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<p>Late last December, the Chicago-based Bank Administration Institute (BAI) held its annual Retail Delivery 2001 conference in the Anaheim Convention Center. Over 300 credit union participants, including many CU CEOs and technology staffers, were on hand for this one-of-a-kind conference. They came not to hear the mostly dry and scripted banking industry speakers (Why must a group’s chairman always speak first?), but to take in the mammoth retail delivery services trade show. Each year it unfolds in the nation’s largest expo facilities like a who’s who in the financial services industry. The expo program alone is well worth the hefty price of admission. Up until the 2001 event, credit union participation had been growing each year. Although down slightly from the previous year, the 300 plus number of credit union attendees was nevertheless impressive. Many credit union meetings of long standing can’t get that many CU folks to show up. When they do, most participants aren’t staff of individual credit unions or state and national credit union organizations like at BAI, but CU volunteers. Unlike strictly credit union meetings where they dominate, the number of credit union volunteers in attendance at BAI could be counted on one hand with fingers left over. The CU turnout was also impressive considering that BAI’s overall attendance was down drastically. Depending on whose numbers you accept as accurate, this event has drawn over 9,000 in past years. Approximately two thirds of that total was high-tech exhibitors from throughout the country and around the world (over 30 countries were represented). While the number of booths and vendor reps dipped slightly, the usual 3,000 participants dropped drastically to somewhere around 1,500 in Anaheim. September 11th and the proximity of the Christmas holidays were blamed for this. Next year’s event will be held much earlier, November 4-8 in Atlanta. If you do the arithmetic you’ll see that almost 20% of the participants had a credit union connection. Yet credit unions were all but ignored from a programming standpoint. As ambitious as the educational program was, I did not note even one session featuring anyone from the credit union industry. It appeared that the prevailing banking industry attitude that credit unions are still small potatoes and amateurs had an influence on the staff and committee program planners (and even on some vendors). If it weren’t for the trade show, credit union participants couldn’t be blamed if they told BAI to take a hike by not showing up for future meetings. (Ironically, however, it was a credit union staffer who walked away with the biggest door prize, a luxury automobile given away by FISI-Madison Financial.) CU participants, expected to number over 400 next year, need to get the word to BAI that credit unions should be represented on the program at the next conference. The professionalism of this meeting was outstanding. The meeting materials, facilities, organization, signage, staging, refreshment breaks, name badges (of credit card quality and security), graphics, audio-visuals (slide presentations were outstanding), handouts, press kits, leather tote bags, meal functions (in the expo halls), press room, conference hotels, shuttle services, BAI conference staff and special info booths, and pre-conference workshops were all first class and state of the art. Even my hotel room “key” was a vendor promo; for Key Electronic Services of course. Vendor booths were plentiful (three separate convention halls), beautifully designed, and massive in size. Many were two stories. Sit down sales presentations took place in the quiet of the second story. Quite a few were at least 80 times larger than the first-time modest Credit Union Times booth. Many had as many as 40 representatives, all decked out in matching logo wear, on hand to answer questions and sell, sell, and sell. Among the most impressive were NCR, Intel (a great Cybercafe was provided), Corrillian, Harland, Alltel, Triton, Fiserv, CheckFree, Metavante, VISA, UNISYS (probably the best), IBM, Sun Micro Systems, and the United States Postal Service. The only disappointment was that some vendors at the BAI event have yet to discover the potential for them in also catering to the CU market. Prior to the conference, BAI made available the results of a pre-conference survey that provided detailed conference attendee demographics. It gave details on participant interests, priorities, experience, and exhibitor expectations. Nice touch. What wasn’t nice pre-conference was the receipt of hundreds of e-mails from vendors attempting to set up appointments at the show. Especially annoying were those from vendor PR agencies that showed a complete lack of knowledge about credit unions and even if their clients did, could, or wanted to serve credit unions. The general consensus among credit union people attending this meeting is that it has become a must on their future conference schedules. There is nothing like it available in the CU industry. After attending it for several years, I would recommend that every credit union of any size and with even a modest interest in technology and retail delivery of services, send at least one representative to Atlanta next year. BAI provides the best opportunity under one roof to see where credit unions need to be to stay competitive and to be in a position to meet current and future member service demands. Credit union CEOs would get a lot of value in attending. Senior operations staff of credit unions definitely should attend. Credit union vendors should also have a presence there. However, because of the emphasis on hands-on operations technology, this is really not a meeting that targets CU volunteers. If the bankers and vendors ever make room for credit unions on the program, BAI’s conference could become one of the largest non-credit union credit union meetings in the country. Even if they don’t credit unions will continue to show up for its outstanding trade show. Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected]</p>

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Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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