Anyone involved with credit unions knows that every credit union should be focused on serving members and meeting their changing financial needs and do it better than any other financial institution can serve its customers. A couple of years ago CUNA launched an ambitious national branding campaign which included this slogan: “America’s Credit Unions: Where People are Worth More than Money.” Despite that lofty claim there are unfortunately many occasions where members might react to that slogan by saying, “Not always.” I’m one of those members. Knowing of my long-time involvement with credit unions, many friends and acquaintances, all members of various credit unions, have shared with me many positive stories regarding their experiences with their credit unions. They have also shared experiences that can only be labeled as dreadful. I, too, have personally been on the receiving end of credit union service that was bad at best and incompetent at worst. Credit unions love to talk about how they treat people as members, not customers. And how at their credit union a member is not just a number but an owner and is treated accordingly. Not always. Here’s a small sampling of credit unions not living up to all the hype about credit unions being so different from a bank: Hours: Some credit unions still have bankers’ hours rather than members’ hours. One credit union refuses to be open on Mondays because they are open on Saturdays. Saturday hours are a nice member convenience, but what about all those members who prefer, or need to transact their credit union business on a Monday? Too bad. Go to a bank. All banks are open on Mondays. Web sites: Many credit unions brag that they are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week because they have an interactive Web site up and running. A credit union member relocated his family from another state reluctantly leaving their old CU behind. They were extremely satisfied with that old credit union, especially its finely tuned Web site. They were determined to find another credit union that measured up to it in their new location. Couldn’t do it. They tried several local CUs for which they were eligible and found all of them lacking. Poor Web site was their number one complaint. Ironically, one credit union they joined at their new location bragged how great their Web site was. To this tech savvy member it wasn’t. Solution? He found a way to continue to do most of his family’s business long distance with the old credit union. The rest he did with a local bank. Training: More than one loyal credit union member relayed experiences where credit union staffers said the following: `I don’t know.” “That’s not my department.” “I don’t know why management does that.” “I don’t have time right now. Call back later.” And my favorite: “We would never put your money in somebody else’s account. Your check must be lost in the mail.” It wasn’t both times it happened. The member’s check had been deposited in another member’s account who had a similar name. Twice! Does it sound like these credit union employees received training at least as good as bank staff members? Do these responses give the impression that the members involved were working at a credit union? I think not. Competence: A member’s bi-weekly paycheck apparently never showed up at his credit union. The routine was that his employer’s accounting department sent it directly to his account at the credit union for deposit as regular as clockwork every two weeks. The member kept calling after being told, “We can’t call you back to let you know if it came in. You have to call us.” After numerous phone calls the member was told to stop calling because there was nothing the credit union could do for him. He should put a stop payment on his paycheck. The next day the member received his check in the mail from the credit union. It had a CU sticky note on it. It read: “We can’t deposit this check because it was damaged in the mail.” The note was dated prior to several of the member’s phone calls to the CU asking if they had received his check yet. Obviously they had. Just as obviously there was no inter-staff communications at this credit union. The check had in fact arrived at the CU. Guess who had to pay the bounced check fees? Service: A long-time member showed up at the credit union to purchase travelers checks about a week before leaving on a vacation trip. After waiting in a long line, he heard this: “Sorry, we are all out of travelers checks.” When asked when they would be getting a new supply, the answer was, “I don’t know.” Real answer? Go to a bank and get them. Appearance: There are too many war stories to relate here. I personally have been in some good-sized credit unions that looked worse than the manager’s office in a junk yard. Unfortunately, I am not exaggerating. I had to wonder how much confidence members of these credit unions had that their money was being taken care of in an orderly and efficient way in a credit union that looked like it was about to go under. Any credit union can have a bad day. These few examples from many actual instances that could have been used are hopefully the exception. The bottom line is that everyone involved with credit unions has to practice what we all preach, namely that credit unions treat their members better than banks treat their customers. That has to be proven with every Web site visit, every teller transaction, every phone call, every e-mail, every mail and fax communication, and especially every time a member, not a customer, asks for help. 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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