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In these unprecedented economic times, there are really only two ways to deal with this financial crisis: increase revenues or cut operating expenses. While the latter is easier since we have little control to grow revenues or income, I have a word of caution for those with the red pens. I recently heard a speaker state his view that meetings and conferences should be classified as training and education expenses. In other words, while many CUs are slashing operating expenses for staff attending destination oriented meetings and conferences, his point was some may think differently if they viewed these reductions in different terms, like reducing training and education for key staff. Let’s face it, many of our competitors are struggling with tremendous loan losses, rising delinquency and massive customer dissatisfaction. It is true CUs are experiencing their own financial crisis issues, but relationships with CU members have never been better. In fact, many of our association’s credit union members report mortgage loan originations are hitting all-time records. Even more exciting news behind this headline is that many of these mortgage loans are coming from long-time members taking their first mortgage loan from a credit union. Many credit union CEOs also say they feel fortunate that their mortgage lending originations are enabling them to weather this storm and create a much more efficient and consumer-friendly and product-diverse financial institution for the future. I have been in the credit union system for more than 35 years. I can say without a doubt that the knowledge, education and face-to-face contacts I have made over the long term continue to benefit me today. So what happens at destination meetings and how is this experience different than local in-house meetings? First, when you are outside the office in another city attending a meeting or conference, you hear great speakers from all walks of life, subject-matter experts you usually do not have a chance to meet at home. You have the opportunity to ask questions during and after the presentation. These interactions may take place with the speakers, but many times it occurs between participants seeking to quickly share views and observations on the material just presented. Next, the level and intensity of a professional business conversation is different when it’s conducted during lunch or social settings rather than in a meeting room. Conversation with peers and other participants is often done during a meal or, dare I say, during a social reception while consuming an adult beverage. Another important factor derived from on-site conferences and meetings is that you get to network with people from all over the country or sometimes even the world. When meetings are held locally, there is value but on a different scale. The credit union term “once a member, always a member” to me means people retain their credit union membership when relocating or retiring to a different part of the country. How can credit union people appreciate economics or social behavior in other parts of the nation where their members may live unless they have a chance to speak with their peers from those locales? What happens in Oregon is likely different from what is happening in Florida or Arizona. Does this matter at all? Does this information and intelligence constitute expenses for travel and conference or training, education or even marketing or market research? There is no doubt in my mind that the economy and the housing crisis will recover at some point. The question is what will we learn now from these troubled times, and how will this shape the credit union system of the future. Finally, as a resident of Las Vegas, I have to comment on the issue of meeting destination. The fact is that many cities do not have the meeting space or diversity of hotels and entertainment that Las Vegas has. I could also make the case that an airline ticket and room rate for meetings in Las Vegas may be less than in other cities. Take a look at meetings and conferences over the past few years. I bet that less than 30 cities have been selected as meeting destinations. I have been coordinating meetings in the credit union system for more than 20 years. In my professional opinion, credit union people are very responsible, and do not spend meeting time in a casino or even at the pool. Many are thrilled to be in the company of their peers and professional suppliers ready, willing and able to discuss solutions for business success. I believe at some point we need to acknowledge that we are professionals and know how to conduct ourselves and not waste valuable financial resources in paying the expense for the trip. I also believe meeting planners and association executives should do a better job of coordinating meeting destinations, topics, speakers and even look for ways to combine our efforts based on the fact we all market to a relatively small universe of players. Choices are important in terms of content and destination, but this is not necessarily the time to completely restrict staff travel to meetings and conferences. Only time will tell, but the money we think we are conserving today may result in our taking one giant step backward when the dust settles and credit unions are back competing for deposits and loans with the rest of the consumer financial services players. Bob Dorsa is president of the American CU Mortgage Assoc. He can be reached at 877-442-2862 or [email protected]

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Peter Westerman

 

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