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Listening to credit union leaders, viewing some credit union marketing materials, and reading CU publications like Credit Union Times, it would be a safe bet to assume that everyone connected with credit unions has a strong and unwavering dislike for banks. And vice versa. Not true. For the most part, it is not individual banks or the bankers who manage them that wake up every morning with new ways to bash credit unions. Unless of course they happen to be occupying a leadership position in one of the many state and national banking trade groups and are expected to parrot the party line of their associations. Actually it is the full-time staff, especially those in the lobbying end of the bank groups who make it appear that credit unions and banks can’t stand the sight of each other. Again, not true! Take me for example. It is well documented in these weekly publisher’s columns that I frequently have a big problem with things said and done by banking industry lobbyists. Yet, personally I feel that most banks do a good job serving their customers and that this country will always need a safe, sound, and profitable banking system. Although our family has almost no relationships with any bank, preferring to practice what I preach and do 99% of our financial transactions with a credit union, I am aware of many banks that provide knock-your-socks off customer service and are managed by executives who do a great deal for their communities as volunteers. Here are a couple examples of banks doing a good job from my personal experience: Because our credit union does not offer safe deposit boxes, we have one at a mid-size, independent bank in the community where we live. About once a year we visit that bank to review the contents of our box. We do no other business with that bank. Yet, when we come in you might think we were that bank’s biggest and best customer. The staff couldn’t be friendlier or more professional. In fact, we usually leave feeling a bit guilty that we don’t give them at least a small part of our banking business. Another example of a positive bank experience: Recently due to an illness, we were stranded in London for a few days during what was to have been a brief stopover to change planes. Since our passports were being held temporarily by airport authorities, it became almost impossible to get desperately needed local currency. Barclay’s Bank came through for us. A teller understood our predicament and with admirable English politeness went to her supervisor, waived the two forms of ID requirement, and made an overseas call at bank expense to get necessary approvals. With a big smile, she sent me on my way with a pocket full of pounds and all good wishes regarding the family illness. I was grateful, but also very impressed with such excellent customer service provided to a non-customer from across the pond. Once back in the good old USA safe and sound, I had still another good banking experience. After several frustrating efforts to convert our remaining pounds back to U.S. dollars, I connected with Hilldale Bank in Madison, Wisconsin. There an obviously well-trained and experienced teller handled the transaction with a smile and an invitation to become a customer (not required to change money by the way). I almost accepted her offer I was so full of positive vibes.But don’t just take my word for it that all banks and all bankers are put in a bad guy box because of the blinders thoroughly in place at banking association headquarters. Here’s what the CEO of a large credit union said recently: “Community bank CEOs are hardly the kind of wild-eyed radicals you’d expect to find running around looking for someone (credit unions) to attack, or spouting half-truths to their Congressmen. Their stereotype.is that of very conservative, reasonably intelligent, slightly boring, stable, well compensated, middle-aged guys who are genuinely involved in their local communities.” He went on to say, “These are guys who spend their lives avoiding controversy, not seeking it out. If these guys are attacking us, it’s for one reason. Because they are being spoon fed a steady diet of half-truths about credit unions by their trade associations. CUNA CEO Dan Mica’s recent effort to communicate directly with banking CEOs to re-educate them should be applauded.” Indeed, there is another side to banks and bankers that has been lost in the heated anti-credit union rhetoric spewed out non-stop by the 501(C) 3, not-for-profit, tax-exempt banking trade groups. Take the situation in Hawaii. In the Aloha state banks and credit unions have an excellent relationship. They have found many ways to work together and do business with each other. With rare exceptions (a former Hawaii banking executive became an ABA elected official and predictably blasted credit unions), they treat each other with respect. A fairly recent Mainland example of credit unions and banks working together is joining forces to cooperatively defeat proposed credit card regulations in the state of California that would have caused big problems for banks and credit unions if enacted. Lest you think I’ve gone soft because of a few good examples, I haven’t. Remember my effort to convert English pounds into dollars. The first bank I called was Wells Fargo because we have a mortgage relationship with them (couldn’t get it at a credit union). I was told by an obviously disinterested staffer on the phone that I had to be a customer in order to change funds. “But I am; you have our mortgage and all the information that goes with it,” I explained. Too bad. No checking account, no deal. Good bye. Oh well, I guess Wells Fargo was just acting like a bank and couldn’t be expected to take a chance on a $125 transaction. No white hat for these guys! 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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