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WASHINGTON-Focus groups conducted for CUNA showed that credit union members use warmer, friendlier terms to describe credit unions than the way bank customers describe their financial institutions. Bank customers used words like `money,’ `security,’ `thieves,’ `impersonal,’ and `high fees’ to describe banks, Keith Frederick, founder of FrederickPolls, found. However, credit union members leaned more toward descriptions like `helpful’ and `friendly.’ After further discussions, many of the bank customers were ready to sign up with a credit union, according to Frederick. “The credit union PFI (primary financial institution) people really do love their credit unions,” he concluded. What does this mean for credit unions, politically? A tax upon credit unions was “dismissed out of hand by credit union people,” Frederick said. No one really had sympathy for the banks or wanted to tax credit unions. In the focus groups, participants equated those of modest means to working people, he explained. “Basically, they rejected the idea that you have to be abjectly poor,” Frederick said. Consequently, CUNA decided to ask a similar question of 1,000 registered voters they polled. Of those polled, 74% considered themselves to be of modest means, according to CUNA Senior Vice President of Political Affairs Richard Gose. Additionally, 45% identified themselves as credit union members but only 23% said they primarily used their credit unions for financial services. CUNA Senior Economist Mike Schenk warned that a lot would be coming down the pike regarding modest means, including NCUA’s sample survey. The average income of credit union members is a bit higher than the national average, he said. The reason for this is that most credit unions began as employer based institutions, he explained, so the potential membership was at least employed. That income information also includes the `casual’ credit union user, Gose added. Wealthy people often use a wide variety of financial services products but might just take out a car loan with their credit union because it was the best deal. Gose also said that it is crucial to spread anecdotes on Capitol Hill, but they must also be backed up with data now. “We’re trying to tell a story that’s backed up by fact, that’s backed up by reality,” he said. He noted that the banks have been spreading a lot of misinformation in Washington and across the country. What the poll found was that 74% of registered voters like that credit unions are owned and operated by their members and 69% have a favorable view toward credit unions’ nonprofit status, according to Voter Consumer Research President Jan van Lohuizen. However, 72% were drawn to banks’ convenience while only 15% found credit unions to be convenient. “The key message in there,” he said, “is we need to remind people that we are not-for-profit.” Some data that CUNA is still analyzing covers the services for people of modest means offered by 255 credit unions and 255 banks using the five largest of each institution in each state and Washington, D.C. CUNA’s Schenk said they are looking at products of interest to members of modest means such as regular savings, certificate accounts, unsecured loans, used auto loans, wiring services, cashier’s checks and money orders, and free checking, as well as pricing for the products. At first blush, it appears that credit unions are more likely in almost every case and almost anywhere to provide better pricing on these products, Schenk said. He asserted, “If you tax credit unions they’re more likely to behave like commercial institutions.” What all this means for the credit union community is “opportunity,” Greener & Hook Partner Michael Hook said. “Credit union members are willing to advance our cause, certainly more than the banks.” Hook said credit unions need a simple message, need to repeat it, and have the discipline to continue the steady drumbeat. The message should touch on: * the 87 million Americans who love their credit unions * explain how credit unions help people save money with lower cost loans and higher savings rates * credit unions serve people of modest means often ignored by the banks using anecdotes * hit on member owner, volunteer-led, nonprofit structure * mention that credit unions return earnings to the members through better pricing and fewer fees * saving members over $5 billion a year * taxing credit unions is taxing 87 million Americans. Push this message in Hike the Hill visits with lawmakers and their staff, get involved in politics in your districts to establish and leverage relationships, and emphasize your message with your membership in newsletters and other publications, Hook said. Additionally, Schenk said people like local decision-making in financial services and see that control slipping away except with credit unions. [email protected]

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