There are many sources readily available that detail a plethora of interesting facts and figures about credit unions. What is a lot more difficult to find is any kind of rundown of some credit union myths. So here are just a few of the more well known ones. Myth Regarding CU Membership: Although millions of consumers don’t know what a credit union is or that they can join one, or what products and services CUs offer, there nevertheless are 86 million members of credit unions in the U.S.A. Fact: The actual number of individual members is not known. It is certainly less than the official number that apparently everyone involved with credit unions takes as gospel. It is not unusual for credit union members to be members of more than one credit union, some as many as three or four. Each of these memberships is counted as a separate credit union member in the grand total. That 86 million number is a myth. It can only go up legitimately when more individual potential members learn the facts about CUs and join their first CU. Myth On The Money Side: The credit union industry represents only a small portion of the overall financial services industry and that percentage hasn’t been increasing. Fact: Tell that to community bankers who run banks in the $100 to $200 million asset range that have a billion dollar credit union located in the middle of their primary market area. At least in certain marketplaces, oft-quoted low credit union penetration numbers are a myth. Myth Regarding N-F-Ps: Consumers prefer to do business with not-for-profit cooperatives rather than for-profit corporations in which they reportedly have a low confidence level. Fact: Despite a recent consumer survey by the Consumer Federation of America and the National Cooperative Business Association that claims to prove that statement, in reality the number of consumers who don’t even know what a cooperative is, or what a CU is, remains substantial. All coops and n-f-ps are not automatically good. All f-ps, are not automatically bad. The typical consumer is always on the lookout for his or her personal best deal and doesn’t much care who provides it or how they are structured. To assume that all credit unions have nothing to learn from any bank and that the average consumer prefers to deal with any CU than any bank is an especially naive attitude to have. There are many banks that put some credit unions to shame in comparisons between customer service and member service. Somewhat Related Myth: Credit union members are loyal to the point they will accept less favorable rates, services, and convenience just because they believe so strongly in credit union philosophy. Fact: Those days are long gone. Today’s typical consumer is very demanding of every entity they do business with. Those that don’t measure up are dropped like a hot potato. Care to guess how many of any one credit union’s members have a relationship with a bank? Closer to home, check out with whom the credit union board and staff have financial institutions relationships with and why. Myth Regarding CU People: Credit unions are in the people business and fit the description of people helping people. Fact: Try calling a handful of credit unions. Good luck on ever getting to talk to a human. I frequently have a reason to call credit union CEOs. When they have given me their direct line, no problem. After going through the third degree with their assistant/secretary, I usually get through. However, when I call the main number, I often never get to talk to the CEO or any other person either, but end up giving up in frustration. In one recent case, I called a mid-size California CU five times in a row in an attempt to talk to the CEO in response to his e-mail asking my views on an issue important to him. I tried to tell someone, anyone, I don’t have a member number, don’t need a loan, don’t have a lost or stolen credit card, don’t want to go on their Web site, etc., but only want to talk to the CEO who indicated he wanted to talk to me. If I were a potential member trying to see if I could or wanted to sign up, I would have given up a lot sooner. It is a complete myth to claim to be in the people business when any contact with people is almost impossible at a growing number of CUs. Myth Regarding Member Involvement: Credit unions are democratically controlled with one member, one vote. Fact: On paper true. In reality, members in most credit unions do not play an active role, even in board elections. Myth Regarding Bankers’ Intentions: Banking lobbyists are sincere when they claim they want to help small credit unions survive. Every new chairman of every national banking trade association comes to his or her position with a clear and fact-based definition of credit unions and the differences between credit unions and banks. Bankers feel strongly that credit unions have every right to exist! Fact: Yea, right! Myth Regarding Fees: Unlike banks, credit unions either charge no fees or fees that are far less than those charged by banks. Furthermore, regarding those fees CUs do impose, they have pretty much stayed the same over the past several years. Fact: A close look at the numbers shows that the gap in the one time huge differential in fees has been closing steadily. The bottom line in thinking about credit union myths is that taking every claim made by or about credit unions at face value could at some point be very dangerous to the health of credit unions. Better to compare myths with the facts. 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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