But that does not mean travel should be eliminated? Some quality conferences offer excellent educational opportunities if they are treated as such and not just a vacation to, say, Vegas.
The California/Nevada Credit Union Leagues Annual Conference last week did not necessarily have participants running the halls from session to session, but it did feature some solid educational offerings for credit union executives and board members. I happened to be running late to a couple sessions I wanted to get into but couldn't because people were already craning their heads from the hallway to see into the rooms.
Bill Hampel's discussion of taking advantage of the coming recovery and a panel on appropriate capital levels for credit unions (see our coverage, page 6) were two of those sessions. While we've covered these issues within the pages of Credit Union Times because these are obvious issues of interest, this visual aid really jumped out at me. This very real demonstration of what our readers and potential readers are interested in will help guide our editorial direction and decisions in the future. And for credit union executives it tells them, or reassures them, that they are seeking out the right information. This and other conferences shouldn't be the only source of information but should play an integral role in educating credit union executives.
The reason I was late for this meeting though was because I was stopped by a West Coast credit union executive I know. We talked about everything from his new position to the state of credit unions. Another session I missed entirely because I stopped to talk to a California CU CEO and was introduced to another California CEO; we discussed U.S. Central, WesCorp, the NCUA's proposal for restructuring the corporate system, and what the credit union industry might look like 10 years from now. These are people I would not know and discussions I would not have had if I had not seen the value in traveling to this conference, and the experience will help me do a better job. The same applies within credit unions as well.
I also circled the vendor hall a couple of times to talk to executives from the companies that support credit unions. They are very interested to hear what credit unions are interested in as well because it will help them better serve credit unions. Conversely, credit unions can learn about a new service that could drive efficiency in their institutions while cutting costs (possibly more than the cost of a plane ticket and hotel to Vegas), but if they hadn't seen the bright banner in the vendor hall, they might not have even known the product existed.
I also learned more about the Global Women's Leadership Network, which is part of a larger initiative by WOCCU. According to the group, it was founded because 70% of the world's poor are women. The network matches female credit union executives worldwide based on issues of interest to discuss what works and doesn't work, covering everything from core processing to creative service methods. Credit unions are a solution to the poverty issue. And women coming together online and in-person (yes, about 40 members of the fledgling organization traveled to Barcelona for WOCCU's conference last summer), looking for new ways to provide financial opportunities where there may be no other alternatives, is an excellent vehicle for change.
I'm very well aware of budget concerns and some other expenses absolutely cannot be cut, but don't discount the value of face-to-face interaction and learning opportunities. Travel expenses should be handled judiciously and with a scalpel, not a hatchet. But conferences aren't inherently bad, and in full disclosure, yes, Credit Union Times has offered them.
I would also advocate that additional scrutiny should be placed on who takes the trips to conferences. Are they people who are going to treat the cost of travel and tuition as if it were their own funds? Are they going to take advantage of the educational opportunities there? The agenda of the conference is another matter that should be carefully dissected as well as the networking opportunities provided.
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