Score One (In This Case, Several) for the Underdogs: Editor's Column
The theme of the news this week has been underdogs winning their battles by scrapping it out for what’s right. From credit unions to regulators, these unexpected victors deserve to bask in their spoils of the moment.
Everyone believes their causes are the most deserving, and credit unions are no exception. All 331 credit unions applying to the NCUA’s technical assistance grant program pleaded their cases for a total of $5 million but ultimately the NCUA’s fund only had so much in funding. Between $1.25 million in congressional funding and some extra funds from last year, the NCUA was able to award $1.4 million to deserving credit unions—the program’s highest grant total ever.
Streamlining the applications process led to a 77% increase in applications, according to the NCUA. This move was the agency’s second effort of late to streamline its programs, the last of which raised the hackles of the community bankers.
The grant money will go to programs to assist with new product and service development as well as VITA programs, which assist low-income Americans with their tax returns. Hoorah for the NCUA and the low-income credit unions who prove every day they’re worthy of the limited grant funds!
One such grant recipient was Bethex FCU for $14,600. Fred Fernandez is an employee there and happens to be our latest Trailblazer 40 Below, a recognition program for credit union professionals under 40. The credit union is extraordinary for all the work it does to serve its underserved community and Fernandez is one of the people who don a cape behind the scenes.
Fernandez left his life and career in California to serve his home community after 9/11. He figured he could do some good at Bethex until he found “a real job.”
Fernandez constantly strives to meet member needs while balancing the resources of a $25 million financial institution. Resolving members’ issues to remain relevant is what the job’s all about in the end—and he fills many roles ranging from building an application to serve money services businesses to compliance officer. Go underdogs!
Technology has been the great equalizer in the financial services market for the past decade or more and as mobile banking continues to grow in popularity that trend will continue forward. Online and mobile banking has bolstered credit unions’ convenience ratings, a report by Chadwick Martin Bailey found.
Ten years ago consumers who valued convenience went to banks while those who valued service sought out credit unions for their financial services needs. In the most recent study just as many credit unions members used online banking as bank customers, so they no longer have to choose between service and convenience by going with credit unions.
Just 58% reported that a nearby branch was important, compared with 50% who reported that online services were key to convenience. In addition, 85% of credit union members were pleased with their credit union’s online and mobile services, while just 66% of large bank customers rated their experience as satisfactory and just 55% of community bank customers and still fewer (53%) of regional bank customers reported being satisfied with their online and mobile banking experiences.
Where does that leave the banks other than competing on price, a losing game? Score another one for the underdogs!
Meanwhile, newly acquired members of the $388 million Educational Systems Federal Credit Union raised their voices in protest against a $35 merger conversion fee the credit union planned to impose following the takeover of the $401 million, 57,700-member Montgomery County Teachers FCU of Derwood, Md. To its credit, Educational Systems listened to those concerns and decided against charging the members the fee that would have mitigated the expense of taking in the ailing credit union.
Instead the credit union is relying upon the membership to deepen their relationship with the credit union. Educational Systems will have a lot of legwork to do on its part to make that happen but in the long run it’s definitely the more member-friendly method of supporting the institution’s overall safety and soundness.
This change of heart by Educational Systems after hearing the pleas of its new members is a shot in the arm for all democratically controlled financial services cooperatives. Yeah for the underdogs who spoke out in favor of a better way!
And congrats to another credit union, South Carolina’s Greater Abbeville FCU, for having its finger on the pulse of its community. The $12 million credit union is reaching out to members and nonmembers alike to see what it can do to lend a helping hand to employees affected by the closure of a local plant for Mohawk Industries. The tiny credit union is offering loan refinancing and 60 days before the first payment.
I’ve been accused of being anti-small credit union and that is absolutely not the case. I am anti-sitting back and watching events and trends occur—or denying them entirely—without trying to work with or around them. I root for the underdogs every time when they’re fighting the good fight. (After all, I’m a Redskins fan.)