There comes a time when growing organizations decide to change their names because the existing one no longer accurately describes who they are and what they do. Credit unions, for example, are currently going through this exercise in record numbers as their fields of membership undergo drastic change. A well-known and respected national organization in the financial services industry spotlight this week, ought to also think about changing its name for some of the same reasons. The Bank Administration Institute (BAI) is holding its enormously successful Annual Retail Delivery Conference and Expo in New Orleans, November 18-20. Among the usual huge turnout of participants and vendors from throughout the world will be about 300 credit union representatives (about the same number the last several years). And hundreds of other non-bankers as well. None of them think they are attending a conference put on strictly for bankers. Or that they are moving through a massive trade show featuring products and services designed only for the banking industry. And they are right. Because of the morphing of the financial services industry, new technology that crosses traditional financial organizational lines, and the emergence of financial services suppliers rather than banking-only vendors, the Bank Administration Institute name is more misleading now than ever before. The BAI moniker sounds like the Chicago-based educational organization is a trade association of some kind for banks. In fact, it is not a trade group. It does no lobbying nor does it take positions advocating legislative or regulatory goals. However, it does provide a constantly growing market basket of solid information, in every conceivable format, on a variety of relevant topics. For example, surveys, white papers, software packages, training programs, compliance aids, and a host of other tools of the trade too numerous to even mention here. The “trade,” of course, is the broad financial services industry. BAI definitely has a broader membership potential than simply the banking industry. It very badly wants to see a lot more credit unions, especially the larger ones, listed in its membership directory. It wants to sell a lot more things to CUs. It is eager to get greatly increased credit union representation at its Annual Retail Delivery Conference and Expo. Time out for a bit of history. When I first attended the BAI retail delivery conference as CEO of CUES about 20 years ago, it was called ATM 1 (then in succeeding years, ATM 2,3,4, etc.) It was the brainchild of financial consultant Linda Fenner Zimmer. As a popular CUES conference speaker at the time, she was the one who first suggested I ought to attend on behalf of credit unions for what became obvious reasons. I went, but it was mighty lonely in those days. There were only a handful of credit union folks in attendance. I came away so impressed with what the meeting had to offer credit unions, especially its expo, that even though CUES was very much in the meeting business, I encouraged credit unions to check it out. The ATM conference soon outgrew its consultant, its limited focus, most hotels, and its name. It successfully went far beyond being simply an ATM conference. The words “retail delivery” made more sense. The name was changed. Something else happened. BAI eventually decided its traditional annual conference was dying on the vine in the shadow of its burgeoning retail delivery effort, especially when looked at through the eyes of a cash cow trade show. So they dumped the traditional annual convention. BAI made these and other major changes over the years because they only made sense. Changing the name of the entire organization is a bit more daunting. But BAI leadership needs to seriously consider it. While they are at it, they need to show more attention and respect to credit unions. Not just because of the tremendous growth of the credit union industry and individual credit unions since those early ATM days, but because the credit union industry represents a nice piece of potential business for BAI. If they really seek it. Although BAI offers a CU registration fee discount through CUNA, unfortunately, the prevailing mood by BAI staffers towards credit unions and CU related organizations at the moment seems to be somewhere between indifference and arrogance. What a mistake. If instead of having a superior attitude, BAI (or whatever it might someday be called) marketed aggressively to credit unions and showed them everything they are missing by not participating fully in the impressive offering available through BAI, credit unions would beat down their doors to get involved. As I said in a column a couple of years back, once BAI changes its name (how about the Financial Services Educational Institute?), it needs to get credit unions involved in its governance structure, in committees, as workshop leaders, as platform presenters (especially at its Annual Retail Delivery Conference and Expo), and as bonafide institute members. Forget for a moment the structural differences between credit unions, banks, and other elements of the financial services industry (not-for-profit versus for-profit, etc.). Strictly from an operational viewpoint, there is nothing being shown in the expo hall that doesn’t apply to all segments of the financial services industry including credit unions. Speakers and their subjects are a different matter. By the way, the expo is the heart and soul of this conference. The educational program is fairly routine. The exposition hall on the other hand is not only the largest showcase of important vendors, but by far the best layout for serious discussions (see pages 34-35). Every important vendor is there with every bell and whistle they have to offer. It is where major product announcements and technological breakthroughs are announced. The potential represented by the credit union market to BAI, once credit unions learn exactly who they are and what they do and don’t do, despite the misleading name, is tremendous. Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected].

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Peter Westerman


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