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Any one involved with credit unions knows that one of the favorite activities of the banking industry is to crab long, loud, and consistently about credit unions. Every move by an individual credit union (new product, service, marketing campaign, facility, etc.), or a CU regulator (changes in CU membership qualifications, etc.), or especially a credit union trade association (Renaissance Commission recommendations), brings an almost immediate, scathing attack by banking industry lobbyists and their hand-picked spokespersons. The banking industry has become so consistent with its credit union bashing that credit union representatives end up spending a good percentage of their time and efforts reacting to banking industry salvos. All of this may be obvious to those of us who keep up to date on the war of words between credit unions and banks, but not necessarily to a typical credit union member. In the opinion of at least one such member, for example, it is credit unions that are too often doing the bashing. Oh? To explain: my good friend and neighbor, Nancy, is a longtime, loyal credit union member (as is her entire family) and a regular reader of Credit Union Times. Recently we got into a discussion about banks, credit unions, and bashing. Nancy chided me because in this publication and elsewhere she feels she is seeing far too much bank bashing by credit unions and the organizations that represent them. The elsewhere mainly includes credit union marketing she is exposed to, directly and indirectly through articles in this publication. She sees much of it as plain and simple bank bashing. Granted, credit unions have done some bank bashing marketing but in general, I told her, she had it backwards. Banks are always bashing credit unions and credit unions are just fighting back. Credit unions try and be fair, but when banking lobbyists twist the truth, CUs have an obligation to set the record straight. After all, credit unions don’t try and tell banks what they should and shouldn’t do. Nancy doesn’t see it that way. Here’s how she put it: “Maybe you don’t see it because you are too close. But as an educated reader, listener, and consumer, I can tell the difference between a radio spot or newspaper ad, for instance, that is unfair and one that isn’t.” It became apparent that in her opinion credit union marketers who produce anti-bank slogans (“Better than a bank!”, “Bank is a four letter word!”, “Go bankless”) and print materials (unbank brochures) should be sent back to marketing school to learn to identify credit union members’ hot buttons. Nancy continued: “To me, constant bank bashing (however and wherever it’s done) sounds like the credit union industry is worried or insecure despite its growing success. One shouldn’t have to make someone or something else look bad for you or what you represent to look good. “Be positive not negative. Tell everyone how good credit unions are and why members love them rather than how bad banks are. Why even mention the word bank?” But, I said, as Nancy ignored me and continued on her mission to convince me that it is credit unions who at times come across as the basher. “The credit union industry always looks like it has to have the last word. Besides, why give banks a public forum? As a consumer, my main concern is not a battle between banks and credit unions. It is more important to me that my credit union is now open until 8:00 p.m. for my convenience,” she said. Our spirited exchange served as important reminders. For example, to not ever lose sight of what credit unions are all about, namely, serving members’ changing financial needs in a way that is as economical and convenient as possible. In other words, concentrate on all that is good about credit unions not why CUs are better than banks. Also, to not get so close to the forest that we can’t see the trees. What credit union people say and do may be having an entirely different effect on others than what was intended. Credit union marketing directors especially take note. It is critical that credit union spokespersons and decision makers have a good handle on what their various constituencies think of the CU, but especially members and potential members. If the banking industry has a negative opinion about credit unions, that’s their problem. Something else that some credit union marketers lose sight of is that some members like Nancy, don’t really care if your credit union is better than a bank. Rather, she wants to know what you can do to make her busy life easier and more financially secure. I’m ready to concede that credit unions have been guilty of bashing banks when it comes to marketing campaigns, especially on a local level. But I remain convinced that overall, it is the banking industry that does the heavy lifting bashing. The old turn the other cheek school of thought just won’t work unless the banking industry backs off and tends to its own problems and challenges. Won’t happen. What we appear to have is two separate battlefields: one which has as primary combatants the political leadership of each industry. The second one is at the consumer level. There’s not much chance that things are going to change anytime soon on the first battlefield. Credit unions have to fight back and discredit each and every false charge advanced by the banking lobbyists. However, at the consumer level, where members and potential members live, I think Nancy makes a very good point. Talk to them not about banks but about credit unions and how great they are. So from this point on, if any credit union marketer bashes banks in their materials, be prepared. I will ask Nancy to give you a call. Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected]

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Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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