<p>ARLINGTON, Va. – Having taken over NAFCU Services Corp. as CEO last April, the honeymoon is just about over for Keith Nolan, and the time to get results is here. He’s OK with that because he says he’s been working feverishly since joining NSC to revamp what he admits has become a stale, outdated outfit. “I’ve been working fast and furious since last April to bring the Preferred Partner Program back into a position where it can truly have some benefit to the NAFCU membership as well as to the partners providing the services,” said Nolan. “When I was down in Orlando last year (site of NAFCU’s Annual Conference), walking around the exhibit hall, I wasn’t too happy with what I heard about the value of the program.” The Preferred Partner Program is the primary product of NSC. The program is in essence where NSC endorses vendors and will help them market their products to credit unions. The obvious allure for vendors is that NAFCU members will give more credibility to vendors coming with an endorsement from their trusted trade association, hopefully giving them higher penetration rates with NAFCU members. CUNA, credit union leagues, and other CU groups have such programs. Nolan believes these endorsement programs have inherent flaws. They can too easily become a “rubber stamp-like” business where a vendor just agrees to plunk down a certain amount of money to utilize the NSC name. There’s also danger in NSC adding all sorts of products in order to bolster its bottomline. “I’m getting anywhere from two to four inquiries a week from potential providers. I can roll out of bed and add vendors, but we’re going to stay focused on things we know credit unions need and value,” said Nolan. To do that, Nolan has formed an advisory committee of currently five advisors (soon to be seven), that will review vendors and products and talk about the needs they see. Nolan said this isn’t an advisory committee in name only, the group meets once a month via phone or in person to look at product options. “The group will be a cross representation of the country. We’re shortly adding a Midwest representative, and are working on the Western region. It consists of senior level product and marketing talent, and two CEOs to help balance it out,” said Nolan. Another potential danger is credit unions not really gaining any value by going with an endorsed vendor. “We want credit unions to really get something out of it, whether it be a discount, waiving a fee, or additional services at no cost,” said Nolan. Also, the program will now only endorse products that will assist CUs in becoming their members’ primary financial institution. “At the end of the day becoming the PFI is what it’s all about,” said Nolan. Past products NSC has endorsed haven’t always gone that route. For example, Avis is currently an NSC Preferred Partner. “When I look at Avis and car rentals I don’t see that as helping a credit union become the PFI for its members, but there is value for Avis due to all of NAFCU’s conferences,” said Nolan. He said Avis will likely be transitioned over to a more “business association relationship” and out of the partner program. For potential partners, the program has been restructured to a four-tier system: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. A vendor’s monetary commitment will be highest at the platinum level, and lowest at the bronze level. “If you sit in box seats at a baseball game you’re closer to the action, and you’re going to pay more. Sit in the right field bleachers, you’re going to see the game, but not from as good a seat,” said Nolan. So what do vendors get for these varying levels. At the bronze level the number of products that can be endorsed is limited to one; up to two for silver; up to three for gold; and up to four for platinum. The terms of the agreement are also shorter the higher the level. It’s four years for bronze; three for silver; and two for gold and platinum. The amount of marketing exposure vendors get is also based on what level they buy into. Exposure is delivered through a number of vehicles, including print ads, online ads, conference sponsorship, direct mail, exhibits, regional meetings, public speaking opportunities, and others. There are currently 11 Preferred Partners. Nolan doesn’t want to add too many, too fast, but said he definitely plans on expanding the program this year. He is looking at a mortgage program, a Web-based offering, a debt protection product that can piggyback off expanded incidental powers FCUs received last year, and an ambitious EFT offering that Nolan wouldn’t elaborate on at this time. To kick off the revamped program, NSC has also launched new logos for NSC and the Preferred Partner Program. “If you’re going to say to everybody `hey look at me I’m new and approved’, you want to make a statement with a new look and feel to your marketing.” [email protected]</p>

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