"I have said for a long time is that the first step to winning is not losing," said Robert Hackney, president of CSCU, when welcoming CU card executives to the conference. Hackney defined losing as selling a card portfolio or just giving up on managing it during the economic downturn.
CSCU is the association of credit unions that process their card transactions with Fidelity National Information Services. Roughly 60% of card-issuing credit unions process their card transactions with the Florida-based card processor.
"It's not a sellers' market out there like it once was," Hackney said, speaking of the market for CU credit card portfolios. "There aren't the premiums there once were, and you would still be giving up your single best source of ROA."
And Hackney had a pretty good crowd of attendees to address. CSCU staff reported that just shy of 300 credit union executives from 101 different credit unions attended this year, fractionally down from last year's attendance; CSCU did not make its conference free.
Still, while CSCU worked hard to keep the down economy's negatives in check, the topic of the opportunities and challenges for credit unions issuing cards through the economic storm were never far off-stage.
Jean Chatzky, financial communicator and author, encouraged the attending credit union executives to keep pushing forward to help their members save.
Outlining the eight key differences in behavior that help wealthier and financially secure people get that way, Chatzky emphasized the importance and value of savings.
"Face it-saving will never be fun," she told the executives. "There is a growing discipline called neural economics which measures what happens to our brains when we buy something. And they have found buying things makes our brains light up, but saving really doesn't."
"But," she added, "saving is very healing. It makes us feel better. It makes us feel like better people; it increases optimism and carries a lot of positive benefits."
Helping your members save, Chatzky suggested, may be one of the most important ways you can help your members.
Another financial tool Chatzky urged CUs to help members adopt was investing some of their money in the stock market-even with the market as low as it is.
"Advising people to invest right now can feel counterintuitive," Chatzky acknowledged. "But the research shows clearly that people who have gotten to where they feel financially comfortable or wealthy recognize that you have to invest money to make more-even when doing that carries some degree of risk."
Wayne Best, chief economist for Visa, laid out the scope of the economic problems facing credit unions and the economy overall, though he also took pains to try to point out the opportunities the economy provided as well.
Echoing other analysis in his April 24 presentation, Best reiterated that the collapse in home prices and continuing unemployment are the twin engines driving the down turn, which remains merely a recession even though it often feels worse.
"The kinds of facts that worry me now are things like the median house price in Detroit, which hit $18,000 recently," Best told the assembled executives. "That's the median. That means that half the houses on the market were on the market more than that, and half for less. That means that consumers in Detroit could face a realistic choice these days between buying a house and buying a car."
The second fact that Best said he found particularly worrisome were the breadlines that he said have sprung up outside some churches in Fort Myers, Fla. "Fort Myers was one of those places where the housing bubble was largest, and unfortunately I don't think it has given all the [speculative value] back yet," he said.
But despite the bad news, demographic research Visa has done shows that the demographic trends are favoring more use of cards and that the downturn has not hurt all consumers in the same way.
"The easy, stereotypical thing to say is that all nest eggs have been broken," Best said, "but the data doesn't really show that. Renters, for example, are usually younger and usually have more money to spend and will actually need to spend in the coming years and will need your cards and help," he added.
Credit unions already using Metavante services, including the bill pay program, will see little immediate change from the merger between Metavante and Fidelity National Information Services, according to an FIS executive.
On a more positive note, Gary Norcross, chief operating officer for FIS, told the executives that he expected credit unions using Metavante's bill pay program to see the product improve with more research and development from the new company.
FIS and Metavante have announced an intended merger, which still has to pass regulatory scrutiny and gain shareholder approval. Once these two goals are met, Norcross expected the merger to be complete in the third quarter of this year.
Norcross noted that FIS has always had a comparatively large research budget and that the company is "very excited" about the bill pay services.
"I don't know what Metavante's research for this product was," Norcross said, "but we remain very excited about it and committed to the research and development to make it even stronger," he said.
He also said FIS looked forward to adopting relationship pricing for the credit unions which had a relationship with Metavante for the service.