Perusing websites and even Twitter trying to find for an idea for this column, two things struck me.

First, the way people get information today is vastly different from five or 10 years ago. Here I am surfing Twitter, considered by many an excuse not to do real work, looking for ideas for a column. What was an adolescent game a few years ago is a news feed and distribution tool.

Credit unions that use it correctly will find a return in content-driven marketing and member service. Send out more than pure marketing. Tweet about financial literacy tools and news articles on tips for saving money or investing. Your CU will be seen by their tweeps as experts in financial matters. Their friends will see your CU among the people they follow and possibly follow.

Just as a credit card serves as a mini-billboard, so will your logo alongside informative tweets. Resolving member service issues publicly (as appropriate) rather than one-on-one not only tells the story but demonstrates it.

Don’t be afraid to inject personality in tweeting. @Zappos has two million followers for a reason.

Many credit unions are doing this and more. Keep up the good work! Others must consider it.

The second thing that struck me is how credit unions truly walk the talk. For some time now, the NCUA has been posting the savings and loan rates for credit unions, banks and converted banks. It’s more of the job of trade associations than a regulator; I don’t see the safety and soundness nexus.

However, the information is very enlightening. Month after month, CUs clean banks’ clocks. CUs pay 42 basis points more on five-year CDs, according to the data provided to the NCUA by DATATRAC. On the lending side, CUs’ classic credit card represents a 131 basis point savings over the banks. The bankers or anyone else who says credit unions are not fulfilling their mission of providing reasonably priced credit to their members don’t have a leg to stand on.

In better times, the spreads are even greater. Check it out at
NCUA.gov under credit union data.

Recently, NIH Federal Credit Union sold its credit card portfolio to Elan, which subsequently increased rates significantly based on “the level of profitability.” I don’t want to belabor the point because the story was written, which was fully disclosed, by one of our reporters who happens to be a member there. However, the scenario illustrates the credit union difference and should make credit unions think long and hard about what could happen when selling their credit card portfolios.

But the real kicker in the data is the information regarding CUs that converted to banks. Their rates were frequently higher than those of other banks. So much for conversion being in members’ best interest.

CUs are increasing their lending to consumers in key areas. According to CUNA statistics, CUs have increased lending in used auto loans from 17% of their portfolios at year-end 2009 to 18% at year-end 2010. Fixed first mortgages grew from 26.1% of the loan portfolio to 27.1% year over year. ARMs also grew as a portion of credit unions’ loan portfolio. In the meantime, capital has been holding steady around 10% over the last year and delinquencies trended downward from 1.82% to 1.73% year over year.

Yet CUs are still losing the market share battle. CUs’ share of the nonrevolving loan market has declined from 12.9% YE 2009 to 12.1% at YE 2010 as the banks’ share has gone up. CUs brought members in during the flight to safety and now must figure out how to keep them through recovery and beyond.

One thing that could help CUs expand their reach tremendously is capital reform. Bring evidence and a humble yet assertive attitude to CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference so you can be a CU advocate. Demonstrate how capital and other reforms would help your CU. CUs have been doing all the right things-now it’s time for Congress to do the same.