $49 per session or $175 for all three days.
Like other conference administrators, CUNA said it continues to look for ways to cut costs on conferences and training by creating "multiple delivery channels" via Webinars, online courses and audio conferences.
On the sensitive subject of holding conferences in fancy resort settings, trade officials said they were well aware of the public mood and anger over use of TARP bailout funds and felt relieved CUs so far have been spared the harsh spotlight beamed at the banking industry in January and February.
That was about the time a TV crew from the ABC network in what CUES called a case of "ambush journalism," filmed CU attendees at the pool and on the golf course at a CUES conference on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. Through e-mailed "talking papers" stressing that CUs had not received TARP funds and that the premise of the show was in error, CUNA and CUES prepared CU leaders for a PR calamity.
So far the fears of having to explain their St. Kitts presence have been unfounded as the planned "20/20" show has yet to broadcast, though CUNA officials warn that there is nothing stopping it from airing.
"We continue to keep a watch for the show," said Wolff. Though no network mention has been aired about the filmed segment, "I don't think one can necessarily assume they've dropped plans to do the story, though I would think the longer they wait, the harder it becomes for them to justify."
The fact is, "credit unions have done nothing wrong-no taxpayer money has been taken," stressed Fred Johnson, president/CEO of CUES, maintaining that network interest in that portion of what CUs do seems to have evaporated.
"I think," said Johnson, that network types "certainly have bigger fish to fry."
CUNA noted that attendees of its CFO Council Conference, slated May 17-20 at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, can actually calculate the worthiness of the meeting on a CUNA Web site (http://www.cunacfocouncil.org/download/conf_09/).
"The conference is not an expense but an investment in your credit union's future," said Peggy Lamb, council treasurer and senior vice president of finance for DFCU Financial CU in Dearborn, Mich.