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CHICAGO – In the middle of next month about 500 or so credit union professionals will make their way to Las Vegas to take part in an industry conference No it’s not a credit union show per se, though more and more credit unions are waking up to its existence – it’s BAI’s Retail Delivery Conference & Expo, the largest financial services/technology show going. This year it will be held from Nov. 16-19 at The Las Vegas Convention Center. Retail Delivery has become a popular annual event for credit unions that are looking to learn about the latest “retail delivery” products, services and trends. Retail delivery is kind of a catch-all phrase in that it applies to all that goes into touching the end user, which in the case of credit unions is its members. It can be Internet banking, CRM, wireless communicating, etc., but in the end, the retail aspect is how the financial institution delivers it to the end user. BAI wasn’t always an important show for credit unions. The group, now just called BAI, used to be called the Bank Administration Institute and catered to bankers more than any other group. About seven years ago it decided to just go by BAI because it was a more encompassing name and reflected its broader role and membership. “There’s much more than just banks, and a lot more than administration,” said Tom Johnson, CEO of BAI. What is now known as the BAI Retail Delivery Conference & Expo started out 26 years ago as ATM I, when the ATM was the innovative delivery method of the day that financial institutions were still trying to figure out. Subsequent conferences were named ATM II, ATM III, and so on up until about 14. The show was then renamed to Retail Delivery and evolved into a much more holistic event as the ATM became more mainstream and financial services looked at other delivery methods. It’s admittedly an overused term, but Johnson said the show is truly “the industry’s biggest meeting of the minds.” At its peak in 1998, BAI attracted 9,000 people. But it was hurt by the bursting of the technology bubble and moved back down to the 5,000 – 6,000 level, which is where it is today. About eight years ago credit unions were given a cheaper avenue into the conference. BAI partnered with CUNA for a special deal that offers a CU discount. Johnson believes more credit unions are coming because they want a much deeper picture of the marketplace. “We think it’s an evolution of the credit union in that the executives are interested in a broader look of retail financial services, as opposed to just the credit union market. Their markets are evolving,” said Johnson. In fact this year credit unions are showing up on the pre-conference workshop agenda. SSA Baltimore FCU CEO Jack Houseknecht will discuss ways to serve the unbanked, and tech execs from Mountain America FCU and First Tech will discuss the latest tech trends. Credit unions have not made it to the main agenda, where the likes of Microsoft and big bank execs often appear, but they’re getting closer. Of course the exhibit hall is also a big draw for CUs said Johnson. Credit union attendees can expect to see about 400 exhibiting companies this year in Las Vegas. Johnson said because of the size of the exhibit hall necessary for Retail Delivery, there are only about five or six venues in the country where BAI can hold the show. As a result there are often repeat locations. New Orleans and Las Vegas are the top two, with Orlando catching up fast. Next year Retail Delivery will be at the Orlando Convention Center. BAI is an 80-year old organization. Johnson stressed that it is not a trade association, which means a lot of what comes along with a trade association, mainly politics, won’t be found with BAI. “BAI does not do any lobbying. You won’t hear conversations on our stage about legislation or bills that are working their way through Congress. We just don’t do that. We bring it back to the customer,” said Johnson. This also helps the organization equally cater to banks, credit unions, insurance companies and whoever else is in the retail financial arena. He said BAI modernized its bylaws to look less like those of a trade association and more like a “professional organization,” which is how Johnson classifies BAI. BAI was originally founded as the National Association of Bank Auditors and Accountants. “While we still have quite a few programs, products and services for auditors and the accounting folks, our largest coverage is in products and services in the retail delivery banking area,” said Johnson. BAI provides education, training, and research to the financial services industry. Though Retail Delivery is what credit unions can best identify with, BAI’s 80-person staff is busy all year putting on more than 100 seminars, workshops and Webinars, and producing manuals and other training materials. It has organizational members, not individual members, and the bulk of its revenue is from sales of its products and services not from its dues. BAI is actually structured as a trust and is run by a board of directors made up of leaders from its membership organizations. As a trust, it can not be bought and sold, said Johnson. Dues are relatively cheap ranging from a minimum of $1,000 up to $20,000 for the largest of banks. It currently has about 500 members, many banks, though there are also insurance companies, brokerages and yes credit unions. BAI has 30 CU members including 11 of the 100 largest. He said credit union interest has grown considerably in just the last three years because Retail Delivery has become much more focused on the end user. “We’ve been doing more research on the customer, hoping to lead the industry into a little bit more of a customer centric focus than we might have in the past.” Johnson said BAI will release some exclusive customer research data at this year’s show. Johnson knows a lot about the customer and retail delivery in general. He’s a former retail delivery executive with Barnett Bank, who landed the BAI job in ironic fashion – his bank was being swallowed up by a bigger bank (a familiar story in the mid to late `90s.). “Every bank I ever worked for is gone now. The last time I was bought out the CEO at BAI was retiring. There was a national search going on for his successor, and I got the job.” As a former banker, Johnson said he thinks he knows why bankers are so politically honed in on credit unions. “The banking laws changed rather dramatically a decade or so and as banks started to combine, they took their eye off the customer. They were clearly distracted in the combinations they were making. In the mean time, credit unions continued to serve their members well,” said Johnson. “During the last couple of decades community banks and credit unions have been taking market share from the larger banks.” Johnson said credit unions’ dominant service advantages were on display a few years ago at BAI when as part of the Retail Delivery conference it brought consumers on stage to talk about their financial relationships. He said the credit union members were particularly vocal about how satisfied they were with their credit unions. “Bankers were listening,” said Johnson. Johnson said with today’s technology a trillion dollar bank doesn’t have much of an advantage over a mid-sized credit union in terms of rolling out new systems. “In the old days you had to be a pretty good size bank to forge some of the technology available. Today with the technology being so distributed and PC oriented, whatever you come up with can be copied quickly. Ultimately it won’t be the differentiator, the differentiator is going to be the customer experience.” [email protected] (Editor’s Note. Recognizing how popular BAI’s Retail Delivery has become with credit unions, Credit Union Times will have a booth in the exhibit hall and will be distributing issues.)

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