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Which of these is the greatest risk to credit union earnings over the next three years? Interest rates? Loan quality? Payments risk, cost, and revenue? The traditional answers have been rates and loan quality, but changes coming in the next three years may move the third, payments risk, into the top position. As time has passed, credit unions have become increasingly reliant on fee-based income, especially fee income associated with payment accounts. But our payments income stream is facing challenges. I’d like to share those challenges and strategies for mitigation. Risk and fraud must be at the top of our list of risks. Fraud threatens member confidence in the payment system and the credit union system. Just think how many of your members and friends have been victims of identity theft, phishing, pharming, skimming and data breaches. While the large banks have invested in sophisticated fraud prevention tools, credit unions have lagged behind and become targets. This has to change. CUNA Mutual is leading an initiative to promulgate best practices relating to plastic cards. CO-OP Network supports and is contributing to this effort and we plan to embrace the recommendations. Credit union processing costs may increase somewhat, but the alternative is higher deductibles, higher premiums and loss of member confidence. CO-OP Network also invests in check deposit decision and identity verification tools to help stem the tide of fraud. All of us need to make the right investments and join the battle against fraud in earnest. Our second challenge is keeping up with technology. Sometimes you do have to spend money to make money. The last physical check put on an airplane for delivery and clearing is going to be very expensive. I genuinely hope it is not a check deposited at a credit union. The time for credit unions to invest and position their operations for check imaging is now. 2005 was a year of fits and starts for check imaging, and even though infrastructure and standards have yet to catch up with legislative enablement, this will not persist. This brings us to a subject near to my heart.image-enabled ATMs. That last envelope deposit picked up by an armored carrier is also going to be very expensive. Between image enablement, cash acceptance, graphics download, ADA compliance, Windows and new application programs, the ATM world is going through the most change since its infancy in the 1970′s, so the next three years will be a time to invest wisely in new ATM technologies. The last challenge facing us is the potential for significant change to the card interchange system. Interchange for debit and credit point-of-sale transactions is under attack. MasterCard and Visa face more than 40 lawsuits relating to interchange – several that threaten the very existence of these associations. There is a distinct possibility that interchange could be cut dramatically or eliminated, just as it has in several other countries. As this process plays out, we all may need to put contingency plans in place to recover costs. Today our members implicitly pay for transactions through markup by merchants to cover interchange, but if interchange is eliminated or substantially reduced, credit unions will have to charge members directly. Let’s hope interchange survives, but we must be giving thought to alternatives. These are significant challenges, and I believe as long as credit unions continue to collaborate and cooperate, we can overcome them. Further, with careful planning and management, the material growth in payments related income we have experienced can be sustained and enhanced, but we have to begin to be aware of the challenges now and preparing ourselves to face them.

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