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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Whether they do it in grand meeting style with big name speakers or through remote audio and Web-based conferences, corporate credit unions have become very serious about educating their members. The interesting thing is they are doing it so differently. From cost to frequency, each corporate’s educational lineup is different, and their views on meetings vary dramatically. “Our signature event is our economic forum. This will be our twenty-sixth year we’ve been doing it. We usually attract about 400 or so credit unions,” said Terry Young, Director of Marketing and Communications for Southwest Corporate FCU. The conference has evolved over the years to include more big name speakers as well as more diverse speakers, hailing from academia, government, and the financial services industry. Young said the forum focuses on the economy as a whole and is designed to give CUs information they can use to take action. To that end, Southwest now brings in outside financial minds, such as this year with former Federal Reserve Governor and leading economic forecaster Larry Meyer, along with Maddy Dychwald, an author and an expert on consumer trends, being featured. There is a cost to bringing in national speakers and jazzing up the conference itself. Young said for the first time the economic forum is no longer free. The corporate now charges about $200 per attendee to cover the costs of speakers as well as meals and other conference expenses. “We’re not trying to make money off of it, just cover the costs.” The Web Opens Up New Avenues Southwest has also moved to educating members online. It has what Young called on-demand Web training. Southwest will train members over the Web when it’s convenient for them. So if members miss one of the corporate’s scheduled Web conferences, the economic forum or one of Southwest’s other in-person meetings, they can request to be trained via the Web. Young said the corporate is excited about its success so far with over 70 CUs already being trained. Technology has made Web conferences as close to an real in-person meeting as you can get, said Young. “They can see our person if they have that capability. They can hear each other and trade notes online. It’s an interactive environment,” said Young. Southwest isn’t going away from in-person meetings. It’s done about 20 regional ALM sessions in the past year. The need to meet is strong said Young. “Years ago it wasn’t as necessary to meet, but now credit unions operate on such a thin margin that once a year may not be enough. And then there’s the meeting dynamic for attendees. Credit unions get to meet with their peers who have the same type of challenges,” he said. At Corporate One FCU the major meeting of the year is still its annual meeting, but its Investment Forum is picking up steam. The corporate also has six investment seminars throughout the year, and it has a flexible outlook on adding meetings at any time during the year where a need arises. For example, this year it will hold meetings in conjunction with U.S. Central’s Network Liquidity Acceptance Corp. to assist members that are interested in selling their jumbo mortgages, one of NLAC’s specialties. Corporate One also is a good example of a corporate responding to a changing FOM. Having picked up Indiana CUs as members in recent years, Corporate One now holds a version of its annual meeting in Indiana. Last year it held it in conjunction with the Hoosier CUES Meeting, and this year it will be during the Indiana State Credit Union Convention. Celebrity Speakers Come on the Scene Paul Hixon, AVP of Marketing for Corporate One, said the corporate is also looking to attract more well-known national speakers to its major meetings, which isn’t always cheap. “You can find lots of national speakers under $1,000, but many are somewhere between $3,500 and $5,000,” said Hixon. Other corporates said speakers costs can be much higher. Victor A. Vrigian, Jr., Empire Corporate FCU’s Senior Vice President, Member Sales & Services said educational efforts have clearly expanded at the corporate, but Empire is careful not get into too many areas. “We do an annual meeting, an economic forum, a financial strategies conference, and then several different educational sessions throughout the year. We leave the general training to the league. We don’t teach things we aren’t experts in,” said Vrigian. He also noted Empire’s CUSOs hold their own educational events, often Webinars. Putting on a lot of meetings and educational events isn’t easy or cheap. Empire has about a $300,000 budget for conferences and education, and has a couple of staffers who spend more than half their time on the various events. Vrigian said response has been strong and Empire feels it is money well spent. Empire’s Financial Strategy Conference is its newest major conference and is designed to specifically talk about financial strategy and ways credit unions can invest their funds. “It really started when we had the downturn in lending. There was a need to fill in finding ways to invest all the money credit unions had,” said Vigrian. Like other corporates, Empire has been known to bring in a headline grabbing name, such as last year with Tim Russert of Meet the Press keynoting its 25th Annual Conference. However, Vigrian said this will not be the norm going forward. “This year we didn’t have a celebrity speaking. We did have JoAnn Johnson. Last year was a little different because it was our 25th anniversary.” EasCorp has teaching in its blood said EasCorp SVP Alan Bernstein. “Jane (Melchionda) went to college for teaching. Quite frankly she is the driving force for most of these things,” said Bernstein. Bernstein said about six EasCorp marketing and business development professionals spend most of their time on setting up educational events, as well as public relations. The corporate dedicates over $100,000 a year to education. EasCorp’s main push is with investment and ALM advice. It leans heavily on its investment academies. Originally the academies were geared for directors as well as CU professionals who weren’t focused on finance but might be getting into financial matters through expanded job responsibilities. EasCorp later expanded to a more advanced track for the financial professionals, and is starting a third track next year that is somewhere between the intermediate and advanced tracks. “We do it every year in conjunction with Babson College. We rely heavily on EasCorp and ALM First staff and also use some college faculty and NCUA people,” said Bernstein. Bernstein said what’s changed these days is CUs are getting more complex and more staffers are involved in financial matters, thus education needs are greater. “The layers of management we’re seeing attending, from second and third level management, keeps growing. This was very, very uncommon 10 years ago,” said Bernstein. While the investment academies are great, Bernstein said EasCorp is relying more on Webinars so that it can reach out to its members throughout the year. At the time of this interview he just came off of an ALM First Webcast on portfolio analysis and profitability with some of the nation’s largest credit unions. “We can reach more people for a lot less than we were ever able to do before.” EasCorp has also learned to hook up with groups that can get it in front of its members. For example, it partners with the Association of Credit Union Senior Officers, an organization of credit union senior managers from large New England credit unions. EasCorp meets with the 85 members five times a year, usually at EasCorp, to train them in a variety of areas. EasCorp manages the treasury for the group. EasCorp also has an Annual Partnership Conference and of course an Annual Meeting. Bernstein said the annual meeting is a great PR opportunity, so it doesn’t want members to pay to attend. “We don’t want to charge people to attend our annual meeting. It’s a great place for them to learn about us,” said Bernstein, who noted EasCorp typically spends over $50,000 putting on the meeting. EasCorp is staying away from the big name speakers said Bernstein. “That’s not to be critical of other corporates. We just like to stick to our knitting,” he said. Streamlining the Conference Schedule Mid-Atlantic Corporate has done away with what was one of its larger events, its economic forum. “We took a look at how much we were spending for a larger conference. We decided that we would look at delivery of our educational sessions via other methods, ways that would reach even more members,” said Leigh Philibosian, VP of Marketing for the corporate. “We want go get the most bang for our buck.” Mid-Atlantic now has a rapid-fire lineup of seminars and meetings throughout the year, including 15 regional ALM seminars. One of the challenges of corporates serving CUs in multiple states is getting in front of them. Mid-Atlantic’s ALM seminars are held in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania, its core states. The corporate also has six audio conferences slated, four on ACH and two on lending. It has two statement balancing seminars and hosts a small credit union workshop, a two-day event, in Harrisburg, Pa. Mid-Atlantic also opens up its doors to its members once a year. The corporate invites all members to come to its headquarters annually for a corporate orientation, where just about any topic can come up said Philibosian. Mid-Atlantic’s educational budget is in the $30,000 range said Philibosian, and the corporate thinks it can stay low through expanded use of Webinars and audio conferences. She said credit unions have so many conference opportunities these days, that attracting them to one big meeting a year could be tough, so Mid-Atlantic wants to spread the opportunities around the calendar. The marketing department really bears the brunt of organizing the events, she said. “All the education is centered in the marketing department. We sit down with different department heads and find out what the hot button issues are, what needs are out there. We then map out a curriculum,” said Philibosian. At WesCorp, the nation’s largest corporate, the agenda is not only to reach out to credit unions through its own efforts, but at non-WesCorp meetings via WesCorp speakers. It launched its Speakers Bureau a few years back. WesCorp essentially schooled some of its key people to be better speakers and now credit union organizations can call on the Speakers Bureau to fill a speaking need it may have. WesCorp typically doesn’t charge organizations to use one of its speakers, who are often called to speak on some of the most complex investment and risk management issues CUs face. Speaking of speakers, WesCorp has been getting some bigger names at its conferences of late including sports broadcaster Bob Costas; Mickey Levy, Chief Economist for Bank of America; Gene Sperling, President Clinton’s National Economic Advisor and others. WesCorp has certainly become a user of Webinars, with its WesCorp Investment Services CUSO holding quarterly economic Webinars. This month it is also doing a joint Webinar with Callahan & Associates on risk management. WesCorp has eight full-day workshops at its headquarters where people are educated on various topics. For those credit unions that can’t make it to WesCorp, the corporate may come to you. It likes to use credit union facilities in different parts of the country to hold regional seminars, which it calls town hall meetings. It also has one-on-one meetings with CUs that pop up throughout the year, and specialty meetings on ACH and other topics. WesCorp has to be careful to match education to need. It is one of the most sophisticated corporates, with all NCUA investment powers, so a derivatives hedging session may not be right for a small CU, but could be perfect for a large CU. “A one size fits all meeting is very, very difficult to do,” said WesCorp EVP/CIO Bob Burrell. “One of the things we recognize is that there’s just a very wide spectrum of knowledge in the credit union industry.” WesCorp’s two biggest events are its Future Forum (not to be confused with CUNA’s Future Forum) in April (its annual meeting is just a few days prior to it) and its Credit Union Outlook in October. Leaders of the corporate say it will use a mix of motivational speakers, financial speakers and of course WesCorp experts at these big events. [email protected]

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